Article Written By Emily Schneider
Last summer, our family of five went on a one-night camping trip. We brought two tents, one air mattress, and a sleeping pad with a hole. Our neighbors brought a Winnebago RV. We stepped into the Winnie’s air-conditioned interior, took a cold drink from the fridge, and looked longingly at the mattress. Three weeks later we pulled our first RV into the driveway. Each child had a bed. There was a toilet, a refrigerator, sink, even blinds to block out the morning light. We wanted to take advantage of the multitude of state parks in our area, and the RV made travel more accessible. But, our first RV season, traveling was not cheaper or easier. These are the top five lessons we stumbled upon as a newbie RV family through trial and mostly error.
Lesson #1 – Take Weather Forecast With a Grain of Salt
Don’t waste your time obsessively checking the weather forecast. Ignore the rain percentages, as any chance of rain means it will most certainly rain all day. Accept that you will inevitably bring the wrong clothes. You will underestimate early morning temperatures and the chill on windy, overcast days. Our last trip of the season was in early fall to a campground outside Nashville, Tn. I relied on the daytime temperatures and the small chance of rain for packing. There was a steady downpour for the first two days. When it wasn’t raining, it felt ten degrees colder than I expected. I ended up at Nashville Wal-Mart twice for sweatshirts, packs of underwear (that’s a whole different story), flannel blankets, and rain boots.
Lesson #2 – Be Prepared to Be Unprepared
You can have a paper checklist, an excel spreadsheet, and a google doc. You will still forget important items. I had at least three checklists including a master list, a pantry checklist, and a “day of” packing list, in both digital and paper formats. I spent the day before each trip keeping track of my lists, updating the digital lists to match the paper ones, and highlighting missing items. Save your sanity. Simplify your lists. Accept that you will need to go to a store to buy things you left at home by the front door. On the Nashville trip I forgot to pack the pillows, resulting in yet another trip to Nashville Wal-Mart.
Lesson #3 – Seek Campsites with Kid-Friendly Amenities
Do not stay in a beautiful, secluded location immersed in nature. Unlike adults, kids are not content to laze about the campsite reading a book under a canopy of trees. Kids must have activity, and for activity you must be within easy driving distance of a city. The Nashville campground was only twenty-five minutes from downtown. On a rainy day, we ran through indoor tunnels, experimented with static electricity, and launched rockets at the Adventure Science Center.
The second benefit of camping in a semi-remote location is wifi. If you want to enjoy any adult time by an evening campfire, screen time is a lifesaver. After confirming wifi is available at the campground, remember the connection may be spotty or extremely slow. Download movies, shows, and games at home. I have been stuck sitting outside the bathhouse searching for a decent wifi signal to download a Disney movie. Forget meal prep. Focus on loading up those iPads!
Lesson #4 – Having an Extra Pair of Hands Helps. A Lot.
Extra adults are key. Ten years ago my husband said, “one kid per parent is ideal.” We have three kids. We also have an awesome friend who is always up for an adventure. She joined us in Nashville to hammock camp behind our RV in the pouring rain. Help from a friend is multi-layered. Obviously, it’s easier to manage three kids when adults can be in three different places at the same time: one to the bathhouse for a bathroom emergency, one to chase a careening child on his bike with a lopsided helmet, and one to feign interest in TikTok. The other benefit is for “attitude-control.” Our oldest daughter is entering the tween phase. We are barraged with eye rolls and monologues of discontent and annoyance. But, she wants to impress adults, who are not her parents, with her extraordinary maturity and high-level humor. This greatly reduced inter-sibling fighting, complaining, and overall mouthiness.
Lesson #5 – Be Flexible About Meal Prep.
Campfire meals? Don’t bother. That Pinterest post about “25 super simple meals for your next camping trip?” Delete it. Pull ice-cream sandwiches out of the freezer; no one knows that you are breaking the cardinal rule of camping smores. Our first RV summer, I would spend an entire day prepping lunch and dinner meals at home. I even trialed a dessert recipe for campfire smores in ice cream cones (I’m blameless…Pinterest sucked me in). It tasted like burnt waffle cone and marshmallows.
I improved on the Nashville trip by implementing meals out at least once per day. While this decreased my food prep, it did not decrease my obsession with trip planning. I wanted our meals out to stay true to our Nashville destination. I insisted on a honky-tonk in downtown Nashville for lunch. Parking was a pain. The music was too loud. The service was slow. The only people having fun were the ones who were drunk at an inappropriate hour. Our other restaurant meal was for Nashville’s iconic hot chicken. Now I’ve had hot chicken, and I don’t need to have it again (refer back to extra underwear in lesson #1). Take advantage of fast food and Lunchables. A fun dining experience is a bonus, not a necessity.
After our first RV season, we quickly learned the RV does not fix the general flaws of camping. Adults will still pine for more adult time. Kids will still be dirty and grumpy. But nothing beats a weekend away with a view of a lake, an evening campfire, and plenty of funny memories.
Emily Schneider is a freelance writer and 5th wheel owner in Richmond, Ky. Check out their YouTube channel RVEngineer.