Sharing the experience of travel, adventure and RVing with my children is one of the most rewarding parts of my life. With each camping trip, my tiny explorers (who are now ages 2.5 and 1) are exposed to new places, different outdoor activities, and the opportunity to connect with nature.
But no matter how excited I am about introducing my kids to the great outdoors, it doesn’t come without its challenges. I would consider my husband and myself experienced campers, but trying to get a family of four to sleep soundly together inside the four walls of an RV can be daunting. As soon as my son catches a glimpse of my face, he’s ready to play, even at 4 a.m. And my daughter’s middle-of-the-night cry for a bottle of milk is a guaranteed wake-up call for her brother.
Well, it’s a great thing we’re humans, and humans (both parents and children) know how to adapt.
Through the last couple of years, my husband and I have figured out what works for us and what doesn’t. Ultimately, we’ve learned RVing can be done quite successfully with toddlers and babies – and you can enjoy it too. I’ve broken it down into four categories: sleeping, eating, playing, and expectations.
Whether you’re RVing with a baby or toddler, it’s important to stick to business as usual. That means trying to keep nap and sleep times on somewhat of a schedule and making sure the sleeping area feels familiar with elements of home. However, our kids are no strangers to sleeping in different environments. We’ve made it a point to take them on trips where we stay in different cabins and rentals, hotels, RVs, and even tents. Even if your kids are new to RVing, rest-assured, they will eventually get used to it.
Here are our essentials for a peaceful night of sleep:
- Pack ‘n Play
- Our RV can fit two pack ‘n plays, which are cribs and play yards in one. Our 1-year-old is used to sleeping in cribs and so is our 2.5-year-old but we recently transitioned him into the lower bed in the RV with a safety rail. The pack ‘n play is a great space to set down our daughter if we need to unpack or cook or just separate her from our son because they, like most siblings, need some space from each other.
- Mosquito Net
- I was surprised by how many mosquitoes can wander into an RV. I’ve found mosquito nets over pack ‘n plays are helpful tools to avoid mosquito bites on my kids’ faces.
- Sound Machine
- A little white noise can work wonders for both parents and children who wake up easily. Our kids are used to sleeping with the sound of rainfall on their sound machines, so it’s not a problem when we hear the pitter-patter of actual rain while sleeping in the RV.
- Electric Blanket
- Temperatures can drop dramatically at night. An electric blanket is an easy way to keep your kiddos warm, especially when pack ‘n plays are set up low to the ground. We have electric blankets we can keep at a low to medium heat setting on an auto-timer.
- Favorite “lovey” or Security Blanket
- We’ve never left the house without my son’s elephant lovey or my daughter’s bunny lovey. Without fail, they look for their loveys in the middle of the night for comfort and instantly fall back asleep.
- Bedtime Stories
- Bedtime stories are part of our routine at home so we make sure to bring plenty of books when we’re RVing. We make sure to bring some familiar favorites as well as a few that have to do with nature and the outdoors.
- Baby Monitor
- If you want to enjoy a glass of wine around the campfire while the little ones are asleep, a baby monitor will not only provide peace of mind but will also allow you to make sure everyone is fast asleep instead of trying to escape their pack ‘n plays.
- Blackout Curtains
- Do yourself a favor and invest in blackout curtains as your window treatments for those long summer days. If not, it is definitely ok to push bedtime to a little later when it gets dark. More often than not, a later bedtime means a longer night of sleep for our kids.
- This one is for the parents. If your kids are anything like ours, they make random whimpers and sounds while they sleep. I’m the type of mom that will wake up to any sound from my kids so if I truly need a good night of sleep, then I’m packing some earplugs.
A happy tummy is a happy kid, and there is nothing like snacks to satisfy and occupy children. Our RV pantry is always loaded with easy-to-grab snacks while our cooler is packed with one-pot meals or oven-ready meals. “Easy” is the keyword because we typically don’t have a lot of time for complex recipes when there are two hungry kids in tow.
Thankfully, my daughter is still drinking breast milk so I’m able to feed her on-the-go with pumped milk. I’ll pack a few extra frozen bags of breast milk to thaw out and warm up for her in a bottle as well.
Our favorite dry snacks for both adults and kids include rice cakes, date bars or granola bars, veggie straws, cashews, and fruit snacks. These are snacks that are not only easy to eat in the RV but also when we’re out exploring.
As far as healthy snacks go, both our kids love bananas, clementines, avocados, peppers, and steam-in-bag edamame. The edamame is a fun option because the beans pop out when you squeeze the pods. We only eat them when we are RVing so my son associates it with the RV now.
For meals, homemade ramen is a family favorite. It’s a one-pot meal with seasoned chicken broth, sliced vegetables, eggs, chicken, and ramen noodles. Other easy options are the pre-made chicken pot pies or shepherd’s pies from Costco. They’re delicious and as simple as sticking them in the oven for an hour or so.
If we’re able to catch fresh walleye, crappies, or trout, we love baking or pan-frying our catch-of-the-day and enjoying a lake-to-table meal. It’s a great way to show our kids where our food comes from.
And when we have a campfire going, we have “fun food” like toasted pizza rolls or pudgy pies with a pie filling of everyone’s choice.
RVing is supposed to be fun! I think it’s so important for kids to connect RVing with new experiences, fun moments, and quality family time. That means playtime is essential for both adults and kids while on an RV trip. Our family typically goes RVing with the main intention of spending as much outdoor time as possible.
During the warmer months, we’ll plan hikes near lakes so that we can play at the beach. My son loves to swim, dig with his toy construction vehicles, and build sandcastles so we make it a point to do those things when we’re on an RV trip. We’ll look at the minnows swimming by our feet, watch the different birds flying by, collect cool rocks, and maybe even go fishing at the dock. With safety in mind, we make sure the kids are wearing life jackets. I like to pack snacks, beverages, and a picnic blanket so we have a home base on the beach.
When we’re RVing in the winter, we wear lots of layers and pack our warm winter clothes, bring a sled, skis, our ice fishing gear, a mug of hot cocoa, and make it a fun day in the snow or on a frozen lake. Of course, we never walk on a frozen lake unless it’s at least four inches thick and is consistent. We also don’t drive our truck or tow our RV or fish house on a frozen lake unless it is consistently 13 inches or more.
For days when we’re spending time indoors in the RV, we bust out games the whole family can play like Jenga, Candyland, or a puzzle. Our son brings a backpack filled with all of his favorite toy trucks, a bag of little rocks for his construction vehicles to dig up, Legos, books, and his tablet. We give him a set amount of screen time every day and he can choose to play educational games or watch an educational show. It’s his choice! Our daughter is still pretty young, but we bring her favorite bunny lovey, colorful stacking toys, and crinkle paper books to keep her busy.
I think the number one way to truly enjoy RVing with toddlers and babies is to adjust your expectations. It’s not going to be the same as life before children, but it’s an experience you and your kiddos will remember and talk about for the rest of your lives. Here are some of the adjustments you might need to make:
- Camp Closer to Home
- Explore the places that are in your own backyard or just a few hours away. We’ve figured out that the furthest we can RV with our children is about three hours. This allows us to have the flexibility to turn around and come back home if things go awry.
- Bring Backup
- By backup, I mean grandparents. If you have the luxury of bringing grandparents or just an extra set of hands on your RV trips, do it. I’m lucky that my parents have their own RV and we’ll often book a campsite next to each other. This allows my husband and I to get some alone time or take a few extra hours in our day to go fishing while the kids have fun with grandma and grandpa.
- Less is More
- While my husband and I often reminisce about our 250 rod portages through the wilderness with a canoe and heavy packs on our shoulders, those kinds of trips are nearly impossible with a toddler and a baby. It likely won’t be fun for you or your tiny explorers. Instead, we plan for hikes that are just a couple miles long and lead to a scenic vista, or instead of fishing for 8 hours, we settle for fishing with the kids for 1 hour. Instead of doing a long and strenuous activity, we love short, sweet, and enjoyable activities for the whole family.
- Family-Friendly Campgrounds
- Find a campground that has family-friendly amenities. One of the most fun campgrounds we’ve ever gone to had a simple playhouse and playground directly across from our campsite. We also look for swimming areas like a pool or beach, game rooms, or organized daily activities like biking, exploring with a naturalist, storytime, or movie night.
- Relax at Night
- One of my favorite parts of RVing with toddlers and babies is that their bedtime is early. They’re at the age of going to bed at 7 or 8 p.m. which means by the time you tuck those kiddos away, you can gather around the campfire, turn on the baby monitor, and enjoy some fun campfire cocktails or a glass of wine. It’s the parent’s turn to relax.
- Be Flexible
- Some things will not go as planned — that is a guarantee. While it is great to have a schedule and some structure, give yourself, your partner, and your children some grace while living the RV life. It’s ok to slow things down and let everyone go at their own pace, reschedule an activity for another day, and live in the moment.
RVing with toddlers and babies can feel chaotic, messy, and challenging. But I promise you, the experience is worth it – if not for the endless memories, then for the quality time spent outdoors together as a family and giving your little ones the opportunity to see and experience new adventures and places.
Jenny Anderson is an outdoor content creator, best known as the Girl of 10,000 Lakes. As someone who didn’t grow up “outdoorsy,” she believes it’s never too late to fall in love with the great outdoors. Prior to becoming an outdoor content creator, Anderson was a news anchor and reporter in western Wisconsin. She now uses her passion for storytelling to inspire families of all experience levels to get outdoors. Anderson is a published children’s book author and shares her love for nature, fishing, and the outdoor life with her husband, two children, and their yorkie named Kiwi.