15 Essential Tips for your First RV Family Camping Trip with a Toddler
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Thinking of taking an RV camping trip with kids? Before Your first family RV camping trip with toddlers, follow these tips for an unforgettable trip.
Whether you have a new RV or rent one your first time out you will have some planning to do. A county campground, state park, or private campground can be a great place to practice without being far from home.
Many of our friends took their first trip close to home. They wanted to have full hookups and be familiar with all of the different benefits of RV camping.
Of course, if you are renting an RV, you will probably be planning on a big road trip. Our very first camping experience was renting a motorhome in Canada. We followed the instructions from the rental place and off we went.
We had such an amazing time that we wanted to buy our own camper when we got home. (Which led to this flippin’ camper experience)
We were seasoned tent backpackers and car campers before buying our travel trailer. So we actually just dove right in and took our first RV camping trip with toddler and kids about two hours from home. (We went to this secluded location in Colorado – Dominguez Escalante Canyon.)
Our first time was boondocking (dry camping on undeveloped land) on public lands. We thought that having an indoor space compared to tens was amazing enough to not even bother with the water.
(We did, however, learn a couple of lessons about parking and extra-long trucks and travel trailer though)
On the next trip, we found out about how much we are missing out on by not using our water, waste, heat, and electricity. An RV is like a home on wheels. Warm nights, cool days, fresh food and …. Indoor plumbing. Wooohoooo.
Planning goes a long way to an amazing first family RV camping trip with toddlers.
1.Get the Right Rig for Your Family
Our first RV trip as a family was in Canada. After researching all the options for a large family I found that renting a van and hotel rooms in Canada would be very expensive. So I looked into renting an RV. The local rental company was having a half-price sale with all the amenities included. We needed the biggest motorhome they had for enough seat belts and sleeping spaces.
Once we got home we decided to buy an RV for ourselves. The choices were endless but having rented an RV first we knew more about what was important.
If you are renting an RV you will need to decide the place to rent from, the size of the RV, your route, and more. A few things to consider are the number of seatbelts, the sleeping space, and size limits in the campgrounds you will be staying in. Many US National parks have small camping spots and limit the length of the RV.
There are plenty of rental options to choose from. One way to get the best deals (and the best local tips) is to rent directly from owners through RVShare.
Check prices in your local area to rent an RV through RV Share here.
2. Choose a Family-Friendly Camping Location
Whether you are planning just a night close to home or taking the plunge for a long road trip, you will want to make sure you have places to stay that are good for the kids. Public campgrounds are generally very family-friendly. We have found some of the state parks to have very nice facilities and full hookups. (For example – our Arches National Park trip we stayed at Dead Horse Point State Park)
Many private campgrounds have all the amenities that you could want. Full hookups, showers, activities and more. Keep in mind that some private campgrounds are more geared towards kids than others. Some campgrounds cater to adults with no kids and retirees so they may not allow kids or have strict rules and charge extra.
We found the County Fair Grounds in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho was family-friendly and perfect for toddlers (and dogs too). So be creative and flexible when looking for RV camping locations.
Boondocking or free camping without hookups is another option. This is a great way to have plenty of room to roam and save money too. Just beware parking can be tricky and you will not have any hookups. Although, if you are not familiar with camping or RVs this might not be the best option for your family the first time out.
3. Car Seats in an RV
Earlier I mentioned that part of your choice of RV to travel will depend on the number of seatbelts. A word on car seats for your toddler – yes you need car seats and the kids must travel in them at all times.
If you are towing a travel trailer or 5th wheel in your own vehicle you will likely have the proper car seats safely installed.
If you are driving a motorhome you need to ensure that the kids can travel safely. We flew our own car seats out to Canada for our first trip and knew the type of RV ahead of time. Then we made sure to install the seats safely with seat belts in the motorhome.
RVshare has some more tips on traveling safely with kids on their blog. They have many resources for renting and planning your trip.
4. Packing for your family RV Trip
I Have created a packing checklist specifically for our personal RV trips. Of course, some of the details are similar to car road trips and tent camping trips. So these lists overlap some but having a specific checklist to RVs is necessary.
Some things like filling the propane bottles, packing food, stocking and cleaning the kitchen, organizing cupboards are unique to an RV trip.
Remember that you will need everything for hiking and camping as well as household items. For your first time camping in an RV, you will need to stock everything bedding, towels, cookware, clothes and more. Remember to bring lots of layers of clothes because although you may be sleeping in warmth you will need warm clothes for outdoor activities and sitting by the campfire.
If you are renting an RV, check the list of everything that is included, what is an extra charge and what you need to bring. We had all the bedding, towels, cookware and dishes included in our RV rental. Use our packing list and compare it to what will be provided for you so you don’t forget anything.
The RV packing checklist is in a spreadsheet so you can edit and fill in as needed. You can download the checklist as well as a planning toolkit here.
5. Enjoy Sleeping in Comfort
One of the big highlights of RV camping is that sleeping is easier and more comfortable than a tent. With an RV your family and especially toddlers and kids will be protected from extreme weather. They are well-insulated have heat and AC.
In addition, you will have individual beds for the kid and room to get comfortable. In an RV everyone has room for fluffy pillows, sleeping bags, blankets, and stuffed animals.
Take advantage of this benefit with little kids and babies. They can bring their own blanket, stuffed animal or lovey. You can get a small portable crib or bassinet in the camper for a baby.
6. Plan to Cook in Style
Cooking in an RV is easier than cooking over the campfire. Most RVs have a stovetop, an oven, microwave, small refrigerator, freezer and storage space. In addition, there are plenty of outlets for electric cooking appliances.
You can make your RV camping trip fun for toddlers by including some of their favorite meals or treats. Make food that is fun for everyone like mini pizzas, hamburgers, hotdogs, and even dessert.
Take advantage of being able to cook inside and having a variety of options available. On short trips, I pre-make many of the meals so that I don’t spend my time cooking. But on longer trips I just plan to cook every meal, shopping along the way.
Mornings are full of eggs, bacon, oatmeal and fresh food. One Thanksgiving we spent in Moab for the week and had Thanksgiving dinner right in our camper.
Tips for cooking in your RV: When we are at a campground with shore power, I use my electric skillet, instant pot, coffee maker and more. No sense in using up propane when the (free) electricity is included in the campsite fee.
When we are boondocking without hookups, I have to use the propane stove and oven. You can run a generator for power but that would be waste.
9. Take Activities to Keep Kids Entertained During the Long Ride.
The journey to your camping destinations is part of the adventure and you can make this much easier by being prepared with games and activities for the car ride.
We have traveled up to 20 hours in two days with five kids age 2 years old to 10 years old. Of course, there will be some whining and squabbling but if you’re prepared the trip will go much smoother (and more peaceful)
We have a couple of articles to help you with a road trip. DIY Printables to keep kids busy and 17 Tips for Toad Trips with Toddlers.
Here are some of the things that we take along on our long RV road trips:
Books on CD or audiobooks. We have both short interesting stories for the toddlers to enjoy while they’re awake and longer educational stories that the big kids and adults will enjoy while the toddler’s nap. We are currently working through “Story of the World”
Keep a list of travel games ready – at least in your mind. We do all of the old family favorites such as eye spy, license plate game, the alphabet game, and a variety of songs.
Electronics and gadgets can be very helpful but don’t overdo them. We hold off on the tablets iPads games and movies until absolutely necessary. We find so these are reserved for last resort. I do know some families that can watch movies for an entire trip and the kids will still be well behaved when they arrive. That’s not us though.
7. Have a Power Plan
With an RV you have options to power your appliances and charge your devices. I mentioned the options that I use for cooking appliances based on the type of power that we have.
You can use battery power, solar panel, generator, or plug your RV into the hookups at the campsite. Find out the options that you will have in your RV and be prepared.
We have a generator that requires regular gas so we have to make sure to have enough on hand. Some things on motorhomes are powered and recharged by the vehicle engine. So you start up the RV and can charge the batteries while you drive.
Remember batteries will need to be charged after a day or so plan accordingly. You will need at least a little power left in the battery to run the fan on the furnace, run electronics, and pull slides in, and power jacks up when leaving.
8. Bring your Favorite Kids Camping Toys
Unlike tent camping, RV camping you can fit toys and activities in the camper. You can enjoy your sports equipment, kayaks, bikes, water toys, and much more. Since you are camping you should bring camping activities to keep your little ones entertained.
We take along our bikes or scooters on most trips that start from home. I also keep life jackets on board for camping near a lake or ocean and toys to play in the sand.
Pro tip: You do have to choose wisely though because you don’t want to go over the weight limits of your RV. Every RV has a limit to the amount of weight that you can add for stuff and gear.
10. Bring the Family Dog Along.
One of the reasons we started camping in a travel trailer was to take our dogs along. I hated leaving my dog behind on our family adventures. She hated it too, especially as she got older. And the kids all wanted to bring the dogs.
When going RV camping with your dog check that you have all the necessary things. You should make sure that you have a collar and leash, medication, bedding, cleaning supplies in case of an accident. Also, don’t forget to bring toys and food and water dishes.
Tip: Pet supplies are included in our printable RV packing list here.
Remember to check that where you camp is a dog-friendly place because a lot of private campgrounds have various pet policies.
At the campgrounds, you will see many people have a small fence or play yard set up for the dogs. Some campgrounds allow this and in others, the dogs will need to stay on the leash.
We chose a pet-friendly campground in Coeur d’Alene over others because my mom wanted to bring her German Shepherd to visit. Most of the private campgrounds in the area did not allow German Shepherds.
11. Don’t Forget the First Aid Kit
When going RV camping you can pack a larger, more comprehensive first aid kit for emergencies such as bumps, bruises, burns, and allergic reactions.
I can say with confidence you will get cuts, scrapes, bruises, bumps, and other injuries while camping.
Hopefully, none of them are very serious but we have had some incidences where we needed our first aid kit for example of a burn that needs treatment and multiple bee stings.
So the list for our first aid kit has grown as we have more accidents. We find we use these things the most: antibiotic, band-aides, hydrocortisone cream, sunblock, individual eye drops (for dirt in the eyes), and pain reliever.
A checklist for an RV First Aid Kit is included in our Family RV Packing Checklist
12. Embrace the Dirt
Kids love to get dirty and toddlers are especially close to the ground. They will love to play in the dirt, jump in muddy puddles, and race around the campsite.
Camping is not the time to freak out about dirt. I mean don’t let them eat it or drag muddy boots through the RV, but let toddlers play in the dirt. Plus, it’s good for them (source).
Search and catch bugs (the safe kind) in a butterfly net or bug catcher. look under rocks for treasures and splash in the creek.
Bring along a good outdoor mat and some old towels or rags to wipe them off before coming into the camper. A collapsible bucket is perfect for washing off mud or sand from feet, legs, hands, and whatever else is dirty. While you are at it you can wash the dog’s paws too.
We also keep a basket right outside the door to kick off muddy shoes. If you are flying and renting a camper, even a popup basket would corral the shoes.
13. Keep the Camper Tidy
The great thing about a small space is that it is easy to clean up. On the other hand, it gets dirty very quickly. So plan on tidying up and keeping the dirt and crumbs to a minimum. A small spray bottle, a few microfiber cloths, and a broom will really help keep everything clean.
I use a small spray bottle of watered-down dish soap to wash dishes and wipe up spills.
Also, since we are a big family with small children, I cover the couch and dinette seats. The dinette is covered with a basic sheet to keep the crumbs and spill to a minimum. Plus, the toddler sits in a high chair.
14. Take Advantage of Campground Amenities
Campgrounds will have a variety of amenities to make your stay more comfortable. Public campgrounds will likely just have the basics but I have seen some really nice ones with showers too. Private campgrounds will have even more things to offer. Find out the amenities of the campground you are staying at and plan to use them.
When showers are available, I take my flip-flops and shower basket and head over for a nice long warm shower. Anytime we have access to washing machines, I get the dirty clothes together and my detergent. I throw in a load or two to keep us stocked with clean clothes.
When we have stayed on a lake we have rented kayaks and paddle boats. So you will have many fun things to try at each different campground.
Thoughts on RV Camping with a Toddler
An RV trip is on many families’ bucket lists. RV camping is perfect for small children and toddlers because you have so many of the comforts of home. You can spend time doing all the fun camping activities and then get inside in a real bed at night.
More resources that you need to plan your trip:
- Packing List for Family RV Camping Trip
- Guide to RV Camping in Moab
- Arches National Park in One Day
- Why You Vacation with Kids is Important
Follow these tips for your first RV family camping trip with your toddler or baby and you will have an unforgettable vacation. Pin this image for later when you start planning your family RV camping trip!
I hope you can plan ahead and enjoy the journey with your kids. At my Etsy Store, there are planners and journals that you may wanna check out to use for your next trip.
Hi, I’m Shauna – Welcome to Family Travel Fever. We are a large family, that was bitten by the travel bug! I take the kids by myself because I don’t mind flying or driving solo with my crew to discover the coolest places.
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