Creating family connections (when you can’t take an RV vacation)

Several years ago when our kiddos were small and our budget smaller, we were in a season where taking long or frequent RVing adventures was not possible. At the time Jarrett was neck-deep in summer classes and course work related to his doctoral program. With almost every weekend spent attending Friday and Saturday classes, and the days in between filled with hours of reading and writing in preparation for those classes, it left very little time for us to get away as a family. Meanwhile we were wading through the trenches of infancy, toddlerhood, and preschoolville that left us basically too exhausted to do much more than one week-long camping vacation a year.

As one season of life morphed into another, we found ways to sprinkle a few more RV adventures into our yearly chronicle. But then a move, job change, and unexpected medical diagnosis threw a few more curveballs our way and derailed us from pursuing some of our RVing dreams.

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In recent years that’s changed as we’ve found ways to make creating family connections one RV adventure at a time a priority. But even then the seasons of life continually dictate an ebb and flow. That’s how this year is evolving for us: After our early summer trip, we don’t have any other RVing plans on the calendar. That’s because this year we are in a different season: We are helping a family member make a big move, and we are deep into our remodel of Tilley.

I know many families are in a similar position—except finding time and resources to even take one week-long RV adventure a year is a challenge … every year. So how can families who are facing circumstances that constrain their ability to travel still build those family connections even when the camper can’t leave the driveway?

In “60 One-Minute Memory Builders,” Dave and Claudia Arp share a story about what happened when they tried to schedule just one more family vacation before their son headed off to college: One thing after another meant nothing was aligning to get something on the calendar. Eventually the Arps were trying to find just one day that the whole family could be together to make “one more family memory”—but that was even proving to be impossible. Finally their son said, “Mom, Dad—do you know how many memories we have? We have memories on top of memories! I don’t need more memories to take with me—I have memories up to here!”

The Arps had spent all of their children’s childhoods finding simple ways to make memories on a consistent basis—without even taking a vacation:

We all desire that someday our children will leave home with their share of good memories. … But life can be so busy and complicated; we can have good intentions and simply lack the time to carry them out! Some (people) make the mistake of looking for large blocks of time to build memories. But in today’s rat race, that time may not be found! Building memories does take time—but it doesn’t necessarily take large blocks of time! Family vacations are great when we can pull them off. But the majority of memories we cherish as a family happened in the little bits of time.

The Arps’s book is filled with ideas for how to take simple days and turn them into a memory. And they got me thinking about other ways families could create deeper family connections even when it’s not possible to hook up the camper and go on an RV adventure. As Laura Ingalls Wilder once said, “It is the sweetsimple things of life which are the real ones after all.”

So here are a few ideas you can do with your kids this summer to start creating family connections even when you can’t take an RV vacation:

Go on a day-hike at a nearby state park.

Explore a trail you’ve never hiked before. Take a picnic lunch to eat on the trail. (Just remember, pack in, pack out!) Keep little ones engaged with printable nature journals or nature collection books that chronicle what they see, hear, smell, and touch: Visit our Pinterest board here for links to lots of great ideas!

Have a Campfire in your backyard.

Set up a fire ring or fire pit and roast hot dogs and marshmallows just like you would if you were camping. Sing songs; tell stories; play word games; read aloud; gaze at the stars. Unwind and have fun with your people.

spend the night “camping out” in your camper.

Set up the camper and have a family slumber party in the camper just like you would on an RV trip. Play a board game; read aloud a favorite book. Then snuggle in for the night.

Have a “Get to know my hometown” Day.

Maybe it’s a small community museum you’ve never been too, or maybe it’s a restaurant you’re always hearing great things about but you’ve never eaten at. As a family plan a “Get to know my hometown” day: Pick a couple spots that you’ve never quite had the time to visit before and then set aside a day to explore those places as a family.

Attend a community youth field day.

Do a little bit of research to see if any sporting or conservation clubs in your area offer youth field days. These special events are designed to introduce youth to outdoor sports like archery, fishing, shooting, and hunting through closely supervised hands-on activities. They are often free to attend and provide a unique opportunity for children to try out a variety of outdoor sports.

Create an outdoor treasure hunt for the kids.

Kids (of all ages!) love a good treasure hunt. Surprise them one sunny day with a treasure map and their first clue. Depending on the ages of your kids, it might have just a few clues, or it might require a shovel to actually dig up the treasure! The prize at the end could be anything from a “treasure chest” (i.e., decorated shoebox) filled with treats or prizes, to a special outing to an ice cream shop or other fun destination. Need some inspiration to get started with planning a treasure hunt? Here’s a post that offers some great ideas.

Volunteer for a conservation project as a family.

What better way for families to build stronger bonds than by volunteering together? The type of project you select could be as simple as doing litter pickup at a nearby park or beach. Or you could sign up to help with a larger project through a local park or places like the National Park Service, the National River Cleanup program, and the Arbor Day Foundation.


Do you have other ideas for ways to create family connections (even when you can’t take an RV vacation)? If so, leave us a comment below!

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