How to survive a long RV road trip

After we returned this past summer from our three-week summer adventure to Michigan and Wisconsin, reader Kristin T. commented on Facebook that she would love to read a blog post about prepping for longer road trips: “I’m interested in meal planning, grocery shopping, storage of food, etc.” It was a great post idea, so we were happy to oblige. ???? This is Part Two of a two-part series related to planning and executing a longer road trip. You can read Part One here.

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Three summers ago we set out on our first multi-week RVing road trip. And I can admit that I had some serious anxiety going into the trip. We had never spent that much consecutive time on the road away from home. As much as I love to travel and RV, I’m a homebody at heart and I like having my own space–you know, the kind of space where you hide in your bedroom to eat that bag of chocolates in peace. So the thought of spending 21 days on the road in our van and 32-foot camper left me feeling a bit claustrophobic.

The thought of all that togetherness was further compounded by my concerns of not being adequately prepared for the trip. I had no idea what to expect from a multi-week trip and I didn’t want my lack of planning to adversely affect this epic adventure we were about to undertake. What if I forgot that? Or what if we can’t find this on the trip? I know I drove Jarrett crazy in the final weeks leading up to our 2015 West trip. Poor guy. 😉

Since I’m hoping I’m not the only RVing mama out there with pre-trip anxiety, I’ve compiled some of our favorite tips to help you and your family not just survive but THRIVE on a long road trip.

Schedule down days

One of the easiest things you can do to thrive on a multi-week road trip starts during the planning stage: Make sure to schedule “down days.” What are “down days”? These are days when you aren’t on the road traveling, and you aren’t out exploring. These are the days you use for margin: grocery shopping, laundry, sitting at the playground, or lounging around the campfire. They are quiet, regrouping days to balance out the busy (sometimes chaotic) days.

Alternate activities

We find that if we schedule too many touring days in a row, our kids get a bit restless. So when we are planning our itinerary, we try to find ways to alternate what we are doing. For example, if we have scheduled a trip to the museum one morning, we will try to find a fun something fun for the kids to do in the afternoon that allows them to run off steam–preferably outside. 🙂

Since every family is made of members with varying interests, we also find it is helpful to seek out opportunities that reflect those differences. Some members of our family can only handle so many museums, so intermingling outdoor adventures like canoeing, hiking, and geocaching is a way to affirm everyone’s personalities. And in the end the whole family experiences a much more diverse and well-rounded trip.

Know before you go

Doing a little bit of research before you leave about the places you are visiting can go a long way to assuage concerns. I prefer to shop at Aldi since the stores tend to be set up the same way, so Jarrett always looks to see if there will be Aldis along our route. If so, he makes a note of where they are located so we can be sure to schedule a shopping trip when we are there. He also notes any other places we might want to stop at along the way, like Walmarts or Flying J’s, as well as the location of hospitals and RV repair locations.

Keep your routine

We find it helps everyone’s attitudes if we keep our kids (and ourselves) on the same bedtime schedule we have at home. Sometimes things get complicated when we are dealing with new time zones, and we have handled this two ways on our past travels. Option 1) If we are only going to be in that time zone for a few days, we keep to our regular time zone schedule for eating and sleeping. Option 2) If we are going to be in a new time zone for awhile, we make the switch, but then a few days before we head home we start to ease back into the normal time zone.

make the trip a team effort

Although a multi-week road trip is a vacation, it’s also a lot of work, especially for mom and dad. So find ways to get the whole family involved with helping. This could be simple things that young kids could do like setting the picnic table for dinner or cleaning the bathroom. They could help pack lunches for your touring days, or assist with washing and drying dishes after dinner. You could also teach older kids how to help with camper set-up or tear-down duties–this is something we have recently begun doing with our kids. 

Give each other space

Although it can be hard to find ways to give each other space when you are living out of a 32-foot travel trailer, it’s still important to make it happen. That’s one of the reasons we made curtains for the kids’ camper bunks. The curtains help them settle down at bedtime and also provide a way for them to let everyone else know they need some quiet time reading, playing by themselves, or just resting.

Jarrett will often get some quiet time by running in the morning, biking the campground, or putting the kayak in the water. I find snatches of quiet by reading while I supervise the kids at the playground or by going solo to do our resupply shopping.

Create special travel traditions

When the kids were younger I had a few special road trip traditions that they eagerly looked forward to. As they have gotten older those travel traditions have changed a bit. Now that they have longer attention spans, we select a new chapter book to read to them over the course of our road trip. Another tradition our family loves is listening to our favorite audio series, Adventures in Odyssey, on our long drive days.

Buy Postcard stamps before the trip

I can tell you from experience that finding a post office drop box is pretty easy when traveling the country. What’s not always so easy is finding an open post office, so save yourself the hassle and just buy postcard stamps ahead of time. And while you’re at it, print out address labels for the people you plan to send postcards to. I can guarantee it will significantly increase your odds of actually sending those postcards rather than carting them all over the country. (Of course I would never have done that. Ahem.) And I can attest it is so much cooler to mail postcards from the city you visited rather than mailing them all at once from your everyday zip code.

things aren’t always going to go as planned

You are bound to have a few hiccups along the way. And that’s ok, because it really is all part of the adventure. After all, the blooper reel makes for some awesome stories to share with co-workers and friends when you get home!

Spread kindness along the way

If you missed our post about our campaign to spread kindness at the campground, be sure to head over here to read it and score some free printables to help you get started. One of the amazing things about spreading kindness is the positive effect it has on the giver. And what better way to THRIVE on a road trip adventure than to plant seeds of kindness along the way?

What about you: Have you been on a long road trip with your family? What things do you do to help your family not just survive but also thrive?

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