As our family travels North America in our RV full time, we are always looking for ways to promote learning – and not just for our four kids, but also for us parents!
This is extra important for our family because we homeschool our kids (we actually do a form of homeschooling called unschooling). Because of this, there is no start or end to our ‘school day’ or ‘school year.’ In our rolling home, learning happens all day every day and doesn’t have a start or an end.
Whether you also homeschool your kids or travel during school breaks, here are a few tips for incorporating learning into your travels (most of these are great for adults, too):
1. Join the Junior Ranger Programs
Every National Park has a Junior Ranger program. Just stop in at the Visitor Center to ask for the Junior Ranger book, then complete a variety of pages (different amounts are required for different ages). Afterwards, you can hand the book back in and have the ranger check it. They will then have the kids hold up their right hand and repeat the Junior Ranger pledge for that park to receive the badge. Or if you are short on time, you can take it home with you, mail it in and they will send you your badge.
This is such a great way for all of us to learn even more about the parks we are visiting – and it often involves science, history and lots of reading!
2. Check Out Visitor Centers
Outside of the Junior Ranger programs, all National Parks have visitor centers that we always make sure to stop in. They often have a museum to walk through or a ranger available to answer questions about the park. Usually, they will also have a video that explains the history of the park and tells you more about what you will be seeing.
Bonus – it is always FREE to go to a Visitor Center (read about other free family activities we suggest)! We love supporting National Parks, they are a great place for families. However, many cities have great visitor centers as well.
3. Plan for Free Time
Our kids have a lot of down time at the campgrounds, state parks or national parks we stay at. While you may be wondering how this involves learning, for us it is one of the most important parts! We want to give our kids the space, time, and environment where they can just play, be creative, make friends, get in disagreements and work it out.
A lot of the research we have done points at how free play is such an important way for kids to learn and we couldn’t agree more. It’s pretty fun for adults, too!
4. Listen to Audiobooks
When you travel full time, you spend a decent amount of time driving – many hours some days! So, it is the perfect time to listen to audiobooks. Normally these are books like Laura Ingalls Wilder or Harry Potter. The best part about listening together is that we can have a family book club where we talk about what we thought about the book we listened to.
Another cool thing about this is that we can then visit places that relate to the books, like Laura Ingals Wilder’s home in South Dakota or The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal!
5. Get Hands-On in Museums
One of the best purchases that we have made (outside of our National Parks pass) was a reciprocal museum membership. The membership gets us into science centers, national history museums, and children’s museums all over the country!
Not all museums are on the program, but most of them are. Before visiting a city, we will look up which of the museums are part of the reciprocal membership program and then plan a visit. As a family, we can easily spend all day in a museum and always learn a lot! We also get discounts on zoos and aquariums.
6. Plan Outdoor Activities
We like to get outside as much as we can and experience the area through hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, tubing, swimming, biking … you get the idea.
This does two things: 1 – It allows all of us to really immerse ourselves in the environment we are in. To touch it, feel it, smell it, and see it. And 2 – It helps us all be physically active and get exercise, which no matter your age is an important thing.
As anyone who spends time outside knows, nature is the ultimate teacher and helps encourage our curiosity.
7. Embrace Technology
In this day and age, you can’t avoid technology and it will be part of our kids’ future. So, in our home, there is also time spent on tablets. It could be Minecraft or another educational game. Of course, it can be used for watching a cartoon or movie, too. The internet has given us so many great tools to learn from right at our fingertips and we definitely use this as part of how we all continue to learn.
When learning becomes part of everyday life, it is amazing to see how it appears all day and all year long in a variety of different ways! We hope our tips help your family enjoy gaining knowledge during your travels, as well.
Editor’s Note: The recent shutdown of portions of Yosemite, due to the deadly Ferguson fire, had this beloved National Park and the state of California on the minds of many across the U.S. But now that the fire has been contained by some amazing, hard-working individuals, the park is getting back to normal operations and you can start planning (or re-planning) your visit! However, please keep in mind that these tips from our contributor are based on her family’s trip in the spring, so just make sure you check that you will have access to these destinations before heading out on your own Yosemite adventure.
Yosemite is a magical place and one of those locations you should visit at least once in your lifetime. When you drive into the valley, you see these massive mountains and beautiful scenery all around you … and that’s just the start. We highly recommend spending a week exploring Yosemite National Park and have included our tips and can’t-miss activities below.
Where to Camp
If you can fit and if you can get a spot, definitely stay in Yosemite National Park. You will be so glad that you did. Staying in the park at one of the campgrounds means you won’t have to wait in line at the entrance to get in every day. You can walk or take the bus to pretty much everywhere in the Valley.
Note: There is no sewer, electric or water hookups at any of the campgrounds, so be prepared for that. But I promise it is worth it! They do have water spigots located near the bath houses in the campgrounds, so you can fill large containers of water to bring back to your campsite. They also allow generator usage during certain times of the day. But, they do not have a dump station in the park. Check their website for more details.
Also, for those that are traveling full-time and need internet for work, or those just dying to share their pictures on social media, there was a strong Verizon signal at most of the campgrounds in the Valley.
If you can’t stay in the park, another option is the Yosemite Valley Thousand Trails Campground. The campground is very nice, but it will take you about one hour to get into Yosemite Valley and there is absolutely NO internet at the campground. They also offer a bus that runs from the campground to the Valley daily.
Hiking the Mist Trail
We have done a lot of hiking through our travels and one of our favorites of all time is in Yosemite – The Mist Trail. On this hike, you walk right up and past a massive waterfall – especially if you visit in the spring.
It is a strenuous hike (2000’ elevation gain). So, if hiking isn’t your thing, you may want to just start the hike and stop at the view of the falls. However, if you are able to keep going, then do it! I promise it is worth it when you get to the top of the falls.
Visiting Lower Yosemite Falls
If you are looking for something easier, then Lower Yosemite Falls is for you. It is about a one-mile loop hike to the gorgeous falls. However, this hike does attract a huge crowd since it is short and easily accessible.
Drive to Glacier Point
We loved taking a drive up to this amazing viewpoint in Yosemite. The views at Glacier Point are spectacular! You can walk around the area and get a variety of different views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Half Dome and the waterfalls around the park.
They also have a concession stand and gift shop up there. It does get busy, so if you want a parking spot, you should plan on getting there before 9 a.m.
Half Dome Village
Half Dome Village is an interesting place to visit. You get your rock climbers that are staying at Camp 4, who totally look rough, rugged and maybe like they haven’t showered in a week. And then your tourist crowd.
The vibe was very cool and we really enjoyed spending time in this area. You can buy a beer at the general store with some snacks and sit out at a picnic table, order pizza, or enjoy your meal inside in the cafeteria setting. They also have a variety of speakers and presentations that they do at the amphitheater setup in Half Dome. You really could spend a full day just hanging around here!
The other village in the park is Yosemite Village. This is where you will find the Visitor Center. This is always worth a visit to enjoy the educational displays about the park and to ask the rangers what they recommend doing while you are there.
There is also a museum in the village and an art gallery. The museum had a few hands-on activities for the kids to do, which is always great.
This will take you outside of the Valley and up to about 10,000 feet where you get a totally different perspective on Yosemite and a lot less people. It is a bit of a drive, but we highly recommend it and love going to places that are less busy.
Once here you can stop by the Tenaya Lake (where there may still be snow on the ground!) and then head out on one of the many hikes in the area. We did a short hike to the top of a boulder called Pothole Dome and it was perfect since it gave us a beautiful panoramic view. Just remember it will be cold up there, since you are so high up!
Another great place that is away from the crowds is Hetch Hetchy. You actually have to leave the park and then enter it again in another location to get to Hetch Hetchy. It is a reservoir that produces drinking water for San Francisco and the surrounding area.
We did a five-mile hike along the reservoir that brought us to a waterfall that we could walk practically under! Again, we were here in the spring, so the water was flowing. But, I do know it slows down later in the season.
Yosemite can be very busy in the summer, but even with the crowds it is worth going. Just be prepared to have to wait and try to get places early. Or plan to take the shuttle bus in the park to wherever you want to go. You can park in Yosemite Village for the day and then hop on the bus.
We went in May right before Memorial Day and if you are looking to see the waterfalls in all their glory, this is the time to go! It may be a little cooler, but dress accordingly and you will be all good. Fall also has cooler weather and fewer crowds, and all areas of the park are usually open through October.
Living and traveling full time in a 21-ft (18 feet of living space) travel trailer with four kids and a dog means you have to get a little creative with the inside storage and where things go. It also means you want it to be comfortable and inviting while providing inspiration for your kids!
Below our five ways that we have attempted to do just that in our Micro Minnie:
1. Convert the shower to a closet
There is basically little to no clothes storage in our trailer. But as full-timers, we have to fit all seasons of clothes for six people. What to do?
Our solution was to turn the shower into the clothes storage area. It has been a great solution for us for multiple reasons. It is a large space that doesn’t get used often, so there was a lot of room to be used. And we are fine showering in the bathrooms at the campgrounds – which normally have unlimited hot water and good water pressure. Plus, we don’t have to worry about cleaning our shower. Win win win!
Our easy how-to
As soon as we made the decision that this would be the route we were going to go, we measured our shower (including the corner area that juts out) to see what type of shelves we could get to fit.
Luckily, after a little trial and error, we found a smaller size shelving unit that would fit perfectly. And it holds itself in place really well. However, we did add one tension rod to help ensure it did not tip forward when driving (and help calm our nerves a bit).
Also note that it fits securely but can jostle the shower handles, so it is always important to make sure the water pump is turned off when driving down the road. Yes, there was a time we forgot and a lot of clothes got really wet.
Next was finding bins that would fit. Luckily IKEA had them and they fit in there snugly with the lip on the shelf holding them in place. Then for the top of the shelves, we put baskets that we secured down with 3M Velcro Strips. As you can probably tell, this took a lot of measuring and looking at baskets and bins at multiple stores before finding the right ones. But now that we have it all setup, it works great.
2. Add bonus storage for phones and books
In such a small space, we do not have a night stand area, but still have night stand things like phones and books we want in an easy to reach place. Our solution? Mesh baskets and a staple gun.
We decided over the window was a good open space to store these things. Then, after measuring the top of the window and determining the height, width and length, I was able to track down a few bins that fit perfectly and stay in place while traveling.
3. Get creative with pet necessities
When having a dog, you need somewhere for their bed to go along with their food. We found great solutions for both with a dog dish that also has food storage below it. Perfect! And a dog bed that we could take the stuffing out of the top part, so it would fit right under the slide area and still give her plenty of room to lay.
We also got a fun hopscotch rug to help protect the floor and it fits in with the idea of making an inviting and comfortable home in our trailer. And yes, the trailer shakes when the kids play a game of hopscotch!
4. Find homes for all the toys
Our trailer has two bunk beds that are adult size which means they are really long and our kids aren’t that tall yet. This leads to a perfect opportunity to add in storage at the end of their bed. In comes IKEA again with a small shelf unit that fits in almost perfectly.
Our daughter has bins for her main items, a small suitcase for her doll clothes and accessories, room for books, and the bottom shelf is a bed for her dolls.
For our older son, who is a little taller, we opted to raise the bottom shelf and put the mattress pad straight into the bottom of the shelving unit, so he still has plenty of room to stretch out and his feet don’t hit the shelf.
He has a very important case with a lock on it that didn’t quite fit, but we had to keep. So we rigged up a bungee cord to hold it in place while traveling.
The rest of the toys that get played with daily go under the dining table in plastic bins (measured to make sure they are skinny enough to slide by the table legs, and short enough for when the bed goes down). Then the toys or board games that get taken out less often go in the storage under the seats. We also use that storage for school books and additional items we need to store.
There is a lot of storage under the seats and it isn’t to much of a hassle to open them up to get out what we need.
5. Stick to wall decorations
It has always been important to us to make our rigs feel like home. And vinyl stickers are perfect for that! Again, measuring was important and then finding the right ones (that we liked) to order on Amazon.
When you travel full time with kids, maps are always important to help everyone understand where we are that day. We opted for the world map to help our kids learn more about the world and where we are in it. Then we went with a couple of sayings that we really liked and wanted our kids to see over and over again. Add in a cork board for a place to showcase their art work and we were good to go!
In an RV, a little creativity goes a long way! However, like most travelers, we are still learning as we go. For example, you may have realized I didn’t show our kitchen. Well, it is still a work in progress while we are trying to figure out exactly where everything should go. We are getting there, but in the mean time, please feel free to share any tips or ideas that you have on how to make an RV kitchen as functional as possible!
Being on the road for over three years, we knew there were some things that we wanted to upgrade right away to our travel trailer setup. We sat down and made the list and then started to figure out where we could get it as soon as possible. Our top upgrades are listed here.
Our first trip was going to be to Baja Mexico, so we knew we wanted to get solar so that we could boondock on the beach and stay at campgrounds that didn’t have electric (or where we didn’t trust the electric). Instead of going the more expensive way of doing a solar panel attached to our roof, we went with a suitcase solar setup.
That means our solar panels close up into a suitcase. And when we need to use them, we just take out the “suitcase” and point it towards the sun and connect it to our trailer through the batteries. We do this by taking the lids off the batteries and connecting the wires using alligator clips.
There are advantages and disadvantages to the solar suitcase, but that needs its own post. For now, know that we are very happy with the solar suitcase and it worked out well for us.
If we wanted to be able to plug in things like our computer, or anything else with a plug, we needed an inverter. Without the inverter, the only things that would work in the rig are the USB plugs and the lights.
Yes the trailer says solar ready – which it is, but only if you get Zamp solar panels. And even then, only the USB and lights would work without an inverter.
We bought the inverter from the dealership (they had to order it) and had them install it and wire it. When we turn on the inverter and it is fully charged by the solar, we can plug in our computer to charge it. With the inverter, it is not wired throughout the RV. So, we can only plug things into the outlets on the inverter. Which we had installed by our table in the trailer.
We knew from past rigs that we wanted to upgrade to six-volt batteries right away. It gives us more amp hours when we are boondocking or not plugged in. We got two six-volt golf cart batteries at Costco and then bought new battery boxes for them to fit in.
We then asked the dealer to install these batteries and the battery box instead of the single 12 volt battery that came with the trailer. They installed them and did have to reconfigure the battery box by trimming the lids down a little bit to fit. It worked without issue.
Bike Bunk For Cargo Tray
This is a bike bunk that fits over the tongue of our trailer. You then have to purchase a bike rack to go into the bike bunk to put your bikes on. We went with the SportWing hitch mount bike carrier, since it was the only one that Walmart had at the time.
We did have to modify it to fit to our liking. Which meant we cut the shank that goes into the receiver down, so that it fit closer to the trailer and was further away from our car. We didn’t want to hit our van windows when we were making a tight turn.
Ladder Bike Rack
We have four kids, so a normal two-bike rack wasn’t going to do it. There wasn’t enough room to fit all four on the tongue rack, so we added an additional one on the ladder. We double checked with the dealership and they said the ladder can hold the weight of two, grown men so we should be fine.
We got the bike rack from the dealership shop. We don’t currently have any adult bikes with us, but we will figure that out if we need to. Or else just rent bikes if we want to go out biking as a family.
Gas Can Holder
Again, this necessity came more out of going to Baja and knowing there were some big stretches with no gas. But now we have it, so we are set! We got a Jerry Gas Can Holder that we attached to the back bumper of the trailer by fastening it to a deck board then using four-inch u-bolts fastening the deck board to the bumper.
We then purchased the Jerry Gas Can at a local Harbor Freight store to go into the holder. Check and check!
We work from the road, so we need internet. For that reason, we installed a weBoost to help boost our internet coverage. It is amazing how it can take your signal from 3G to 4G!
These are the upgrades we chose for our full-time RVing lifestyle. Depending on how you plan to travel, you may not need all of them, or you may need to find different solutions for your family. Hopefully, this article will help you make your own list of upgrades for your rolling home.
As we explained in our previous posts, the first steps into moving into a travel trailer was picking out our trailer and tow vehicle. With that complete, it was time to get everything in place so that we could safely tow the trailer. Below are the steps we took to do that:
Step 1: Selecting and adding a hitch receiver to the van.
We went online to eTrailer, which is a company we have purchased products from in the past and did some research, read reviews and selected the hitch receiver that would work with our vehicle. Their website was really helpful for finding a compatible hitch receiver since you just enter in your vehicle year, make, and model then they give you a list of compatible products you can purchase.
In the end we decided to go with a Curt XD Extra Duty hitch receiver which was rated for up to 17,000 lbs. This is more than double for our trailer weight. After having to deal with weight issues in our View, we wanted to make sure we didn’t have to deal with it in our new van/trailer setup!
In full disclosure, we used eTrailer for our research, but actually ordered from Amazon since the receiver was less expensive there. It’s always worth looking around at a few places for the best price.
Step 2: Selecting and getting the brake controller installed on the van.
In our research, we found there is only really one brand for brake controllers called Tekonsha. We had a Tekonsha Prodigy P2 on our View. So, we were familiar with that brand and model. We also found out that there was a new model out, so we went with that: the Tekonsha P3.
We ordered the brake controller from Amazon as well, but not the wiring kit. We had reached out to a local trailer supply shop that would install everything and they provided the wiring in their install package.
After the hitch receiver and brake controller were delivered from Amazon, we brought everything to the trailer supply shop and had them install it. The videos eTrailer provided on the products showed an easy to follow, step-by-step guide on how to install both the receiver and the brake controller. But the brake controller wiring was a bit more complex and I wanted that done right by a professional.
Step 3: Selecting and installing the hitch and sway bars for the trailer.
We had used a Blue Ox tow bar and base plate in the past with our diesel pusher motorhome and tow vehicle. We were very happy with the brand, so we knew we wanted to go with them again for our hitch.
We also wanted to have anti-sway bars, which we had read really help with the control of your trailer while driving. A weight distributing hitch was on our list as well, which also helps with control and ease of towing. The Blue Ox SwayPro Weight Distributing Hitch met all of these needs.
The next step was determining the tongue weight of the trailer after it is fully loaded with all of our things. Based on that weight, we were going to select the right sway bars. When we went to do that, we realized we were on the edge of going to the next level up based on weight. So, Craig called Blue Ox’s customer service department and talked to someone to make sure we selected the right one.
We were under the assumption it is always better to go heavier duty, but for the sway bars that was not the case. The customer service department explained that if you go too far over your weight, it will lead to a rougher ride since the sway bars are more rigid than you need.
We trusted him and went with his recommendation. The next thing we had to consider was the height of the trailer tongue compared to the height of the hitch receiver on the van, to make sure the trailer is level while we are hooked up.
For this part, we relied on the dealer we bought the trailer from to select the right hitch drop based on the heights. They were able to do this when they were installing the hitch and sway bar hookups on the trailer. This is something important to consider when working with a dealership.
We had done our research on which hitch to purchase, so we knew what we needed. But we purchased the hitch setup through the dealer, so they could install it correctly for us based on all the heights and weight.
When putting a deal together for your trailer, be sure to have the conversation about including this in your trailer price or be sure to work out a good price on the install before you sign the papers! In some cases, the hitch may be included in the price of the trailer.
Another good part about the dealer installing it, was they installed the sway bar hookups in the right location and set the sway bars for the right weight for the trailer. They also showed us trailer newbies how to hook up the trailer, unhook the trailer and taught us what we needed to do with the sway bars.
Well, there you have it. Everything you need to get your trailer and tow vehicle setup and ready for the road! And, sorry for the dusty pictures. We are in Baja, Mexico and dust and sand are everywhere!
We have been traveling full-time since May 2014, but this is our first time with a trailer. In the past we had a diesel pusher 39-foot motorhome and a 23-foot Class C. But until our recent purchase of a Micro Minnie travel trailer, we had never experienced the world of towable RVs before!
Helpful trailer-buying tips
When we went to look at trailers, we didn’t have the van yet and the sales person was very happy that we weren’t coming in with the tow vehicle already bought. She said a lot of the time people come in with the tow vehicle, but then find out that the tow vehicle won’t work with the trailer they want. Prior to buying the van, we had already been in to look at the trailers and were pretty sure we knew which one we wanted. This also meant we knew the weight of the trailer, so we knew what we needed in the tow vehicle.
Buying the right tow vehicle for your trailer is a process in itself, but with a little research and due diligence, you should be able to find the right fit. I would also err on the side of doing your own research on the vehicle’s tow weight and carry capacity and the trailer’s. I wish we could say just ask the dealer, but that is not always the case.
Instead, you need to become the expert in what you are looking for and you need to do your own research and go into the dealers with this knowledge, so you can ask the right questions and verify that you are actually getting what you need. We almost bought the wrong van because we figured they wouldn’t show us one with the 4.8L. But they did, and just thought it was the right one. Luckily, we double checked and didn’t make the wrong purchase.
How we decided on a tow vehicle
Ruling out a pick-up truck
Four kids and a dog is not the best setup for a pick-up truck. There just isn’t enough room in the cab for everyone to fit comfortably. Could we have made it work? I am sure we could have, but we thought a van would be a better fit for our family.
With a van we would also be able to remove a row of seats and build storage out in the back (trailers don’t have that much storage in them and we knew we were going to need more). It also meant we could put a camper toilet in the van for bathroom emergencies on the road (something I was concerned about with kids and the long road trips we take).
Keeping weight in mind
When we knew we were going with a towable we knew we had to put some good thought into the vehicle that would tow it. Part of the reason we left the Class C was we were just too heavy for it. We didn’t want that to be an issue again. That being the case, weight and what the tow vehicle could handle was a huge factor for us.
We took a close look at different vans/vehicles to see how much weight they could handle alone, along with how much weight they could tow. We had to keep in mind the weight of the trailer dry and also how much it would weigh when we had all of our stuff in it, including water and holding tanks.
Then we assessed the weight in the van. As a family, we weight just under 700lbs and then there was all of our storage stuff in the van. We had an idea of what all our stuff weighed from going through the weight issues before and weighing multiple times with the View. So, we took that and doubled it for good measure!
Deciding between a 12 vs. 15 passenger van
Now that we settled on getting a van, we had to decide between a 12 passenger and 15 passenger. The 15-passenger made sense for the space, but we decided to go with the 12 passenger for ease of traveling and for ease of driving it around town since it would be our only vehicle.
Also note if you decide to go with a 15 passenger, you will want to make sure it is a newer one with the wheel base in the right location. When they first came out with the 15 passenger, they didn’t move the wheels, but just added another row to the rear of the van and this is a safety hazard. They have since lengthened the wheel base on newer models.
Which 12 passenger van to get?! My husband did some research and we decided to check out the Chevy Express 3500 with the BIG engine. We didn’t want weight or power to be an issue.
We found what we thought was the one, but then found out it had the smaller 4.8L engine which meant it could tow less weight and from reading the forums, seemed to bog down when going uphill while pulling a load. We love the mountains and didn’t want any part of that. Instead we wanted the 6.0L which could tow just under 10,000lbs.
Luckily, our local dealer was able to find a Chevy Express 3500 6.0L at the auction and brought it back for us to check out. This was the one! We bought it and headed home to get it ready and find the trailer.
Putting it all together
The Winnebago Micro Minnie 2100BH travel trailer came in at 3,760lbs dry and could hold up to 7,000 pounds max. The vans we were looking at could tow 9,600lbs and had a gross combined capacity (weight of van, plus weight of trailer) of 16,000lbs. We wanted the van that left us room – not one we had to worry about weight.
We think we have the right combination: The Chevy Express 3500 and the Micro Minnie 2100BH trailer. My husband did his research and we knew what we needed for our family. The really fun part came when we had one week to get everything together, so we could get out of the freezing cold of Wisconsin and start heading to Baja, Mexico!
If you are traveling full time in your RV or like to take your RV for family vacations, finding FREE (or close-to-free) activities is always a good thing. We have been on the road with our four kids for over 3 ½ years and throughout the years we have found some great free (or close to it) things to do at the locations we visit.
Go-To Free Activities
This by far tops our list. Hiking is such an amazing way to get out and really see a new location. Plus, it is a great way to bond as a family. It always amazes me that as soon as we start hiking our oldest starts talking and sharing all his thoughts with us.
We have been to Yellowstone and Glacier National Park during the really busy season and whenever we go out on a hike, we pretty much get the whole place to ourselves. How cool is that? Next time you are heading somewhere with your family, Google “Top Hikes” in that area and then head out to get some exercise and to bond as a family for free.
Going to the Beach
Whenever we can find a beach, no matter if it’s by the ocean or a lake, we check it out. It is a great way to spend the day with your family and is normally totally free or close to it. What we have found is our kids need these days where they can go somewhere and just play – without having to wait in line or follow a lot of rules. The beach is a perfect place for this.
If you are staying at an RV resort, most likely there are activities planned throughout the week for you and your family. If you are looking for a place that offers a LOT of free family activities, I recommend looking for a Jellystone campground. They are great family campgrounds with loads of activities.
If you aren’t at a resort, but instead at a State or National Park, never fear! They usually offer a variety of free things from classes to presentations. When you check in, be sure to ask for a schedule of events. One of our favorite things is doing the Junior Ranger programs at the National Parks!
Riding bikes around is a great way to see a new city, plus so many places are adding amazing bike trails and building businesses/restaurants around the trails. Biking is like hiking – you are getting in exercise while also experiencing a different view point on the location you are visiting.
Local libraries usually have a lot of activities for kids from Lego night to craft nights and family nights. Being out of town, you may not be able to check out books, but you can normally attend the events or hang out at the library and look at and read the books while you are there.
Yup, a brewery visit with your family can be a lot of fun for everyone. Most of the breweries we have visited around North America have a great game selection and we have had many a game night with our family while the adults try the local brew. Yes, you have to pay for your beer, but the games are free!
Checking in at the cities visitor center is a good idea. They sometimes will have coupon packets or can share what is going on in the area at the time you are there. You can look these things up online, but talking to someone in person usually means you are going to get the insider scoop on what is going on in the area.
Tips for finding low-cost activities
Google: “Things to do for Free”
No matter where we go, we Google “Things To Do For Free” (and whatever city we are in comes up). This has been a great way to find free things that each city offers and to learn about free events in the area.
A lot of the time, this leads to us attending a free concert in the city or maybe a free day at an activity that the city is known for. It is always worth it to do a quick search.
Kids Eat Free
Going out to dinner can always be a big expense with a large family. We’ve found that Googling “Kids eat free” in the city we are in usually gives some options where kids eat free. This usually means there are limits, like one kids meal per adult meal, but it’s a good way to save some money while enjoying a new restaurant.
Groupon has been another great way to find deals for top attractions in an area we are visiting. This isn’t free, but if you find a good Groupon, you can get a decent price. This doesn’t always work, but it is always worth it to check to see what they are offering.
I can’t even tell you how many hundreds of dollars we save each year with our reciprocal museum membership. It is amazing. A reciprocal membership is a museum membership you buy that gets you into science centers for free and half price at children’s museums and aquariums and zoos around the U.S. You can learn more about how to get your own Reciprocal Museum membership here.
Every time we are going to a new city, we get out the list of Reciprocal Museums and circle the ones we want to go to. There are hundreds across the U.S., so there is normally one close by.
The best way to find free or close-to-it things when you visit a location is to do your online research and then find locals or visitor centers that you can ask and get the low down on what is going on around the city. But most importantly, have fun with your family!
When you are traveling with kids, picking the right RV park isn’t as easy as you may think! For example, have you ever heard of a kid tax? Ok, to be honest that isn’t really what it is called, but it is the name we gave it.
The Dreaded Kid Tax
What is a kid tax? That is the extra fee you have to pay at the RV park for your kids. Yup, it is a real thing and I can’t tell you how many RV parks do this. Basically, the rate says $40 a night for two people and an additional $5 a night for each extra person. When you are traveling with four kids that means an extra $20 a night! As you can imagine, we try to avoid these RV parks.
Top reasons to avoid parks with a kid tax:
1. If there is a kid tax it usually means it isn’t the most family friendly RV park. In other words, the kid tax keeps people like us (people with kids) away from these parks. I think that is part of the intention.
2. If they don’t want kids there, then we don’t want to be there. It makes it more stressful for ALL of us.
My #1 tip for picking the right RV Park when traveling with kids is to avoid RV parks with the kid tax. As a side note, whenever I am making a reservation I always mention that we have kids and a dog. The last thing I want is to pull up somewhere thinking we are going to pay $40 a night and instead it ends up being $60. So, it is always good to mention this when booking.
Kid-Friendly RV Park Checklist:
Once you rule out the kid tax, check to see if the park has any of these amenities. The more the better when traveling with kids!
Playground – When traveling, kids still just want to get out and run around and play. Having a playground at the RV park makes it easy for kids to burn energy before or after you go out site seeing for the day.
Open Space – Not always easy to find in an RV park, but if you can, look for one that has open grass for the kids to run in. Or try to check out the park map before you pick your site, to see if you can get one close to a field or open area
Pool – Assuming the weather is nice you can’t go wrong with a pool for kids. Just be sure you have allowed time in your trip for at least one, if not two days, to just hang out and have a pool day.
Things to Do Nearby – Anyone with kids knows that piling them into the car to head out for the day is a lot of work. That being the case, if we can avoid doing that we will take it! Finding an RV park that has hiking trails attached to it, is close to public transportation, a pond, or within walking distance of activities is always a bonus.
Site size – As you can imagine with four kids, we are rarely quiet. It is nice if the RV park has LARGE sites, so we have room to spread out and our neighbors are a little ways away, so they don’t have to listen to us all day.
We obviously take up a lot of space at our site. Six bikes, toys, and six people means we need a little room.
RV Park Alternative
The other option is to skip the RV Park completely and instead go to a State or National Park Campground. Granted you aren’t going to get the pool or playground normally, but we have found that people at these campgrounds tend to be a lot more laid back and accepting of kids than people we meet at RV parks. Not saying we haven’t met nice people at RV parks, because we have. But we always feel more comfortable being at a State or National Park campground.
Many of our favorite sites are at National or State Parks. You usually have more privacy and a more chilled atmosphere.
We have never had a trailer before and never really thought we would get one. We always thought we would be a motorhome family. But here we are a family of six, plus our dog Indy, in the Winnebago Micro Minnie 2100BH, a 21-foot travel trailer!
Finding the Best Fit
We started with a large 39-foot diesel pusher motorhome when we first got on the road in 2014. It had four slide-outs and was huge. It was a great rig for transitioning into full-time travel. However, we only really enjoyed it once we got somewhere (assuming they had a site that could fit us). But it was not so great when we were trying to travel and wanted to be able to make random stops.
This led us to purchase a 2006 used Winnebago View. That got us to 23 feet. It was great for traveling around, but we quickly realized we were just too heavy for it. Not that we didn’t fit. Surprisingly, we were able to configure things to fit in there pretty nicely.
We added a double bunk on top of the full bed in the corner and then that left the dinette and the bed above the cab. Don’t get me wrong, it was tight. But we always try to travel to places where we can be outside, so combining the inside space with outside living worked well for us.
The problem was, when you add up all of our body weights (even if I lost 30 pounds!) and the weight of the things we wanted to bring along, we were just too heavy. That being the case, we knew we needed to make a switch to something else.
At this point we were due for a new car since our current one was over 10 years old and had over 115,000 miles on it. It was great for when we were traveling, but we were starting to feel it wasn’t going to last much longer.
Add that on to the fact we wanted a new rig and it just seemed to make sense to get a car/van that could tow a new trailer. We started to ask, would a trailer work for us?
Choosing Our New Rolling Home
We started looking around and found the Micro Minnie 2100BH at i94 RV – a dealership right by our hometown in Kenosha, WI, where we were staying for a few months. It was great to be able to walk through one and the sales staff was awesome about answering our questions. We knew we could make it work. The two bunks in the back were great for two of the kids and then the other two could sleep on the dinette/bed. And Craig and I have a full bed in the front.
Finding the Right Vehicle to Tow It
Now what to get to pull it. The trailer is pretty light coming in under 4,000 lbs with a load capacity of 7,000 lbs, so we knew we wanted something that could tow the max 7,000 lbs. We weren’t interested in a pickup truck since that would be tight for six people and a dog. Instead, we started to look at 12 and 15 passenger vans.
Our long-term goal is to build a van out into a camper van. So, if we wanted to do a little more back-country exploring or camping, we had that option with a van. We found the 3500 Chevy Express and saw that one of them had a towing capacity of almost 10,000 lbs. Perfect!
After dealing with the weight issues with the View, we were happy to go overboard this time around. We test drove a 15 passenger and then a 12 passenger and even though the 15 passenger gave us more room for a van build out and storage, the 12 passenger was much better for getting around town. Since this was going to be our only car it made sense to go with the 12.
Putting It All Together
We bought the van first and took out the back row of seats and Craig built some shelves back there, so we had somewhere to store things. Since the trailer doesn’t have much for storage, the van gives us the extra needed space.
We then traded in our View for the trailer. Craig has never really towed anything before, but with the trailer being a double axle and the no-sway hitch we got, he said he can barely feel it!
We still have a lot to learn and figuring out how to set things up in the trailer, so nothing falls when traveling, will be a work in progress. But we are getting there. The kids have a lot more space to spread out now – they are two per bench right now. And our dog Indy has a spot snuggled in right in between Craig and I. Plus, the van has a plug upfront – perfect for charging my computer while I am working while traveling. We also got a camp toilet that we put in the back of the van – just in case someone can’t hold it while we are driving down the road!
Time will tell if we like this setup better than a motorhome, but it is kind of fun to experience all these different ways of living and traveling full time!
For now, we tested the combination out by driving 2,500 miles from Wisconsin to California and just crossed over the border into Baja, Mexico. We plan to spend three months exploring Baja before going up the California coast. You can follow along on our journey through Baja on Facebook and Instagram, @crazyfamilyadventure.
When visiting Yellowstone National Park there are opportunities to camp outside of the park, but we highly recommend planning your trip by camping in the park. Yellowstone is HUGE! It takes about four hours to get from one end to the other, taking into account traffic and bison jams. (Yes it is a real thing. They walk right across the road and hold up traffic for miles).
With all that driving, the last thing you want to do is have to drive outside of the park to stay for the night just to turn around and drive back in the next day. Our recommendation is to split your time between the campgrounds in Yellowstone so that you can really explore and enjoy each section of the park.
As you can imagine Yellowstone gets VERY busy in prime season – July and August. Campsites can be reserved up to 11 months in advance. So if you like to have a plan going into it, which we do recommend if you are going in prime season, then book sooner instead of later.
Three campgrounds we suggest for a week in Yellowstone:
If you want to have hookups every night, then book your whole stay at Fishing Bridge and just know you will be doing a lot of driving. This is totally doable. We stayed in Fishing Bridge for over three weeks and had days that we got up in the morning and were gone all day so that we could do the things we wanted to do throughout the park. That being said, we did wish we didn’t have to do so much driving! So, here are our suggestions for how to split up your stay at different campgrounds across the park.
Start here for your first two nights. There are no hookups, so two days is a good amount. Also note there are no showers here – so shower before you come. But, you can run a generator during certain hours.
Nearby Activities: From here you can visit Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic. Venture over to the Norris hot springs and hike to Fairy Falls. Be sure to check out the Old Faithful hotel – it really is an amazing structure.
Stay here for four nights with full hookups. We always appreciate full hookups after staying at a place with no hookups for a few nights.
Nearby Activities: Visit the Yellowstone Lake Hotel for a nice dinner and drinks looking out over the lake. Take a row boat out on Yellowstone Lake or spend a day at the beach there. Drive through Hayden Valley to see if you can spot buffalo, bears and other wildlife. Head to Mount Washburn for a challenging, but amazing hike.
Another park that does not have full hook-ups, but does have showers on site. A great pick for your last night.
Nearby Activities: Drive through Lamar Valley to look for more wildlife from wolves to bears and more bison! Head to the Grand Canyon. Yes, there is a Grand Canyon in Yellowstone and it is beautiful. Here you can also hike the North rim or South rim or both for some amazing views. For a little further trip head to the Mammoth Hot Springs.
Pricing ranges from about $25 a night to $50 for the full hook-up sites at Fishing Bridge. I have heard they are working on more full hook-up sites throughout the park, so hopefully those will be done soon! There are also seven additional campgrounds that are first come first serve. We have done that when we were there. But again, it is busy during prime time so you may have to get up early to get there and get a site! But good to know in case you are there and want to stay longer.
Things to keep in mind when camping here:
1. If you have never driven through mountains, Yellowstone can be a bit stressful to get in and out of. But having been there multiple times now,we know it is totally doable and this park is well worth planning a visit to.
2. Pets are allowed in the campgrounds, but not on the trails throughout Yellowstone. For good reason – there are a lot of bears and other wild animals out on the trails.
3. Generators are allowed in 7 of the campgrounds during set hours.
4. Fishing Bridge is hard-sided only for good reason – the bears.
5. Don’t ever leave food out. EVER. The bears and other wildlife smell the food and come into the campground. That is a bad situation for everyone.
6. The weather can change very quickly. They have had snow on the 4th of July. It isn’t anything to worry too much about if you are there during the summer months, but something to keep in mind. Always wear layers, just in case.
7. There are convenience stores in Yellowstone, but we highly recommend stocking up on groceries before you go.
If you are thinking about going to Yellowstone don’t delay on making your reservations. Go do it now, so you can get the site and campground that you want!
Welcome to Miami! Yes, there is Beach Front Avenue in Miami and it is pretty close to what all the TV shows and movies portray (big muscled men and women in little bikinis). But there is also so much more to do in Miami!
Shark Valley Everglades National Park
The top item on our list is Shark Valley – part of Everglades National Park. What an unreal experience! If you have bikes, bring them. It is a 15-mile roundtrip bike ride that takes you 7 ½ miles into the middle of the Everglades. That in itself is amazing.
But the really cool part is that it should be called Alligator Valley, not Shark Valley since you ride your bike right by HUGE alligators. Plus, alligators of all sizes – even babies. At one point, we had to stop to wait for the alligator to move further off of the paved trail. This guy was over 10 feet long!
At another point, we had to ride through the water with an alligator just a foot or so away in the swamp area. CRAZY. But also super cool.
When you get to the checkpoint in the middle of the trail, there is a lookout tower you can climb up to for an unbelievable view over the Everglades.
Although a bit longer, it is a pretty flat trail. Just be aware if it is windy you may be riding into the wind for quite a while. But, if you aren’t feeling up for the bike ride, they do have a tram that runs. But I don’t think the experience is as cool. We saw the tram flying by and everyone on it missed seeing some alligators since it was going so fast.
Wynwood Art District
This is an up and coming part of Miami that is filled with amazing graffiti artwork on the sides of almost every building in this part of the city. The artwork is beautiful. They also have a lot of cool stores and restaurants. It is totally a hipster area with a really cool vibe.
You can drive through the area or you can find somewhere to park and walk through to take your time looking at the artwork and to grab a bite to eat.
Knaus Berry Farm
If you are a fan of cinnamon rolls, you can’t miss this place! These cinnamon rolls are some of the best we have ever had. Be aware that everyone in the area knows that and sometimes they sell out. So get there early.
I highly recommend you make a visit to Little Havana when you are in Miami. Cuba is such a part of the culture and vibe of the area, and Little Havana is a great representation of that.
We got delicious ice cream at Azucar, danced on the street of the famous Calle Ocho to some amazing live Cuban music and walked over to checkout the people playing dominos in Domino Park.
If you and your family are into visiting zoos and love seeing animals, then Jungle Island should be on your list. When we first walked in, we got a chance to have a parrot sit on our shoulder. How cool is that?
The whole place makes you feel like you are in a jungle as you are walking through. Make sure to check out the show schedule too and try to catch a couple while you are there.
Note: Due to hurricane Irma be sure to check to see if they are open before going.
Where to Stay?: Miami Everglades RV Park
Miami is such a cool and unique area. When we were there, we stayed at the Miami Everglades RV Resort which was a perfect choice since it took us away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city and out into the country section of Miami. It was cool to see this part of the city!
The Resort has decent sites that are pretty close together, but also a nice large pool and hot tub, one of the best mini golf courses we have ever seen, and a nice walking trail around the whole resort and plenty open space to run and play.
We have been on the road full time for over three years with our four kids and dog. Over the years, we have learned a variety of things. Some of them were specific to RV Living, but the most surprising ones are the things we have learned about ourselves throughout this process.
1. The Challenge of Freedom
Choosing to live this lifestyle, have our own businesses, and basically be free to go where we want when we want has had its challenges. There isn’t “anyone” telling us when we have to get up or where we have to go.
It is a beautiful thing and also very challenging. It leads to having to make a lot of decisions each and every day and to having to do research to decide what those decisions should be. But the beauty is, we have the option to make these choices.
Now that we have had a taste of this lifestyle it would be really hard to go back to having someone else control our life.
2. Balancing Different Personalities
When you live so closely together and are with each other almost 24/7 there is a lot of interaction that is happening. Our goal has always been to raise our kids to have strong personalities and to make their own choices.
But, when you have five different choices coming at you it can be a challenge! My hope is that throughout this process the kids are learning about sacrifice, how to compromise and to really appreciate each other and us as people, not just parents, and all of the opinions we have . . .
It is sometimes ugly and there is lots of yelling and arguing, but the good thing is, we work through it. When you are together so much, you don’t have an option to ignore things. Instead, things have to be figured out so everyone can live happily together.
3. Dealing with Confusion
To be honest, there are times I wish we never got on the road full time. The reason being, now that we know this lifestyle is out there, it would be hard to be content just staying in one place.
This doesn’t mean we don’t get burnt out with traveling, because we do. We have even considered our next move being renting a place to stay put for six months. This back and forth can get confusing – should we stay on the road or settle for a little while? It is a constant thought and conversation that we have.
4. Missing out on Extracurricular Activities
Both Craig and I grew up playing sports. Having our kids not be involved in these activities the way we were has always weighed heavily on us. Is it okay? Should we not travel so they can do these things?
When we made the decision to travel full time the kids were 6, 4, 4 and 2. We figured we had time. Our oldest isn’t really into organized sports, so it doesn’t bother him. The other kids do have an interest in it and enjoy it.
We normally travel somewhat quickly with moving to a new location every week or every other week which makes it hard to get involved in sports in the area. However, we have done a few longer stretches back in our hometown and the kids have joined some classes.
I am still not 100% sure if it is okay that they aren’t in these activities consistently, but on the other hand, our kids have hours and hours of free time. That is an amazing thing, especially because we hear all the time about how kids have no free time now-a-days.
That is definitely not the case with our kids and we love that they have hours upon hours each day to play outside, explore their interests, or just hang out.
5. Working on our Marriage
Having four kids and a successful marriage is a feat in itself. Add in traveling full time and running a business together and things can get a little shaky.
This year has been a lot about Craig and I growing our relationship. Like I talked about above, when you are together 24/7 there is no way to push issues under the rug. Instead, we have to face things head on and work through them together.
It has been a challenge, but it is causing us to continue to work and grow our relationship. It is a consistent work in progress as we navigate this crazy, free life. But we are committed to figuring it out together and for our relationship to be a prime focus.
6. Making the Most of our Time
Time really does fly. I can’t believe we have been on the road for over three years. It seems like just last week we were packing up and selling our house. On the other hand, we have grown so much as people and all of our eyes have been opened more and more as we continue to explore and meet new people and learn about different parts of the country.
Our oldest is now 10. I can’t believe it. This lifestyle takes a lot of time for planning and traveling. We have to stop ourselves at times to remember one of the big reasons we chose this lifestyle was to enjoy a lot of time together as a family. And to slow down and just focus on enjoying each other.
Now that we have been on the road for over three years and we have had a taste of the freedom, a taste of exploring our amazing country (and yes only a taste – there is still so much more for us to see and do), and tons of time to spend with our kids, we can see that the world is our playground.
It is up to us where we want to go and what we want to do next. It is a really amazing feeling to know you can figure out and do anything that you want to and that we can do it together as a family!