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!
It’s time to pack up for the family RV trip with the kids! What to bring? With kids, it always seems to turn into packing everything and the kitchen sink. But, that doesn’t have to be the case.
We travel full time with our four kids and dog in a 23-foot Winnebago View. Given the size and weight limitations in something that small, we have had to learn how to narrow down what we have in the RV to what we really need and use. Here is the list of the essentials when packing for your family RV trip.
Yes, we will start with toys. We are firm believers that you need room for toys for the kids. They want to have fun just as much as we do. And we know having a few toys along will make it better for everyone.
We like to include our kids in the process of selecting what toys to bring with. What we have found works is giving them each a backpack or bin and letting them bring anything that fits in it. Since they are making the choice about what to bring, they usually aren’t disappointed about what is left behind.
The staple toys that always come with are: Legos, Magna Tiles, Dolls, and figurine toys (like dinosaurs and hot wheel cars). Then the kids will add a few of their current favorites, given they fit. We also like to have a few card games and board games.
Outside Toys & Gear
We have an outside storage area that is dedicated to outside toys and items. In here you will find things like Nerf guns, ropes, adventure packs (satchels that they can fill with their ropes, leaves, binoculars, etc.), baseball and bat, frisbee, and balls. I sometimes feel like this stuff gets used way more than the indoor toys, so it’s definitely worth having a collection of outside toys.
This also includes sand toys and pool toys (goggles and swim rings) if we know we will be by water or a beach. Plus, we always bring our slackline and hammock! The kids love both of them and so do we.
We only bring two adult-size chairs with. We have found over the years that the kids rarely sat in their cute little outdoor chairs. Instead having our two chairs allows us and the kids to rotate through and almost everywhere we go has a picnic table and that is usually where everyone ends up sitting.
We got these amazing chairs from Tiny Big Adventure that fit into a little bag, yet the chairs are still comfortable. Perfect for saving on space!
We have gone so basic on all of this that it feels great! We are literally down to one of everything for everyone and that is really all we need. Here is a list of what to have for your kitchen:
1. Pot for boiling water, cooking pasta, etc. We have one large cast iron pot that we use for everything.
2. A large skillet with sides. We have a cast iron skillet that we use for all other cooking.
3. Griddle (important for us). We make a lot of pancakes, cheese quesadillas, grilled cheese, etc.
4. Oven pan. If you are going to use the oven, we recommend a 9×13 pan or smaller depending on what will fit in your oven and one cookie sheet that will fit in your oven. We have found that a 12-inch pizza pan works better than a cookie sheet in our size convection oven.
5. One plate, one bowl and one cup for each person in our family and one set of silverware.
6. One large mixing bowl that can be used for mixing or for sharing chips or popcorn.
7. The basics: like a coffee pot, can openers, spatula, large spoon, a good cutting knife.
8. Berkey Water Filter. Our Berkey filter means we get good, fresh, clean water anywhere we go. For us, it is a must and we wouldn’t travel without it. Plus, the kids all have their own water bottle, so we can easily take water on the go.
Yes, only bringing a small amount of kitchen supplies means we have to stay on top of our dishes and no, we aren’t laying out a beautiful spread with cute plates and serving bowls. But honestly, when you have kids that is usually the least of your worries. It is more about getting the food out fast enough when everyone is hungry.
When we had a larger RV (39-foot diesel pusher), we put together this post on what we had in our kitchen. It really isn’t much different now, minus the donut maker and toaster.
Bedding & Towels
Everyone has one pillow and one blanket and then we have a few extra blankets we bring with in case it is cold. Same thing with towels. We have one towel for each person. Most campgrounds or RV parks have laundry facilities and if they don’t, you can usually find one in a nearby city.
This is another one that can get out of hand really quickly. What is nice, and what you want to keep in mind, is that most RV parks have a laundromat! This means you can bring the least amount and know you can just wash things if you have to.
We all have 1 bathing suit, 1 sweatshirt, about 5 shirts and 5 shorts, and even less pants and long sleeves (we mostly travel where it is warm). We also all wear the same clothes a couple days in a row. Yup, I said it. And, yes, we really do it! Our kids just wear their clothes from during the day to bed at night and then get up in the morning and run out the door.
We do keep a couple nice outfits set aside so if we are going somewhere that we need to look presentable we will get those clothes out, wear them, then put them away. All their other clothes are there to get dirty. And yes, if they are covered in mud or dirt at the end of the day we will change them. But a lot of the times their clothes are fine and they can easily sleep in them and wear them the next day.
Just like everything else, if you keep your clothes to a minimum you have less to maintain while on your trip, less to pack, and less to clean up when you get home!
The other thing that is a necessity when on the road is a decent tool bag. Notice I said decent there. As with everything, there are a few essential items that you should have, including a screwdriver (we have one that has multiple bits and configurations, so it can be used for different applications), a hammer, a good knife, a foldable saw (can also be used to cut up firewood for kindling), duct tape, WD-40 Silicone spray, and zip ties.
The overall idea when packing for your family is to keep it very simple. This takes the focus away from taking care of all the things you have and instead puts the focus on enjoying the time with your family and kids! I can guarantee they would much rather be spending time with you throwing a ball around or playing with their toys than caring if they have a gourmet meal or a nice serving dish.
Next time you are packing for a family RV trip, we challenge you to think minimal and bring LESS than you think you need. You may be surprised how little you can get by with even with kids!
Do you have any must-bring items when you travel with kids? Would you agree that bringing less would be a good thing?
San Diego is a great destination to visit year around and especially in the winter if you are looking to avoid the snow and ice! Granted, in winter you are probably not going to go swimming in the ocean. Then again, our kids were riding the waves in on their boogey boards, so I guess you can if you don’t mind the chilly water. But never fear, there are a lot of things to do in San Diego with kids besides just go to the beach!
You have to visit the adorable sea lions in La Jolla. These adorable animals sun bathe on the beaches and rocks all around the ocean. I think they know how much people like to watch them, so now and then they will get up and move around. But for the most part, they are totally kicked back and relaxed.
I recommend going to the Children’s Pool (it really is called that) in La Jolla to check them out. You can walk out on this small walkway over the water and get pretty close to them. Plus, this area is just so beautiful with the palm trees, ocean, and cliffs surrounding the beach area.
USS Midway Museum
This huge U.S. aircraft carrier sits in the water and welcomes visitors to come on board to explore. The boat is HUGE and there are so many different places to go and see you can easily spend hours here.
One of our favorite things were the WWII Veteran volunteers who walked around and explained things to us and had stories to share. This is how I want to learn about history – from visiting amazing places like this and walking through them and getting a first-hand experience of how these ships operated and worked.
The USS Midway has multiple levels that you can explore and lots of buttons for kids to push. That was what made it so much fun for the kids. You can even go up to where the captain of the ship would sit.
Old Town Trolley Tours
The longer we travel, the more I appreciate these city tours. They are a great way to sit back, relax and learn about the city you are visiting. On this tour the trolley takes you all over the city and during the ride they talk about the history of the area and point out landmarks – like where home plate use to be for the Padres stadium that sat right next to the water.
The trolley was also hop on hop off, which means you can get off and explore the different parts of the city and then get right back on and continue your tour. If you want to learn more about San Diego, this is how you do it.
San Diego Zoo
This is THE Zoo to visit in the U.S. and it did not disappoint. The zoo is huge and has so many amazing animals to watch. We happened to get lucky and visited the hippos right when the zookeeper was going to do some water play with them. The habitat was set up where we could see them under the water and they were so active swimming around and coming right up to the glass. It was really amazing.
We also visited the apes, koalas, lions, and tigers. They really do have almost every animal you could imagine at the zoo.
We have to talk about Donut Bar. These donuts were ranked #1 in the state of California for good reason. 1. They are delicious, and 2. they are humongous! Each donut is about the size of your face and they come in a variety of fun and yummy flavors.
I highly recommend the made to order french toast donut. They take one of their glazed donuts and make french toast with it and it is out of this world! Just remember you do have to request it.
If you are looking for some indoor fun, Balboa Park has more then 17 museums. Yes you read that right, 17! We really enjoyed the Fleet Science Center and actually went twice while we were there. We also checked out the Natural History Museum and really enjoyed it too.
Balboa Park is a beautiful area outside too. I highly recommend bringing a picnic lunch and sitting out on the grass and then spending some time walking around this pretty area of the city.
San Diego is filled with craft breweries that offer a variety of different flavors and kinds of beer. What was great about most of them is they have board games for the kids to play, plus root beer so it can make a trip to the brewery a family event! We always have fun going and getting a couple beers for us and root beers for the kids and then playing a family game of Jenga or cards.
Where To Stay
A lot of the time it can be hard to find an RV park close to a big city that is nice and still has good-sized sites. But San Diego has an amazing option: Sweetwater Summit Regional Park. It is about a 25-minute drive to get to the beach, so you are still very close to all of the action. But the park is set apart from the city and the sites are nice and large with cement pads and situated up on a hill.
Traveling full time with our four young kids has been quite the crazy adventure! There have been so many amazing moments, but there have also been a lot of really hard times too. We always like to tell people it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine and we are by no means on vacation all the time.
I know it seems obvious that space with six people and a dog in a small RV would be a struggle. And we are reminded of that challenge when we are tripping over each other or when two people have to use the bathroom. When you see the hashtag #vanlife all over Instagram you see these amazing beautiful pictures of their awesome van setup – when it is clean and organized, not when it is being lived in. The reality is space can get tight.
The upside of this is it pushes us to learn how to use the space more efficiently and to spend more time outside where space is not an issue. It also means we all have to figure out how to get along since we can’t go hide in another room when we are arguing!
If we were living in a house we would go to Costco and stock up! Not the case when you don’t have a pantry or a place to store food. Instead we have to stop at the store more often and not over buy since we have no where to put things. (Read more about how we meal plan here).
Beyond that, the cooking part can be difficult with minimal counter space, but as we spend more time in this lifestyle we figure out ways to make it work. When we live in such a “bigger is better”, culture it has been eye opening and informative to be in a situation where we don’t have the option to go bigger, but instead have to figure out how to work with less space and less things.
When our kids were younger, this wasn’t as much of a concern because they weren’t looking to be away from us. Instead they just wanted to be by us all day. Now that our oldest is 10, things are different. He wants to be able to spread his wings and we want him to be able to. The hard thing is, when we are moving to a different campground every week or two, it is a little scary to give him that freedom.
If we were in a house in a neighborhood where we felt comfortable letting him roam it would be different. Or if he was in school and away from us, he would get a chance to branch out more. We are still working through this and trying to figure out what makes sense, so he can have the opportunities he is looking for while still being safe and smart about it.
4. Toys, Clothes, Shoes
As you can imagine, with six people we could end up with a lot of belongings. In order to keep this under control, we go through and do another round of purging and donating every couple of months. This can be a struggle and takes time to do. Living a simplified/minimalist life takes work!
But, it has been great to see our kids adjust so well to this way of living. And, in most cases, they have no problem donating a toy they haven’t played with in a while or getting rid of clothes they don’t wear much or like anymore. The biggest challenge is when we go into a store and all of us (Craig and I included) want to buy something just because those stores know how to advertise things!
It is hard to say no to ourselves and also our kids because we just don’t have the space. On the other hand, this is a perfect reason not to go into those stores and instead make do with what we have!
Making choices where six people get a say in what we are going to do can be a challenge! One kid may want to stay around the campground all day and hang out, play Minecraft and go to the park, while another may want to go out exploring or hiking. When you don’t have a babysitter around and you are together all the time as a family it can be a challenge to make sure everyone gets a chance to choose what we do.
Luckily when we do pick what we are going to do and head out as a family, usually everyone comes around and enjoys it. Although, getting out of the door can be a challenge!
What I love about this lifestyle, is that our kids are getting to experience and try things that maybe they didn’t think they wanted to, but since one of us recommended it and they went out and tried it, they see that they really do like doing something they didn’t know they liked.
Living a life of full-time travel has continued to make everyone in our family grow and stretch as people and has made our family unit stronger as we work through these struggles and challenges together!
Florida is a great place to RV in the winter. If you are able to get farther south than Orlando, the weather is most likely going to be warm and sunny even in January or February. Sounds good to me! We recommend starting your road trip earlier in the year, so you can also take in the beauty of the Panhandle – one of our favorite places!
You don’t want to miss visiting this part of Florida. It is one of our favorite places to visit in the whole country. We highly recommend Grayton Beach State Park and the surrounding area.
The campground is within walking distance to the beach – one of the most beautiful in the country. We can spend a whole day just hanging out here, with its soft white sand and turquoise, crystal-clear water.
Just down the street is Destin. It is a tourist town, but this means there are lots of attractions, restaurants and stores. There are also some great RV parks on the beach, like Camp Gulf and Henderson Beach State Park.
You can’t miss Orlando when you go to Florida. However, I don’t recommend spending a week park-hopping to all the amusement parks. Instead, just pick one or two and spend a couple days there. Then use the rest of your time to explore the other areas of Orlando.
We enjoyed a day at Magic Kingdom and a day at Universal Studios (perfect for Harry Potter fans). We also recommend Legoland if you have younger kids. There is definitely magic in these amusement parks, but also a lot of people.
One of our favorite places to visit when in Orlando is Kelly Rock Springs – perfect for tubing down a crystal-clear river. This place is awesome and we can’t believe it is only 30 minutes from all the craziness of Orlando!
There is the Thousand Trails Orlando resort which is a great location for visiting these attractions or you can’t go wrong with Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. Talk about nice!
Highland Hammock State Park is a beautiful park located in the middle of Florida. The campground is nice and the hiking and trails are amazing. One of the trails takes you through a swamp on a walkway with no railings on it … yes, a little scary, but also cool! This state park is definitely worth a stop.
Miami Everglades RV Park gets you into the Miami area, but far enough away to enjoy some peace and quiet. It is also close to the Shark Valley Visitor Center of the Everglades. At this awesome place, you can take a 15-mile bike ride where you are literally riding your bike right next to HUGE alligators.
It really is a unique experience that also leads you into the middle of the Everglades where you can walk to the top of a lookout tower and see the vast park. Plus, a LOT of alligators! Not feeling like the bike ride? They do have a tram you can take. Tickets sell out, so be sure to buy ahead of time.
A Florida road trip just isn’t complete without a visit to the Florida Keys. However, Hurricane Irma really did a number on the Keys, so hopefully they will be back up and running soon. The Keys are a Caribbean paradise in the U.S. We love the vibe of Key West (even with kids – during the day).
One of our favorite activities is going on the Fury Adventure. Spend six hours on a boat that takes you out to snorkel, jet ski, parasail and play in the water. It is awesome fun for everyone.
Make sure to visit the Dry Tortugas, too. The island is 70 miles off the coast of Key West and well worth the 2-hour boat trip to get there (bring your Dramamine).
Exploring the fort on the island and taking in the beauty of the shells, beach and water is an unbelievable experience. (Check out our video for more).
We have mixed feelings about the Atlantic Coast since the beach just isn’t as clear and beautiful as the Gulf side. That being said, we are going to suggest driving up to St. Augustine.
This city is really cool. We enjoyed exploring all of the historic places and also visiting the Alligator Farm. Plus, there are lots of great restaurants and forts to explore.
We spent six months road tripping through Florida and enjoyed every minute of it. There is so much to see and do in this state. In our opinion, it is the best place to be in the U.S. when it is cold everywhere else in the country!