The first time we took an RV trip together as a family, my boys were young. Our 23-foot motorhome rental felt as big as a house as they bounded in and out, climbing together up the ladder to the overhead bunk or cuddling in with us for story time in the larger bed in the back. Our only concern was making sure we did enough during the day to tucker them out each night.
Fast forward a few years and things have changed. This summer, as we joined the thousands of people across North America looking for a safe, reliable escape during the COVID-19 pandemic, we set out RVing once more. This time, the allure was that RVs offered everything we needed in one place, including a safe alternative to being quarantined at home. And while we initially headed straight for our tried-and-true in terms of size and function, we soon found that—much like their pants and shoes—the kids had outgrown some of the ways we had vacationed before.
The Benefits of RVing with Teenagers
Despite the bad rap teens often get, I’ve loved traveling with our kids. It’s dedicated time that we don’t often get with them at home and the benefits far outweigh the odd eye roll or deep sigh. Among the benefits of traveling with teens:
1. An extra set of hands.
The kids have gone from peeking through the window as their dad figured out how pump-outs work, to donning gloves and getting involved. They are able to set up their beds on their own while their dad and I relax by the fire. They help with the prep and the packing, as well as the cooking and the cleanup.
2. They teach us things.
Whether it’s a hack they found on Instagram, a TikTok dance routine we can waste a gut-busting hour trying to replicate, or a cool spot a classmate shared that is only slightly off route, teenagers add to the trip in ways they couldn’t when they were younger. Plus, they have ideas on how to make everything from s’mores to hiking routes better.
3. It’s easier to build in downtime (for everyone).
With less attention focused on whether our kids are digging in ant nests or wading too close to the water, we can all enjoy our time apart as much as our time together. Now, we enjoy them and the trip at the same time.
What We’ve Learned RVing with Teenagers
Traveling with teens will make you rethink your approach to family travel. Here are some lessons learned:
1. Get them involved at the idea stage.
If you’re renting an RV, offer the teens opportunities to chime in on different model options. Ask them to think about what they’d like to bring along and what they’re hoping to see or do on the trip. If they’re invested, they’ll be more enjoyable travel companions.
2. Outline family rules in advance.
Have the hard conversations about everyone’s expectations and responsibilities long before you leave home, and make sure everyone knows what they are. Write them down if you have to. Early morning starts? Limitations on tech? Who’s making dinner? The teens may not like all of the answers you arrive at but at least it won’t come as a surprise when you wake them at 7 a.m., confiscate their phone, or pass them a spatula.
3. Food is a priority.
Hangry teens make for cranky travel companions. You may not notice how much teens eat when you’re at home, but on the road, they’ll be more active than usual and that voracious appetite will quickly go through your supplies. Plan meals that are hearty and easy to make (or reheat), and always have lots of snacks on hand.
4. Choose an RV that offers the most space for your budget.
The two boys who used to want to spend every waking moment joined at the hip are less keen on that now. Keep that in mind as you choose your vehicle. If you have to settle for something smaller, extend your space with tents so that everyone gets the privacy they’re after.
5. Offer veto rights.
Sometimes your best planning skills will be up against a teenage mood. Maybe your son no longer wants to join in on the family hike or your daughter has changed her mind about the guided tour. It happens. Giving everyone one veto upfront means the rest of the family can enjoy the experience without the grump.
5 Things to Keep in Mind When RVing with Teenagers
1. Be realistic.
Have a kid who hates the outdoors? You’re not going to change that with immersion. Instead, build in some stays near resorts and spring for a day pass at the pool.
2. Try something new together.
When everyone is new to something, the potential of looking awkward is less stressful for teens. Pick an activity that is fun and challenging and it’ll be a guaranteed memory maker.
3. Build in time apart.
The pandemic has made for a lot of time together. Leave gaps in your schedule so teens can roam on their own (or hang back), judgment free.
4. Follow tech rules.
Want your teens to go cold turkey on technology? Be prepared to give yours up as well. They’ll call you on your hypocrisy if you’re sneaking in text time while admonishing them for Instagram. Instead, consider having dedicated times of day when everyone can check in, before putting the phones away.
5. Consider reinforcements.
Sometimes teens do better in packs. Consider asking another RV family to join your trip. It’ll offer opportunities for the kids to get time with peers while also providing other adults for you to hang out with.
- Portable outdoor games: Having packable fun on hand is a great way to spend time by the RV without staying cooped up inside. Consider ladder toss, cornhole, or bocce.
- Indoor shoes/slippers: With so little indoor space, keeping the RV clean is key. Keep a bucket of indoor shoes by the door for quick changes after a day outside.
- Extra blankets: Weather can change quickly, and no one is having fun when they’re freezing. Consider bringing along an extra set of blankets.
- WiFi: Whether you use it to upload photos or watch movies, having your own portable system means you aren’t dependent on what you find on the road.