Living in an RV with Kids: What It’s Really Like

What it's really like to full-time RV travel with kids, www.marianamcdougall.com

Full Time RV Family

For the last nine months, our family has been living in an RV—less than 400 square feet for five people to share. Living in an RV was the most convenient way for us to go on our family adventure travel year. It meant we could have our house with us wherever we went. We could drive, cook, shower, teach our homeschooling lessons, and even watch movies, all in the same vehicle.

Living in a small space with three kids

We found that the 32-foot size fit the five of us just fine. Of course there are some inconveniences, but overall, it’s been a wonderful experience. Living in a place this small is actually a lovely way to remember that we have far more “stuff” than we need. But you can never have too many pens and notebooks; just saying. Anyway, the RV has everything you need—it really is a home on wheels.

Here’s a brief rundown of the features of our 2000 Triple E Commander Motorhome:

RV

The driver seat and front passenger seats both swivel around, but we have never swiveled them, as we felt there was no need. 

The back passenger seat has a little table that pulls out. This seat also swivels, and we do turn it around often while hanging out in the RV.

The couch turns into a bed that’s about the size of a double bed.

The kitchen table turns into a bed also, probably a bit smaller than a double.

The kitchen has lots of counter space when you are not using the sink.

We have a fairly good size fridge and freezer, a three-burner stove, and a small oven, the latter of which we’ve only used once.

We have a bathroom with a toilet and lots of cupboard space, and across from it is a very small shower, which, despite being small, does the trick just fine.

In the back of the RV is the master bedroom, whose bed is just smaller than a standard queen.

 

5 people living in less than 400 square feet: What it's really like to full-time RV with kids, www.marianamcdougall.com. Background photo shows three children reading a book whiles sitting on the narrow floor of an RV "living room"

Here’s how the sleeping arrangements work for this full-time RV Family

Initially, Dan and I slept in the back, K-girl slept on the couch-bed, and G-boy and M-girl shared the table-bed. Well, the mattress in the RV is as old as the RV itself—about 20 years—and it was killing my back. So I eventually started sleeping with K-girl on the table-bed. Dan stayed in the back because he’s too tall for the beds at the front. But in reality what happens is we play musical beds (just like we did at home).

RV bedroom

To some, these sleeping arrangements may seem odd, because privacy is hard to come by. But the truth is, the children enjoy being close together at night. When we rented an airbnb in Texas for Christmas, they all could have had their own bedrooms, but the little ones ended up sleeping on the same bed regardless. And when we stayed at a lovely cabin in Minnesota, where they could all have had their own beds, they all ended up piling into the same one anyway. Some people may wonder how the adults manage with sleeping arrangements like this. Some obvious questions rise up, like… what do you do when you want to sleep (or rather, stay awake) with your spouse?

Alone Time when you’re full-time RVing with kids

Inevitably, someone will ask (or wondered but be too embarrassed to ask) how you can possibly have adult alone time in a motorhome. Well, the bedroom in the back is pretty spacious, and the shower and bathroom doors both open out so that you have a double barrier between the front and back of the RV. And there’s a fan in the bathroom that’s pretty loud.

Showering

Yes, you can shower in the RV, but you have to have Navy showers. The water supply is limited on a tank, and with five people, long showers would deplete them far too quickly. If you want to learn about water conservation, live in an RV for a while. I’m a lot more conscious of my water usage now, not just in the RV, but pretty much everywhere.

Day-to-day life & where to park it

Girl playing ball in RV

Day-to-day life when you’re full time RVing is anything but predictable. If your child thrives on routine, there will definitely need to be some adjustments prior to heading out on the road.

Our son, who’s been diagnosed with both autism (high-functioning) and ADHD, does surprisingly well in new environments. Our oldest daughter sometimes has issues adjusting, but has done really well, for the most part. The most difficult part of the trip for her has been making friends and then never seeing them again, or hanging out with some new friend and then not being able to play with them again the next day. But overall, the kids have enjoyed the trip.

Finding where to park each night was an adventure, and I personally enjoyed figuring things out as we went. We did a lot of boondocking at Walmarts, Cracker Barrels, and some other spots here and there. We also stayed at some campgrounds, too. I’ll write a post soon about boondocking and another about our favourite campgrounds, so stay tuned.

Using the bathroom in the RV

RV bathroom

Our bathroom was well used. The grey and black water tanks in our motorhome are fairly big, and with the five of us using water but conserving as much as possible, we had to empty the tanks about once a week. Sometimes we went to a campground to do this; other times we went to a Flying J, and sometimes we found public dumping stations (lots of these in Quebec).

I think the biggest inconvenience of the trip was probably having only one bathroom for five people, especially since we have access to three toilets in our bricks-and-sticks home. We did carry an “emergency potty” in the RV just in case, and we used it a couple of times.

What about school?

Boy looking through microscope at the Discovery Corner at Kouchibuoac National Park, New Brunswick, Canada

As most readers of this blog know, we’ve been homeschoolers from the beginning for many reasons, not the least of which is freedom of time and movement. We enjoy travelling, and homeschooling allows us to pack up and go whenever we want.

If your children are currently in school, you’ll need to do some work ahead of time to prepare for life on the road. You’ll need to check your state or province’s homeschooling regulations, and you’ll need to decide how you’ll want to homeschool. There is a tonne of information online these days, and it’s worth finding some social media groups for “roadschoolers.”

As we kept our primary residence in Ontario during our trip (we just rented it out temporarily), we continued to follow Ontario regulations, which are pretty kind to homeschoolers. We sent our letter of intent to the school board (as recommended but not required if your children have never been to school), and we taught on the road. We did some seat work, but we also did tonnes of learning at the National Parks, historic sites, and each place we visited.

To full-time or not to full-time RV

I really enjoyed our experience with full-time RV living, but it’s definitely not for everyone, particularly if you’re someone who enjoys routine—full-time RV living is anything but routine. If you thrive on adventure and don’t mind not knowing where you’ll sleep tomorrow, it’s worth giving it a try. Having said that, you could also be a full-time RVer and plan out your stays really well. For us, travelling on a budget meant being very flexible with where we stayed and with what activities we chose.

Stay tuned for more posts about our trip!

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