RVing with a Toddler: The Ups & the Downs

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This week is the RV Family Virtual Summit—an online conference where traveling parents share their best tips and info on what it’s like to travel with kiddos. I’ll be live Wednesday, May 12 at noon MT talking about the costs of RVing. You can sign up to tune in for free here and ask questions! 🙂


Last April, when the country was all but shut down and we were quarantining in place in Alabama, Ellie took her first steps. We were there for a while, so by the time we hit the road again, she was walking like a pro.

And RV life immediately changed.

RVing with a Toddler ❤️

When Heath and I first started RVing, everyone asked if we would travel with our kids.

And when we found out we were pregnant, we knew the answer was YES. We were going to travel as much as possible with our kids.

We’ve been traveling with Ellie since she was four weeks old and so many of our favorite travel memories are watching her see the world. Like when Ellie burst into tears of jealousy watching Heath eat gelato and cannoli in Venice.

I cannot help but laugh every time I remember this moment!

Or watching her jump in the waves on the Florida coast. Hike in the mountains in the Rocky Mountains. Chase birds, bunnies, deer, and every single dog at every single campground. Giggle with delight when a monkey ran right at her face at the zoo. Climb the red rocks in Moab.

 

These moments are the highlights of RVing with a toddler.

Heath and I loved traveling together. But—as cheesy cliché parent as it sounds—there’s nothing like watching your kid travel. There is an unexplainable higher level of joy and fulfillment.

Heath & I don’t share much about what RV life is like for us on our blog. When you’ve been RVing almost every day of your entire marriage, it’s less like “Look at all this cool stuff we can do” and more “This is just my everyday life for the past 2,000 days.”

I wanted to share a little of what RV life looked like for us last year with a toddler because it was SO different than our years of travels before Ellie could walk.

Ellie was 7 months old when we moved into the Winnebago full-time and a year and a half when we bought our house. She started to crawl, stand, walk, run, climb, and jump in that RV. And we learned a lot about what travel with kids can look like. (And just how EASY it was to travel with Ellie when she was a baby!)

Most of the people I talk to who are interested in hitting the road have kids or babies and are thinking about traveling full-time, so I want to share some of the biggest ups and downs of our year of full-time travel. (If you really want the down-low on RVing with kids, check out the RV Family Virtual Summit streaming live for free this week!)

Let’s start with the biggest thing people warned us about before we ever had kids.

Staying Adventurous

In writing this blog, I tried to think of a time that Heath and I couldn’t do something because of Ellie.

I can only think of one: white water rafting on the Arkansas River. We camped right on the river and watched so many people paddle by every day! But apparently 12 months is too young to white water raft so we couldn’t both go.

Other than that, she’s come along with us everywhere.

One of the fears I hear from my adventurous couple friends is that they won’t be able to go on as many adventures with a kid in tow. To some extent, that’s true. Ellie won’t be rafting for another year or two.

But for the most part, she happily carts along with us on every adventure. Hiking, skiing, splashing in waterfalls—she’s down.

The biggest difference is that as Ellie has gotten older, we started planning adventures around nap times so Ellie could be sure to get in at least one good nap a day. (It is MUCH harder to get a toddler to nap on a hike than a baby!)

Finding Places to Explore

There are some things you never expect to do in life that will happen when you have a kid. Like saying “Don’t eat that [insert rock, deer poop, flower, dirt, sand, grass, etc here]” multiple times a day.

But the biggest never-thought-I’d-do-that that stands out to me is reading Google reviews of public parks.

When Ellie and I needed to get out of the RV so Heath could work, a playground was always the easiest, cheapest option. Most campgrounds where we stay don’t have playgrounds—especially not playgrounds fit for a one-year-old—so I would open up Google Maps and search playgrounds near me.

This generally pulls up any park in town, failing to filter by parks with playgrounds. Which is why I would end up spending 10 minutes looking at photos and reading reviews figuring out which park had a playground—or better yet, a toddler playground—and which ones were just soccer fields. (Google review moms are so detailed. The slide was too hot! Lots of shade but no trash cans by the picnic tables!)

I’ve been to so many playgrounds they all blend together and Ellie has loved them all. Every town has one and it’s the perfect way to kill a couple hours and get outside—especially when pools, gyms, indoor playgrounds, and everything else where kids can play together was closed for most of last year.

And in the fall, we found it really easy to find activities to do with the whole family. We spent many weekends at different fall festivals and Ellie was fascinated when she got her face painted (pictured above). I think/hope during non-pandemic times finding more festivals and events to explore with kids year-round will be even easier!

Making Friends

This past summer, we invited all of our close traveling friends to caravan and camp with us. And we got to see so many people! Including caravanning for a month with our friends Chris and Rachel and their son who is about 6 months older than Ellie.

rving with a toddler
If this photo were a video, you would see two toddlers jumping up and down on their makeshift trampoline 😂

We didn’t see many other people RVing with a toddler and—maybe this is pandemic-specific—but people weren’t particularly interested in our one-year-olds playing together.

If we hadn’t been able to camp next to so many friends, RVing would have been a lot harder for Ellie. She is super social—last week traveling in Florida she would walk up to strangers, wave and say hi, and then introduce mommy and daddy. The girl loves everyone. (She also made friends by stealing the other kids’ toys as a way of inviting herself to play with them 🤦‍♀️ She has not learned boundaries but is at least learning to share!)

I think this is something that will be easier as Ellie gets older, but as a toddler, making new friends or spending time with other families with young kids was difficult. Especially after seeing how much fun Ellie had caravanning with our friends for a month, knowing she missed out on that interaction for most of the year was hard for me. Ellie and I spent almost every minute together while traveling and I KNOW she got bored with me and would’ve preferred someone her size to play with.

Boondocking

In 2020, we boondocked less than any previous year of RV life! We spent most of the year in Colorado, so we were never lacking for mountain views or riverfront campsites. But we needed hookups.

This was primarily for temperature reasons. In the heat of the day, it could easily get to 90+ degrees in the RV without the A/C runnning, even if it wasn’t actually that hot outside. Most boondocking sites we found were in direct sunlight, making it harder to regulate the rig’s temperature in the afternoon sun.

But the thing about the mountains is that the temperature always drops at night. Sometimes plummets. So while it could get really hot in the afternoons, we would wake up to 40º temps inside our rig. Yes, we can and did run our furnace to stay warm overnight when boondocking, but the fan on your furnace will zap your battery life fast!

This became really difficult for Ellie sleeping. She would nap with the generator running so we could turn on the A/C and then wear fleece jammies smothered in blankets at night. (And inevitably she would wake up around 2 in the morning and climb in our bed for body heat and snuggles.) A tired toddler is not a happy toddler, so we sought out hookups for better sleep.

The second reason boondocking was difficult was the quiet. Boondocking is so peacefully quiet.

And Ellie requires a sound machine to sleep.  Not so much for her sake, but so that Heath and I weren’t forced to also go to bed or be silent at 7 PM. Normally we turn on the fan or A/C in the bedroom and she can’t hear a thing. But without a sound machine (or a box fan sound app on our phones when we didn’t have electric hook ups), Ellie could hear us up and talking or hanging out and wouldn’t be able to fall asleep.

These issues probably could’ve been fixed if we had an RV that was loaded with solar and a larger battery bank so we could have steady power at all times. That’s something we definitely want on any future RV so that we can keep the baby comfortable no matter where we are camping.

This wasn’t one of those ugh RVing with a toddler is so hard kind of things, but just one of the small ways we adapted our travels for a toddler. Ellie never slept well when boondocking so it was easiest just to avoid it for a while for everyone’s sanity. 😴

Working on the Road

Heath and I run two businesses on the road. It’s the whole entrepreneur part of RV Entrepreneur. And we love what we do. It’s always been Heath’s dream to run his own business. It’s always been my dream to write.

But two working parents + traveling full-time to new locations – any chance of childcare =

Real Housewives Vacation GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

And after a year of traveling full-time and both trying to run our businesses, we came to a conclusion:

It’s impossible.

It’s impossible for two parents to work on a business full-time 40 hours a week AND have a toddler AND travel full-time.

We took it to our Facebook group to see if anyone else was attempting this and the general consensus was:

  • We don’t both work or don’t both work 40 hours
  • One person watches the kids while the other works
  • We had to “drastically change our work life”

Which is exactly how we ended up. I became a work-during-naptime mom working 10 hours a week max and Ellie and I went on adventures during Heath’s many Zoom calls.

Heath felt guilty about missing out on adventuring with me and Ellie. I fell way behind on projects, missed deadlines, and dropped working on my book. We didn’t publish a podcast for six months. And all our combined stress made us realize we needed to figure out a solution—preferably one that didn’t end up with me closing up our blog and podcast and becoming a stay-at-RV mom.

This was a big impetus for buying a house and switching to part-time travel (the other reason we bought a house was Heath’s company received investment from the state of Colorado with the stipulation that we move to rural Colorado ⛰ ).

After a bit of searching, we found part-time child care with a mom, booked a campsite for two months in town, and took the RV on long weekend adventures around different parts of Colorado.

Then we could all adventure as a family. Travel went from being this difficult thing that we couldn’t fully enjoy to “ahhh this is why we love RVing!” And it felt like we were all RVing together, instead of passing off Ellie so we could get our projects done.

Not sure if fall is just the all-around best season or just when we finally found that perfect travel balance for us.

Part-time travel has been perfect for us with Ellie being almost two now. She has friends she sees almost every day. We have consistent childcare and have caught up on projects we had to put off last year. And even though we have a sticks-and-bricks, we’ve explored all over Colorado, gone skiing, visited Texas, hiked in Utah, and enjoyed the beaches of Florida in the past six months without having to sacrifice our professional projects. I launched two courses I’ve been wanting to write for literal years. Heath sold Campground Booking after working toward that goal for five years.

We couldn’t have managed these things if we hadn’t been in one place for a little while.

With Ellie where she’s at now and with one business growing and a new campground on the horizon(!), full-time travel isn’t right for our family right now. But part-time travel (which so far has meant traveling a week out of every month since we bought our house) has given us all the things we needed. Community. Time. Growth. Space. Adventures. New places to explore.

We do plan to full-time travel again—I have some BIG travel plans for 2023. I just have to convince Heath. And Ellie. And see if I can get Heath’s parents to retire before then because they would be helpful to have around for childcare.

But with a baby boy coming this fall, part-time travel is perfect for us for now. 💙

12 Responses

  • OMG! Was that just a ‘new baby announcement’ I read. Yay!! This is so exciting for you guys. Congrats.

    You are so right about everything your write here. There are multiple ways to live an RV Lifestyle and the right one is the one that works for you at the time and you can move back and forth between them however life suits you.

    It’s great to watch the 3 of you navigate business and life in a flexible positive way.

    thanks for sharing how it has been going.

    • Haha thanks Denise! We’ve been soooo much happier and less stressed going part-time and Ellie is obsessed with having a backyard so I know it was the right call!

  • Well, first of all, CONGRATS!!!

    Second, talk about burying the lead! 🙂 I’m sure you did that on purpose, but that was a surprise! It sounds like you have a solid plan moving forward!

  • Sooo awesome!!! All around, super smart and resourceful family living for today. Congrats on the new lil one coming. Keeping your own integrity and priorities straight while you find practical ways to support your fabulous lifestyle … priceless!!

  • Congratulations! I heard your awesome news in your panel at the RV Family Summit today and was so excited for you, and then thought I must’ve missed the announcement somewhere else. Then I got to the bottom of this and thought, ah there it is! 🙂 So excited for you all. It is another game changer when the kids have a built-in playmate at home and can sometimes entertain each other! All the best wishes for you and your family!

  • Wow, I admire you so much! Also I want you to know I’m going to try the same thing thanks to you. My hubby is veery excited about camping trips with the baby but now I know we just need an RV. Morgan is sleep trained lately with this ebook: https://www.parental-love.com/shop/toddler-sleep-training and he pretty much sleep anywhere so I can believe it will work pretty easily!

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