In 2018, we sold most of what we owned (including our home), hitched up our trailer and drove off! Our family of 5 hit the road on an epic adventure, and eventually traveled to 38 states, over 20 National parks and added thousands of amazing memories to our lives.
- “But wait, how in the world is that possible?”
- ”Can a family of 5 (with 3 kids, 6 and under) actually live in an RV, full time….without hating each other?”
- ”How do you squeeze everything you own into 300 sq. ft.?”
- ”Is it hard to tow a 35 ft. trailer? ”
- ”Does it get loud in the RV (hint: YES!)?”
- ”What about the…..ya know….POOP?”
We’ve heard every question under the sun about living in an RV, and we’ll cover the details of what you need to know about full time RV living with kids in this article.
Is It Legal to Live in an RV With Kids?
Short Answer: Yes.
As long as you have a legal state of residence (e.g. a domicile) and pay your taxes, living and traveling in your RV with kids is legal. Whether you use a family member’s address, or join a membership like Escapees that has a mail-forwarding service available, make sure you have a plan for your mail.
And of course, make sure you comply with state regulations around schooling the kids (homeschool or remote school, as many are doing these days).
How Do Families Live in an RV Full Time?
RVs are one of the wonders of the modern world. You can bring everything (including the kitchen sink) with you, wherever you go! But fitting all your stuff, and all your kids (and pets) too??
Yes, it’s possible, but living in an RV is a bit different than a traditional home (or apartment). Here are a few tips to fitting your family into an RV:
- You don’t need extras in the kitchen. Pick one good pot, a couple pans, and enough silverware and cups for your family, but nothing more. No single-use items.
- Pick your most versatile clothing. Plan to wash often.
- Have your kids fit their toys in a single bin. They can choose what they want, but it needs to fit.
- One extra set of bedding each, wash often.
- Shop every 4 days. The pantry and fridge aren’t that big (unless you get a residential fridge).
- Remember, you’re living in a hallway, expect to bump into each other. Be kind.
- RV living isn’t about being inside 24/7.
Yes, a 30ft. Rv is less than 300 sq. ft. But think of it as a Manhattan apartment, with just the essentials to help you explore your beautiful country.
What’s the Best RV for Families?
RVs come in all shapes and sizes. From #vanlife to massive 45 ft. Class A motorhomes, and everything in between. Finding the right RV for your family is all about what your travel style is and what your goals are for RV living.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the main RV types, and what type of family they could work for.
Van Life – Best for Couples (with Pets)
There’s no getting around it, vans are small. And yes, you can travel with kids in a van, but in general, vans are best for couples, maybe with a pat or two. With a very small space for all amenities plus very few sleeping spots, #VanLife is best suited for couples.
Class B Motorhome – Best for Small Families (1 or 2 kids)
A Class B Motorhome is slightly larger than a camper van, but looks more like a small school bus than a full size RV. They do have some flexible sleeping areas, and can fit a family of 4 comfortably. Keep in mind, as with a camper van, space is very limited, so expect to be very snug with the kids when doing daily life in a Class B.
Class C Motorhome – Best for Families with Younger Kids
The Class C is probably the most versatile of the motorhome RVs, giving you a good amount of living and sleeping space, while still small enough to fit in most National and State Parks (usually under 35 ft. long). While the famous above-the-cab bed is great for an older child, the couch and dinette usually folds into a bed as well. Some familie even convert the master bedroom into a bunkhouse, and the parents sleep in the main cap. #legit
Class A Motorhome – Best For Families with Older Kids
The Class A motorhome is the largest (and usually most expensive) RV available for full time travel. They are typically built with better framing and materials, specifically designed for full time living. Many offer a mid-bunk model, but for older kids, they can fit comfortably in the fold down couch and dinette. Many are over 40 ft. long and with an opposable slide, give ample room for families with older kids to stretch out.
Travel Trailer – Most Versatile Family RV
This is what we had, and a 35 ft. travel trailer with a bunkhouse in the back. Our 3 kids fit snugly in the back room, and we still had our own master bedroom. With a large slide in the kitchen/great room area, we never felt too crammed. Plus, none of the living space is taken up by a driver area (as opposed to a motorhome), so every square inch is maximized. These are usually one of the cheapest (and most versatile) ways families can live in an RV.
5th Wheel – Best for Large Families (3+ Kids)
The 5th wheel is the McMansion of RVs, giving you the maximum usable living space in a single package. Many of them span up to 42 ft. long, with 5 slides, and even multiple floors! If you have a large family, the rear bunkhouse 5th wheel, or mid bunk is your best best. With sleeping for 10+, huge kitchens with islands, and over 400 sq ft., the 5th wheel is the best option to cram your huge family into. But remember, a huge 5th wheel needs a huge dually truck to tow it!
How to Try Out RV Living Before You Buy
Are any of these RV terms confusing? Or maybe shelling out a ton of money on an RV to live in sounds scary because you’ve never actually RV’d before. The best way to figure out which RV will work best for your family is to actually try one out!
You can find a local RV rental place, but those are crazy expensive. Honestly, the best way to test a real RV is to rent one directly from a private RV owner. Luckily, there are a few services who make this easy. Outdoorsy is the most popular, with a wide array of RV makes and models to choose from.
Outdoorsy is an online marketplace for renting RVs from private owners, cutting out the corporate markups and high fees. You simply go to outdoorsy.com, find an RV near you, and book it! You can even find fully remodeled RVs, so you can catch a glimpse of what your future #RVLife might look like when you do decide to take the leap into full time RV living!
How Much Does It Cost to Live in an RV With Kids? (about $4,000 – $7,000 per month)
Here’s the real question everyone wants to know. And though there are a million factors playing into this question, I’ll break it down into simple sections so you can figure out what it might cost YOU to live in an RV with your family!
RV Loan: $500 – $2,500 per month
If you finance an RV, this amount can vary widely. For example, a small travel trailer may cost $30k – $35k, so your monthly payment might be around $500 per month. But if you get a $300k Class A motorhome, the payment might be over $2,500 per month.
A better option? Buy a used RV for cash (yes, it can be done). Check out RVTrader.com.
Travel Costs: $500 – $1,000 per month
Insurance, maintenance, fuel, and other travel costs can add up when you’re driving thousands of miles across the country. For example, we covered over 30 miles our first year traveling full time with a 35ft trailer and big diesel truck, and spent over $600 per month on fuel alone!
Always budget more than you need for travel costs when full time RV living!
Camping Fees: $500 – $1,500 per month
Private campgrounds can cost $30 – $50 per night, depending on where you are staying. This adds up quickly, and can cost north of $1,000 per month if traveling frequently. In fact, we averaged about $1,100 per month for our first year of travel.
We moved every 4 days on average (and visited 25 states in 11 months!), so we wanted to just choose the most convenient campground to our stop. State and National Parks cost a lot less, usually $15 – $30 per night, most around $20 per night.
We’ll cover a few options on how to save money on camping fees below.
Food: $800 – $1,500
It’s hard NOT to spend a lot on food when living in an RV. The half-sized fridge combined with not having access to your “regular” grocery stores makes shopping much less efficient. We spend over $1,000 per month for access to all organic food options on the road. It’s tough to eat clean on the road and spend much less.
If you have a bigger rig with some storage, or don’t require organic food options, you might be able to cut this number down quite a bit.
Misc Spending Money: $300 – $800 per month
Depending on what you consider “spending money”, this could take up a decent chunk of your budget. For cost-conscious travelers, you can spend next to nothing on restaurants or local attractions and still enjoy the RV lifestyle with your kids.
We personally spent about $500 per month on “adventures” during our first year of travel, such as dinosaur bone digging, Disney, a dolphin encounter, an airboat tour, and tons of other unique and fun things around the country. We wanted to experience all of the places we visited, so we budgeted for it.
How to Save Money on RV Costs and Camping with Kids
If you want to travel in an RV with your kids, but don’t have a ton of cash to burn, here are a few ways to save money on RV costs and camping.
Thousands Trails Membership
If you don’t mind staying at slightly “out of the way” campgrounds, the Thousands Trails membership is a no-brainer. We used the basic “Zone Pass” during our second year of travel, and brought our average monthly campground costs from $1,100 down to about $450 per month. If you are going to travel for several years, consider their Elite Membership program for even more long-term savings.
Buy a Used RV
It goes without saying that buying an RV or tow vehicle for that RV can cost a LOT of money. With many new rigs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, it can get VERY expensive. If you choose to buy a used RV and tow vehicle (if needed), then you can save a TON. For example, we bought a used 2011 Keystone Cougar 31 SQB in 2018, for only $15,000. It was over $40,000 new. Our truck was $14,000 (2000 Ford F-250 diesel). It was over $40,000 new. We saved over $50,000 by simply buying used. Bonus? Both our RV and truck haven’t lost much value in 3 years.
If you are traveling in the Western USA, there are a lot of free camping areas, called “BLM” land. These are public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and allow RVs to park for up to 14 days in one spot for free. If you have some solar, decent RV batteries, or a generator, you should be good to go.
Don’t Buy Toys
Here’s the deal, there’s simply no space in your tiny home for more “stuff.” If you move into an RV, you can choose to forego traditional gifts and kid’s toys, and give experiences instead. This will save you money AND make more memories at the same time.
These are a few of the ways to save money while RVing with your kids. It is possible to travel the country and save a ton at the same time. You just need to be creative.
How to Earn Money While Traveling in an RV
If you don’t sell your home for a huge profit, or save up for taking a year off to travel, you will need to find a way to earn income on the road. And honestly, this is now possible more than ever due to the shifting workplace policies because of the disaster year that was 2020.
A silver lining is that many jobs are now location independent, giving workers the opportunity to travel full time while still working their regular job. If your current job allows remote work, then you are good to go! Just make sure you can find a quiet place in the RV to focus and work (preferably with a door shut!).
If you don’t have a remote job, here are a few options of ways to earn money while traveling in an RV.
Workamping or Campground Host
If you want free camping and plan on being stationary in one spot for a season, “workamping” might be a good option. In exchange for a free monthly camping spot, you would help with checking guests in, and deal with scheduling or camper issues. Or you would help with landscaping, maintenance, or other tasks needed by the campground.
Services such as VIPKID offer to pay you for teaching english to students online. If you have any previous teaching experience and a bachelor’s degree, you could start teaching directly from your laptop, anywhere you have the internet!
Seasonal Farm Work
Many large farms hire seasonal workers for harvest season. These jobs require hard labor, but many pay handsomely in just a few weeks’ time. For example, we had friends participate in the Sugar Beet Harvest this past year, and earned thousands of dollars in just a few weeks.
I own several websites, and have employed freelance writers to help me write articles for them. If you’re a subject matter expert and can write coherent thoughts, freelance writing may be a good job option. I personally do this as well as a personal finance writer, it’s a great gig. Bonus: It doesn’t require being on the phone with clients while the kids are noisy!
Direct Sales (MLM)
Yes, I know this can be annoying, but if you are professional about it, direct sales can be very lucrative. With social media platforms and blogging available as avenues for marketing your products and opportunities, finding a good direct sales company can be a great job.
There are tons of other ways to make money on the road, you just need to think outside the box, run the numbers, and see what would work!
How Does Homeschool Work While Traveling?
Homeschooling your kids on the road can be a challenge, I won’t lie. Especially if you are trying to adopt the remote learning schedules that many schools put forth during 2020. But if you get a decent homeschool curriculum and follow your state’s homeschool reporting laws, RV travel can be an awesome learning experience for the kids.
A lot of RV families adopt a style of homeschooling called “roadschooling.” This means planning your learning around where you’ll be next, and taking advantage of local museums and national park ranger programs to learn about the history, geography, and background of a particular area. This allows your kids to EXPERIENCE school instead of just read about it, further retaining what they learned. We adopted this model while traveling, and we feel our kids are more well-rounded than ever!
Top Tips for Living in an RV With Kids
Ok, so now that you know RV travel with kids is possible, here are a few RV travel tips to help keep you sane while living in an RV with them!
Give Them Space
Yes, you live in a hallway-sized RV. No, there is not a lot of room. Yes, your kids need their own space. When living in an RV, things sometimes feel more overwhelming than regular life due to the constrained living quarters. I’ll be honest, it can get LOUD. And kids can melt down in a hurry.
But we found that setting up a space for each kid to get away helped them out tremendously. Our RV had 3 bunks, and we built in privacy curtains onto each, so at any time, one of our kids could slip away, take a nap, or simply read to get a breather.
Giving your child a place to call their own goes a LONG way in keeping things calm day-to-day.
Here’s the deal, you don’t live in an RV to stay crammed in a tiny box all day, you travel full time to go out and adventure! Make a point of designing your days (and your travel) to allow you to spend as much time outside as possible. National Parks and other outdoor parks help draw your attention to your outside surroundings instead of keeping cooped up in your tiny home on wheels.
Also, setting up a nice outside space, with chairs, a table, and large rug, helped us simply BE outside more often. Designing an outside setup that is quick and easy to put up can help you enjoy staying outside more, and allow you to stretch out more often.
Short Travel Days
Travel days are an event. Don’t try to drive 700 miles in a day just to get to another destination…you will pay for it for days afterward! We tried to always keep our travel days at 200 miles or less, giving us plenty of time to get there, and make bathroom and food stops along the way. This kept the kids (and us) sane, and reduced the exhaustion over the next few days that comes from sper long travel stretches.
If needed, break up long distances over a few days. Stay at a Cracker Barrel parking lot overnight if you need to rest.
Don’t forget the snacks! Whether you’re on an all-day hike in a national park, or traveling a few hundreds miles, having healthy snacks on hand keeps the HANGRY kids from melting down. This may increase your food budget a bit, but is absolutely WORTH IT!
How to Make Friends While Traveling Full Time
One of the most popular questions we got about full-time RV living with kids is “how will they make friends on the road?” This was a concern when we first left on the road, but those fears quickly subsided as we saw that most “RV kids” were eager to make friends quickly. In fact, RV families are some of the most friendly, approaching people you will ever meet.
The kids on the road are in the same boat (errr….RV) and know they need to make friends fast, so they are quick to introduce themselves and start talking. It took our kids a few months to open up like this, but now they are masters at talking to nearly anyone, and making friends with kids they just met.
To make friends on the road, simply encourage your kids to say “hello.” It’s that easy. Go to the RV park playground, or pool, and just let the kids be kids!
RV Travel With Kids: It Is Possible!
Phew! There were a lot of details covered in this article, but the most important thing I want you to take away is that RV travel with kids is possible. In fact, I highly encourage it!
If you have the chance to even just take a few months to travel full time, it will change you and your family in ways you can’t even fathom right now. I want everyone to experience the freedom that we enjoyed for 2.5 years traveling full time!
So what are you waiting for?