How to Keep Your Kids Entertained while Camping in a Travel Trailer
Written By: Megan D'egello
Last Updated: 2021-01-13
The thought of camping with kids can be daunting - not because it’s miserable or horrible with your kids, but because your kids have their universe at home - their toys, their comfort activities, their routines and friends. On top of it, when you are towing 5000-12000 lbs behind you, potentially disconnecting from modern civilization (AKA Netflix and Disney+), you stress about their safety, happiness, and their ability to adapt to the next few days or weeks of camping. Here are some helpful tips to keep your sanity and actually enjoy RV camping.
Medical Kit & Medicine
Your medical kit should include children’s Benadryl for the bee stings and other allergens. Band-aids for the “ouchies”, and antiseptic cream and children’s Tylenol/ibuprofen for any pain or surprise fevers. I recommend that you actually consider a handy first-aid kit that already has everything packed in it. It’s hard to be prepared for every injury, but a first-aid kit goes a long way to account for most injuries.
Don’t forget sunscreen, and sunburn cream. Your kids will get burned from time to time from the awesome power of the sun, and you can store sunscreen and sunburn cream in your trailer without worry of it going bad - it never hurts to have it on hand, but it can hurt (your kids) if you don’t have it readily available. Be prepared!
If you’re traveling with a toddler or young crawling child having a baby gate to keep them away from the door can be very handy. Thankfully, the small space in your travel trailer lends itself well to sticking that baby gate in unique configurations that help to segregate the trailer into safe playing areas.
Pack ‘N Play
Bringing the pack ‘n play is very handy to have your child sleep and not fall out of the beds (especially if you are staying in a ‘bunk model’ travel trailer or a 5th wheel with a loft). Often, for our toddler we bring the pack and play it put it in the master bedroom or we fold the dinning room table down and stick it there - in this way, it creates a safe, walled, area for our son to fuss around (and hopefully sleep).
Regardless of your kids ages, if you have a bunk model trailer you may want to consider a “bed bumper”. This is a side rail that is attachable to the beds in your trailer that creates a ‘wall’ to prevent your children from accidentally rolling out of the bunk. They are relatively inexpensive and really allow us to sleep peacefully at night know that our six year old won’t accidentally roll out of bed.
Proactive Storage of Dangerous Camping Equipment
Keep lighters and sharp knives up high instead of the bottom drawers. Your children will open those lower drawers and cabinets, and they will watch you pull shiny and mysterious objects that highly interest them out of those drawers. Don’t worry - you’ll likely hear them open those drawers, or one of their siblings will tattle on them when they pull a lighter or sharp knife out, but sadly accidents happen and it’s just not worth the chance. Do yourself a favor and lock up guns, store ammunition away, keep knives stored in locked drawers or in a Tupperware container in a shelf that is up high. Think before you put something away - can your kid get to it and if so would it be a problem? Then hide it! Store it safe.
Think About Entertainment While On the Road
When preparing to leave home (and the return trip) it is a good idea to get their phones/tablets/Nintendo Switch’s ready for the long drive to get to your campsite. Before we leave, we always make sure their tablets have full charge (FYI our kids are too young for phones, but we mention them for your sake). We are so paranoid that “in-flight entertainment” will run out of juice while on the road we even bought a spare battery pack to do emergency charges with! They may not have wireless on the road or when you get the camp site so be sure to have downloaded plenty of apps and other forms of entertainment that can be consumed offline. If the “digital babysitter” is not your thing, we absolutely get it! Some parents have more stamina and patience than others, and if that’s your thing we highly recommend that you prepare a few scavenger hunts or other similar car games that they can play on the way there. Alternatively, if your child is old enough to read for any sustained time or perhaps have some extra homework this is a great time to get them to focus. No matter what you pick, just be prepared for a long, boring car ride.
Backup & Downloaded Videos
Don’t count on having cell reception, so download their favorite movie to the tablet or add new exciting apps to keep their spirits up when they get bored. This is also helpful during the “quiet time” part of the day when a sibling may be napping for your older child when you’re at the campsite. Thankfully my husband is a geek and has set up a Plex Media server in our trailer and we’ve also gotten into Nintendo Switch for our six year old - it’s great for offline video viewing and having a nice quiet afternoon after a busy morning of hiking or adventuring in the local cities.
Research Your Site
Research the amenities provided at the campsite and look at the photos to see if bringing the bike for the kids to ride is a good idea. Sadly, some sites we’ve visited have gravel roads, the kind of roads where they have 1-3 inches of gravel -- for a six year old this is horrible stuff to ride on. You are looking for asphalt or hard-packed dirt roads or trails that a kid can bike on. Some sites, when not in COVID-19 lock-down, provide playgrounds and swimming pools. Some of the KOA’s offer bounce-houses, horseshoe, arcades, and other activities. A few of the Jellystone's we’ve been to have done Bingo night as well for the kids. This has been so enjoyable for our family -- yes, it’s not pure camping, but you are staying in a trailer with electricity in running water -- the purest camper you are not! Embrace it! Enjoy it! Your kids will get a kick out of the variety.
For backups on activities, consider board games, and arts and crafts that you can do in the trailer. But remember, there isn’t a lot of space so pack wisely. If nothing else bring crayons and markers and paper supplies and your kids will invent something that will keep them busy for hours!
A great example is our kids like to set up a “rock store”. My husband takes our kids to various rock stores on our trips and they’ve turned it into a bit of a repeat adventure. Once the kids and my husband return from their rock gathering activities the kids love setting up the rocks on the picnic tables for display and then asking us to come to their store to purchase their rocks. We laugh and giggle with them (while drinking a beer or sipping wine) and everyone gets what they want - and, we couldn’t be happier!
Comfort Toys & Blankets
Remember to bring their favorite toy to help them feel comfortable in their new setting. Our two year old son has a special blanket that somehow cures all ailments in the world, no matter what happened or where we are, his “blanky” brings him so much joy (especially around nap time). Our daughter has a favorite stuffed animal that she brings (I think that stuffed animal may actually part of the family as everyone seems to talk to him directly - kinda creepy =P). In the end, just remember that your kids are likely intimidated by the trip and the lack of known activities that they can do - they could be feeling lost, alone, scared, or otherwise confused about how to spend their time. By giving them a piece of home it helps ground them.
Beach (Sand) Toys
If you’re going to the beach, don’t forget some sand toys. So many times we have arrived at a sire to discover they either have a sandbox or there is a lake with a nice beach nearby. We always seem to find ourselves running to Walmart to buy more sand toys as we always seem to forget to pack these! The trick, we’re learning, is to leave them in the trailer if you can. Sand without toys in it is just “stuff they can throw at each other” - at least give them a chance to be constructive with it!
Balance & Harmony (AKA Don’t Mess Up Their Routines)
To avoid stress meltdowns try to stick to your routine as much as possible. Wake up normal, allow for nap time and be at their usual time with all of their normal bedtime routine ( shower, brush teeth, read a book etc.) have a nightlight they can have so they don’t get scared of the dark.
Dangers of Campfires
Avoid campfires until your young kids are asleep. Each family is different and we trust you, as parents, to consider if your kids are old enough to understand camp fires. Remind your kids of the campfire rules: if the campfire is on, you are sitting down. If you get up walk behind your chair (away from the fire) and walk away from the campfire. Children who are getting used to fire safety rules will often lean too close to the fire or walk dangerously near the flames (fear of falling in). Accidents happen, and yes, you did it as a kid and your kids will likely be fine no matter what - but why take that risk? Just practice good safety and use this time to teach your kids to respect the campfire.
As a ‘helicopter mom’ (really a copilot to their helicopter dad), this not only keeps your kids safe, but helps to keep your stress down too - leaving you space to enjoy yourself.
BONUS: the s’mores can be made easily in the microwave and don’t require a campfire! So, don’t feel compelled to start a fire just for that particular moment. Chances are, if you bought a camper or RV you will have plenty of other chances to enjoy those nice big bonfires with your kids as they get older and wiser.
EXTRA BONUS: when we do have a campfire going our kids LOVE this 'magic fire' packet. We don't cook food once it's on the campfire because we don't trust it, but it makes for a magical camping experience your kids will remember for awhile!
Be Patient & Love Your Kids
Be patient with your kids. They are watching you during this time of potentially high-stress. When we get to the camp sites, my husband often asks me to take the kids for a brief walk so he can deploy the struts, hook up the water, and get the electricity running. This gives him time to figure everything out without the kids destroying the campsite and allows the kids an opportunity to safely explore their new surroundings.
Remember it’s about keeping it simple so you can spend the much needed time connecting with your kids and creating the memories you and your family want.