Is it really possible to live in an RV with your family, we’re talking 200 sq. feet of space or so, and actually enjoy it? Why yes, yes it is. We’re proof of that and so are hundreds of other families who have chosen the full-time RV lifestyle.
But it’s not always easy. It takes some work, some self-awareness, some patience and more.
RV Living is Not for Everyone
I’ll never forget the first conference I attended after having traveled and lived in our RV for about six months. We were all introducing ourselves and sharing where we were from, aka where we had flown from to attend the conference.
At first, I went through the whole spiel that went something like this…
Me: Well, I actually don’t live anywhere right now.
Me: I’m currently traveling in an RV with my family. We sold our house and most of our stuff. We’ve been on the road for about six months.
Them: You’re what now?
Me: Yeah, we’re in Oregon working our way down the west coast and then we’ll head east to Florida and then up the east coast.
Them: So, you’re telling us you live in an RV with your family and you like it?
Me: Well, yeah, most of the time.
Them: Doesn’t it stink all the time living in such a small space with that many people?
Them: Don’t you want to strangle your kids and husband all the time?
Them: Don’t you get sick of each other?
Them: I could never in a million years do what you’re doing.
I would quickly end the conversation saying this lifestyle is definitely not for everyone.
Needless to say, people were looking at me like I was a crazy woman and possibly wondering when I had showered last.
As the conference went on, when someone asked me where I was from I just said Austin, Texas and left it at that.
5 Tips for How to Live in an RV with Your Family & Actually Enjoy It
Let me start off by saying we had absolutely no idea if we were going to love living in a travel trailer. And actually, love is quite a strong word.
You can read our launch story and see just how quickly we went from idea to hitting the road. It was a bit insane and we definitely wouldn’t recommend it. But somehow, someway and for some reason, it worked for us.
I also want to say that this lifestyle was not meant for every member of our family. You see, our daughter who was (and still is) in college when we launched was only with us for her breaks. And that was a good thing. I know she’ll be okay with me putting this out there, especially if it sheds some light on our situation and helps someone, but…
She did not like RV living.
She loved the traveling part and is thankful for all the incredible places she was able to visit, which would not have been possible without the RV living part of the equation. But being in such a small space, with no real room to call her own was incredibly tough on her.
I go back and forth in my mind wondering if it would have been a better experience for her if we had chosen a different rig, rather than the Keystone Passport which only had bunks for our boys. (You can check out our tour of this travel trailer here.) Some days I have regrets.
Some days I have guilt. Some days I realize what’s done is done.
But in all honesty, we chose the travel trailer that had the best set up for those of us who would be living in it full-time at a price that made sense.
Which leads me to my first tip…
Tip #1: Choose Your Rig As Wisely As Possible
If you’re in the shopping stage of RV living and are looking for the perfect rig, let me say one thing.
The perfect rig doesn’t exist.
One of the most common questions from people who are in the planning stages of RV living is ‘what’s the best RV for full-time RV living?‘
And the best answer to that question is…it depends.
It depends on:
- What you can afford.
- What you’re comfortable driving or hauling.
- Your family set-up.
- If you want to be able to camp in National Parks.
- If you want to be able to boondock.
- And a lot of different factors.
I would have loved to have been able to full-time RV in something where each of our kids had their own space. But you know what? I wouldn’t be writing to you right now about all of the amazing places we visited on our full-time travels because we’d likely still be waiting to make that dream a reality.
*Be sure to read our interview with Keystone RV about RV Shopping here.
Choosing the Best Rig Even Though It Wasn’t Perfect
We knew what we could afford (and what we couldn’t) so we shopped with those parameters in mind. And it came down to two rigs for us to choose.
One had a bunkhouse with four very narrow (28 inch) bunks.
One had a corner “bunkhouse” with two full-sized (kind of) bunk beds.
After having our 6 ft. plus son test out the two different models, it was clear the corner bunk beds were our only option. His shoulders couldn’t even fit in the smaller ones!
And since he would be with us full-time, we had to make the decision that was best for him. I can’t even imagine how uncomfortable he would have been for that year and a half in a tiny bed meant for a small child.
Since our boys had their own ‘space’ during our travels and our daughter didn’t, when she was with us we made a few tweaks here and there to help the situation. Including staying at Airbnbs some to break up the struggles of a small space for her.
So, take into consideration all members of the family and make the best decision you can at this moment in time.
Tip #2: Be Respectful of Each Other’s Space
One thing we heard time and time again from other full-time RVers was that any problems you had as a family while living the stationary lifestyle, would (a) not go away once you moved into an RV and (b) come to the surface a lot quicker in a small space.
For us, since we lived in a 2,300 sq. foot house, staying out of each other’s hair was pretty easy. Each of our kids had their own room, although they did all have to share a bathroom, which had its stressful moments.
Being in a large home makes it fairly easy to respect each other’s space for the most part. But moving a family into an RV, well that’s another story.
Our boys had their own space (bunks) to call their own and no one messed with it, but our daughter didn’t. So when she would come and stay with us, she made her ‘space’ (aka the dinette) her own by hanging up pictures and surrounding herself with her favorite things.
Was it a perfect set-up? Not at all. But it’s what worked and allowed us to travel. So we had to respect her space, which was a common area, and she had to respect the fact that her ‘space’ was also our dinner table and sometimes the home office.
It took respect, communication, and people just chilling out a bit to make this work.
I love watching full-time family RV tours and seeing how families make living in such a small space work.
So, what does it mean exactly to be respectful of each other’s space? It means to work with what you have, do the best you can, take deep breaths and put others’ needs before your own. That is the reality.
Tip #3: Spend Time Apart
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? I’m not 100% sure I believe in this quote, but one quote I can get behind is…
“A crowded camper is better than an empty castle. As long as you spend some time apart.”
Ok, so I added that last bit because, for us, time apart was healthy for our kids.
And us, really.
Todd was really good about getting the boys out for a day of hiking, giving them a chance to go on some incredible hikes and me a chance to spend some time alone. He would also get out with the boys individually, giving them time apart as well. (Yes, he’s a rockstar dad in case you’re wondering.)
When our daughter was with us, her and I would be sure to get out for a movie, shopping or a full day of fun in cities like New York City, Vancouver B.C. or Philadelphia. (Be sure to check out my article on fun things to do in NYC with your teenage daughter.)
As far as Todd having some time to himself, well he’s an early riser and would have an hour or so of quiet in the mornings. But looking back, I definitely could have been more proactive in making sure he had some time to himself.
Adding An Outdoor Living Area Helps
Time apart doesn’t have to be everyone going their separate ways. We also made sure we had a nice outdoor setup, which is where our youngest son spent quite a bit of his time. He did not enjoy being cooped up in the RV for hours and really needed time outdoors. Having a comfortable space to do so made all the difference in the world, and it also allowed him to meet as many people as possible. Because that is what he craved the most.
Are there families who don’t really feel the need to be apart and do just fine spending every waking minute together? I’m sure they exist, but we knew what we personally needed and being aware of it and doing something about it makes all the difference in the world.
While you’re traveling full-time with your family, ask how you can get creative when it comes to spending some much needed time alone.
Tip #4: Make Friends!
One thing we realized a little too late on our travels, was how making friends and spending time with them helped us all get along better.
Our youngest was the best at making friends and most of the people we met on the road and have stayed friends with, are because of him. He knew the importance of making friends for his sanity and well-being.
I remember so vividly a time we were in Miami, Florida. He was getting a little sick of just hanging out with us (I don’t blame him since we can be quite boring sometimes) and he announced ‘I’ll be back later. I’m going to find some friends.’
And literally 10 minutes later he was on the basketball courts with a group of people having a ball. (Pun intended.)
Thanks to some friends we met in Virginia, we took a two-week trip to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia together. It was their idea and what a great one it was! Those two weeks are some of our fondest memories of our travels. And I believe it was mostly because of the people we were with.
Would it have been a fun trip alone? Sure. But adding friends into the mix made it even more incredible.
So, be proactive in making friends. Spending time with others will only strengthen the relationships with those you’re sharing a small space with.
Tip #5: Remember Why You’re Doing This in the First Place
One point we had to come back to as a family over and over again, is why the heck we decided to do this in the first place.
Was it because we just loved each other so much that we decided living in the smallest space possible would be just so dreamy? Heck no!
We did it for one reason:
For the Adventure!
We would have never been able to see everything we saw and do everything we did without the living in an RV part of the equation. Living in an RV was secondary, it was necessary. Adventuring together was the ultimate objective.
Because of this mindset, I think it allowed us to deal with and let go of a lot of the frustrating parts of RV life. Did we still have days small space living was so annoying we just couldn’t stand it? Oh yes.
Fast forward to the present day where we’re currently living in an apartment. Are there annoying parts of apartment living? Yep. Like when our neighbors are playing loud music or they slam the door and it shakes our entire living room.
But there are reasons why we chose apartment living and every once in awhile, we have to remind ourselves of the why.
So, what’s your why?
Let’s Wrap This Up
How do you live in an RV with your family and actually enjoy it? Our tips are:
- Choose your RV as wisely as possible
- Be respectful of each other’s space
- Spend time apart
- Make friends
- Remember your why
For those of you who are already in the thick of full-time RVing, we would love it if you shared your tips for getting along with your family in such a small space. We know we haven’t covered it all and you just might have a wisdom nugget that really helps someone.
Julie Bonner is one-half of the TREKKN team. She specializes in helping you whip up delicious meals in your tiny RV kitchen, as well as RV organization tips and helping fellow RVers make their RV feel like home. Her favorite RVing spot is in Banff National Park in Canada where yes, the water really is that blue and the people really are that nice.