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Tiny Living on Wheels: Family Life in a Small RV

10.15.18

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Tiny Living on Wheels: Family Life in a Small RV

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Children. They’re the light of your life, until you live in a very small place with them for an extended period, when they turn into your messiest roommate from college. As I discussed last month, embracing RV life opened the world of outdoor exploration my family. It also moved us for roughly 35 nights per year into 108-square-feet where we attempt to stay a loving family unit.  

Most often when we travel, we are in search of something new to see and do. Because of this we usually are living for a week at a time without power or water hookups, and certainly without Wi-Fi and air conditioning. This can be an adjustment for younger family members who who think the internet floats through the air much like oxygen. But let's be honest, a week of traveling is an adjustment for everyone. 

Extended travel in our small travel trailer has made us aware of our role in conservation, simplification and planning. We’re far from tiny living experts, but on every trip we learn a new trick to help make our travels more comfortable. Below are some ideas that have worked for us.  

Outside spaces  

Make a space outside for shoes, stretching, transitions, etc. Unless “it” is sleeping, using the bathroom, reading or resting, “it” needs to happen outside. Living in a small RV, we don’t have room for one person to tie a shoe, and another person to go grab their coat. If you make outside the easiest place to transition, everyone will naturally do so. A chair, table or cooler lid and a little protection from the sun or rain make this a perfect transition place. As a bonus, we have a tote to collect all our shoes. At night we slide it far under the trailer to keep everything dry. 

Bunks  

Traveling with a couple of kids? Consider stacking them up. There are a few approaches to trailer layouts for families.  

  • Option 1: Parents have a bed, and tables convert to “beds” for kids. 
  • Option 2: Kids get bunk beds and the table converts to an adult sized “bed.”  
  • Option 3: Get a big vehicle for a big trailer and enjoy space galore. If this is your plan, this article may not be for you.  

We opted for Option 2. My kids don’t travel light. Pillow Pets, favorite blankets and discarded dirty socks consume entire bedrooms in our real house, and I had no grand illusion that this would change while on vacation.  

Giving the kids their own spaces also gave them spaces to rest, relax, get over a fight with their sibling, and decompress on their own terms. Taking it a step further, I hung curtains to give them privacy when they need it. Slamming the curtain shut is the new way to let everyone know life is unfair.  

Use the outside shower

If you are rustic camping it’s lovely to be clean, but you don’t need to be shiny clean every day. A quick hose off and strategic use of a little soap goes a long way to make day three of a trip feel like the first day. And because there is nothing more terrifying than worrying about how full your wastewater tank really is when it reads “FULL,” we use the outside shower frequently, saving gallons of water from going into our holding tanks. Use biodegradable soap, wear a swim suit, or strategically hang up towels for privacy. Keep it quick, and get something to stand on to keep your feet out of the mud.  

Washtub for dishes  

Who wants to spend part of a vacation day towing a trailer somewhere to empty wastewater tanks? No one. Ever. Wash and rinse dishes in a wash tub (with biodegradable soap) and pour the water out on a tree using a strainer to catch the larger food particles. If you’re feeding a family, you're dirtying a lot of dishes over the course of the day, resulting in gallons of water going into your tanks. (See "full" tank worry above.)

Strong kids and a water funnel 

So, you took some of my advice and saved some space in your gray water tank. Great, but you still ran out of water. We can typically go three days on the fresh water our trailer can hold, and after that we need to replenish. Luckily, a suction cup, funnel and children can fix this problem if potable water is within walking distance.

Wear them out during the day 

Needless to say, when your kids’ beds are 10 feet away from yours, a restless, “I can’t sleep,” night will put all the trailer residents over the edge. Your tool to combat this is to wear your kids out during the day. You think your 9-year-old is up for a 3-mile hike? I guarantee you she’s up for 6 miles. Your son thinks supplies come from ransacking houses in Fortnite? He can fill 15 gallons of fresh water by hand and foot. (See above.) Kids anxious for the campfire? Great, they can start the fire and find where they put the marshmallow sticks last time they used them. 

Tiny things to do 

Cool evenings or slow mornings sometimes require things to do on the home front. A shoe box sized container can hold a lot of little games and activities. Ring It, Blink, Yahtzee, and a deck of cards can get us through just about any stormy day. 

Parental Relaxation Time

By the end of the day, you’ve planned, explored, fed, cleaned, survived, and it’s time for a little relaxation. Once relaxation has begun, parents need quick access to the adult beverages that have been chilling all day, and the chips and salsa. Keep your favorite drinks close, keep them cold, and make sure your kids know when you are off duty.  

The beauty of prioritizing outside adventure with our kids is that we are forced to work together in order to live our best, while living with less. By making some accommodations to make the "home front" easier and more functional, our days out can be bigger, more exciting and, ultimately, more accessible. 

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