Every parent with school-aged kids has gone through the gamut of emotions when it comes to school in 2020. Hybrid, in-school, distance learning, Zoom classrooms… add in all the current travel restrictions and I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t crossed my mind to just sell everything and homeschool my kid from an RV.
While I’m not going to do exactly that, we are starting our year with distance learning. And since both my husband and I are working full-time remotely, we wondered: could we actually work and go to school, on the road? We’re a family of three, we’ve never vacationed in an RV together, and we wanted to find out. So, we booked a sweet ride on RVShare and hit the road for a fall adventure. Here’s what we discovered.
For our first time out there, I was nervous about trying to work successfully and connect for school from a more remote location or potentially even on the road. We opted to just do three days of school/work on the road and two weekend days. We booked directly on RVShare and were able to communicate directly with the owner to arrange pickup time and location. For the first part of our trip, we decided to stay somewhere a little less remote for the nights/days we knew we’d need a more reliable connection.
If you and your fam need access to Google Hangout or Zoom class meetings, make sure you have everything set up a few minutes earlier than usual. (It’s also a good idea to give your classroom teacher a heads-up in case there are connection issues.) I highly recommend you rent a WiFi hotspot, like this one. It works better and is way more reliable than using your phone.
Tip: If you get a device rental, activate it a day before and make sure it works before you even leave home. If there are any issues, you have a day to troubleshoot, well worth the extra money you spend for a day rental.
Use the Trip to Your Homeschool Advantage
We love fall and have tried to squeeze in fall day trips in the past few years, but this is typically such a busy time of year that it's hard to find the time to do a proper "epic fall colors road trip." Because of our remote work and learn situation, we were finally able to see some of the places on our bucket list and take in the gorgeous fall colors. Plus, it's a great time to travel because a lot of campsites are less crowded, and there's nothing like doing a Google Meet by the campfire.
History & Mystery
Traveling with kids is a great teaching tool. If you plan a few stops along the way, whether they are at quirky roadside attractions or important historical sites, you can turn a break into an important lesson. We stopped at the famous Paul Bunyan/Babe the Blue Ox statue which became the perfect way to discuss myths, legends and icons. (There are at least three states that claim Paul Bunyan as their own!). At the end of each day we took a little time to write in our journals.
There are basically endless opportunities to do PE when you're camping. We used hikes as our PE every day, and made sure to track our steps at the end of each day to see who walked the most. I actually previewed the campsites online first to make sure that the places we were staying had ample hiking and walking opportunities from our site without having to pack up and drive. Plus, our RV was actually big enough that one of the mornings we did yoga inside!
Botany & Ecology
We planned stops at two different nature preserves, including a unique bog ecosystem, whose signage provided plenty of discussion points. Our son now knows exactly how carnivorous pitcher plants trap their prey, why bogs are fragile ecosystems, and what a Russula vomitus mushroom is (and why you should avoid it). We even saw a tree felled by beavers and one beaver in the pond building his home.
Math & Geography
We were hoping to purchase a pumpkin or two while on the road, and we lucked out when we happened upon a small town farmers market. We used this as a quick math lesson and tried to guess how much the pumpkin would weigh. I also had him calculate the total of our goods and see how much change we'd get back. We even all took turns trying to guess the cost of filling up the RV gas tank by multiplying the price per gallon times the number of gallons we thought the tank held. (We all guessed way under, but que sera sera).
You can also show your kids how to use a map. A real one, with the little lines that show you distance per inch, and latitude and longitude. Have them add up the total distances and compare it to the odometer.
Getting the Right Vehicle
We went big, and it was great! We rented a 31-foot Class C (the kind with the loft above the cab). It even had pop-outs that made a sizeable living area and was a newer model that handled really well (like a large van), but I will admit I was not that keen on backing it into sites or merging in traffic. For that reason, my husband became the primary driver, which worked well for our short little 5-day excursion but might not be feasible if you’re hauling your crew across country and need to take turns driving. My friend Sara @mightyandbright is currently on a two-week long road trip in a 25-feet motorhome with just her and her daughter, and she’s confident driving it herself, so size (and length) really does matter when you’re booking. RVShare has all kinds of vehicles, including tow-behind trailers, sprinter vans and larger motorhomes, so you can find something that fits your family’s size and budget.
A Few More #RVLife Tips & Tricks
I’m not going to list here everything we packed, nor will I give you my amazing recipe ideas for RV cooking (because I don’t have any). We brought a lot of ready-to-eat/easy-prep stuff and quite frankly, there’s a microwave in most RVs these days so I embraced it. (I don’t actually have a microwave at home, so it felt extra luxe). Here are a few things we did pack that you might not think of:
- Anti-nausea medication. If you get carsick, you'll never be able to help your kiddo with their homework on the road without this. If they get carsick, well...you know the drill.
- There’s a special kind of toilet paper for RV toilets. Your host will probably have some on-hand, but you may want to track down an extra roll or two if you have a big family.
- Bring a little notebook to take notes as the RV owner is walking you through the basics. It will all make sense while they are showing you, but at 10 p.m. when you’re backing into a site you’ve never been to before, you are going to want a cheat-sheet of what to turn off before you plug in, etc.
- You are probably going to have to deal with “the blackwater” at some point. Don’t panic. It’s not that hard, and we actually read this article before we did it, even though our host had walked us through. (Don’t know what the blackwater is? Mwah ah ah. You will.) But make sure you pack some disposable gloves for this job.
- Bring your sense of humor! You will hit your head. At least once. (I hit mine three times, twice on the cupboard above the stove and once on the loft). The toaster set off the fire alarm (but hey, a toaster when camping is such a luxury!). It’s an intimate space, you are going to hear each other do pretty much everything. It’s all part of the family bonding.
- Don’t forget a road map. A real, paper map or Road Atlas, just in case you need to find your way around when your phone GPS won’t connect. It’s one thing to go off-grid when you’re in a car, it’s another thing when you’re trying to navigate a 30+ foot vehicle. Plus, you can have your kids do some navigating and call it a geography lesson.
- Book ahead as much as possible: unlike car camping you need to be sure that where you are going can accommodate the rental you have, by length. And while you’re at it, make sure at least one of the sites has a “sanitation station” for the blackwater or you’ll be googling it furiously one afternoon. (Actually, RVShare has a search for that, too!)
Can you live and work and do school from an RV successfully? I think the answer is yes. Our little experiment worked out nicely. And you’ll learn a bunch of cool stuff along the way, and not just by subject. Travel can show kids resilience, going with the flow and the positive effects of spontaneity. We can’t wait to do it again, this time maybe for longer, and we might even convince grandma to come along!
All photos by Amber Guetebier