An RV may be the solution you’re seeking for your socially distant vacation with kids! Four months ago, after canceling our third international vacation due to COVID-19, I was desperate for a change in scenery. But how could I ensure my kids were safe along the way? I suggested an RV vacation to my husband, and if you knew how our family normally travels, you’d laugh – just like he did. But 2020 isn’t like anything we’ve seen before, so why not have a family getaway reflecting this? Let’s rent an RV for a socially distant vacation with kids! After researching the topic and deciding which RV would be best for my family, I can say I’ve learned a lot throughout the process. Now, I’m here to help you plan your own family trip! Here are my suggestions for renting an RV during your socially distant vacation with kids.
After successfully convincing my family that an RV trip could be a fun adventure, my first step was to determine where to go. From what I’d read, South Dakota had a lot to offer our two boys, ages 14 and 12, and our 7-year-old daughter. I honed in on Custer State Park and Badlands National Park as our ideal camping locations. Then, I began combing through the respective campground websites for available dates lined up for both locations. Campsites at popular parks book well in advance, so I was grateful to find dates that worked.
Finding an RV
The next step to planning our socially distant vacation with kids was finding an RV. Based on the limited rental availability, we were obviously not the only family looking at this option for summer travel. I expanded our search and found a company in Central Minnesota. Conveniently, it was available in the town where my father lives. This made for easy logistics since we could drive our family of five from our home in Wisconsin to Minnesota, load the RV at my father’s home, and leave our car and dog with him for the week. The rental cost was just under $2,000 for 7 nights, plus an additional $1,000 refundable security deposit and $240 for insurance. While our rental included mileage, some rental companies charge a lower weekly rate and an additional fee based on the number of miles driven.
On the Road Again
After we got our RV situation settled, our only goal was to hit the open road. Let’s begin my itinerary for renting an RV for a socially distant vacation with kids!
Stop 1 – Custer State Park
After a 9 hour drive from Minnesota, our first stop was Custer State Park. Located on 71,000 acres of the Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park has an abundance of wildlife, lake swimming, nature hikes, horse riding, and fishing. Your kids are sure to love searching for new wildlife while enjoying the wide-open spaces Custer State Park has to offer! Plus, we found several restaurants and supply stores, the infamous Needles Highway scenic drive, and so much more. Additionally, it is located a short distance from many great day trips; Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Monument, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, and Devils Tower National Monument to name a few. With so much to offer, it’s no wonder that Custer State Park is one of the 10 Best Midwest State Parks for Families!
Our RV site was at Stockade Lake North, one of nine campgrounds located within the park boundaries. Stockade Lake North has electrical hookups for the RV, mature trees, a playground with wide-open space to wear the kids out, and a clean bathroom with free shower facilities. Plus, the park is located minutes from the town of Custer! The downtown area is full of restaurants, ice cream shops, souvenir stores, and more. Custer State Park provided just the right balance of relaxation and activity for our family, as I’m sure it will work for yours!
Stop 2 – Badlands National Park
After an obligatory visit to Wall Drug, Badlands National Park became our second stop. The rugged landscape here starkly contrasted what we experienced at Custer State Park but proved nonetheless beautiful. While this park doesn’t have the same level of activities available, our kids loved climbing and exploring the rocks. And the nighttime stargazing couldn’t be beaten! Your kids are sure to delight in an evening under the stars. If you’re planning to travel to National Parks with young children, make sure to look into the Junior Ranger Program. The Welcome Center at each park or monument has an activity packet for kids to complete to be a Junior Ranger along with ink stamps they can use to mark their visit. My daughter absolutely loved meeting the park rangers and adding stamps in her Junior Ranger Passport Book we purchased at a stop at Joshua Tree National Park last year.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget 4th graders and their families are eligible for a free national park pass!
With those two stops under our belt, we soon hopped in our RV to head home. On the way back to Minnesota, we recommend two fantastic stops based on our journey. First, the Minuteman Missile Historic Site is chock-full of Cold War history and located just outside the Badlands. Then, your kids will particularly adore the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. Children can explore corn-inspired murals and other themed attractions! Both stops proved to be more interesting than we anticipated, and I’m glad we stopped. You will be too! Afterward, we all agreed that renting an RV was a fun way to spend time together. For us, RVing was a perfect way to experience a socially distant vacation with kids. We wouldn’t hesitate to do it again! If our story has convinced you to consider RVing as a family, here are a few tips that may help you plan!
Planning Your RV Adventure
If you are looking for a socially distant vacation with kids, RVing is the way to go! Families new to RVing can check out this beginner’s guide. Now that you are in the planning stages, here are a few great things to consider!
Plan in Advance & Pack Smart
We started making reservations for our August trip in April and found limited availability. Being flexible with your dates or even your rental location can help a lot. Planning in advance will save you time, heartache, and headaches. Next, if you’re an over-packer like me, it will be easy to get lost in Pinterest and feel as if you need to bring one of everything. Instead, try making a list of everything you think you would need, then whittle it down over a few weeks. Space in the RV is limited, and organization is key. Aside from food and personal items, don’t forget paper towels, a small broom, and a shoe bucket to keep outside the RV door! Need additional packing guidance? Check out this beginner’s guide, which includes a great packing guide for families! Also, don’t miss these Coronavirus Travel Tips for Families (with packing recommendations!)
Cooking on the Go
Cooking is another important factor to consider when taking a socially distant vacation with kids. Luckily, our RV had a three-burner gas stove, small oven, microwave, and a small refrigerator/freezer. To keep things simple, I also made some meals in advance that we could toss right into the oven and eat in a jiffy. I also planned traditional meals over the campfire and had items on hand for sandwiches and grab and go snacks. Planning meals using an instant pot or slow cooker might be convenient, as well. No matter how you chose to do it, preparing your own meals is another reason RVing is a perfect socially distant vacation with kids!
But…What About the Bathrooms?
I bet you’ve been wondering the million-dollar question this whole time: where will we use the bathroom? Our RV had a small shower stall and a separate small room with a toilet and sink. We also had a 44-gallon water tank, and the ability to refill water as needed at the refill/dump station (more on that later.) There is a way to check your water level on a monitor inside the RV. While the shower in the RV was adequate, my husband and I did use the campground bathroom facilities on occasion for longer showers. Still, access to your own shower and bathroom is one reason RVing is an ideal socially distant vacation with kids.
Plus, Emptying the Tanks isn’t as Bad as You Might Think
Maybe one of your biggest anxieties is how to deal with the bathroom waste – I know it was one of mine! The RV has two waste tanks — the gray tank holds the water from the shower and sink, and the black tank is for the toilet waste. Each campground has a “dump station” where you can use the provided flexible tube to drain the waste from these tanks. We only had to stop at the dump station once on the weeklong trip, and then again before returning the rental. Pack some disposable gloves (likely you already have these packed!), follow the instructions carefully, and you will be fine!
Drive Safe: Gas Mileage, Insurance, Rental Cars & Seat Belts
On the way from central Minnesota to Custer State Park, we used 90 gallons of gas for about 600 miles. You can opt to turn on the generator while driving, which keeps the air conditioning running in the cabin and the electrical outlets functioning, but your gas mileage will go down. We did turn it on occasionally, but it was not running the entire time. When you’re driving an RV, there also may be times you wish you had something smaller to drive shorter distances. With our RV averaging 10 miles per gallon in gas and not wanting to pack up each time we wanted to go somewhere, we decided to rent an inexpensive car at our first destination. We used this car for day trips to Mt. Rushmore, Devils Tower in Wyoming, and scenic drives around the park. We absolutely did not regret this decision!
Don’t forget the insurance too! The company we rented the RV from required an insurance policy. We reached out to our car insurance company, State Farm, and they referred us back to the rental company to buy their in-house policy. The cost varies, but we paid $240 on top of the rental for the week, which gave us some peace of mind in case anything major happened. Most of all, though, drive with care! There are many resources that discuss RV passenger safety, and I urge you to familiarize yourself with the information before deciding if this is right for your family.
If you are looking to hit the road for a socially distant vacation with kids, RVing is the way to go! There are so many wonderful national parks, state parks, and other landmarks across the United States. Cooped up families are sure to love the wide-open spaces, opportunities for exploration, and time to refresh. No matter your route, your family is sure to love traveling again!
Are you ready to go? Need some more help planning? Find more articles, itineraries, and tips for a socially distant vacation with kids in our Family Outdoor Adventures section.
Written by Families Love Travel Contributor Melissa Bourgeois. Find Melissa on Instagram @melissainwi for more travel adventures.
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