Take the grandchildren RVing

Motor across the country, grandkids in tow

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Recreation vehicles take folks to family reunions, cook-offs, historic sites, and folk festivals. Some families plan all their RV travels around NASCAR races or ball games. Your goal may be to get close to nature in a state park, or experience thrill-a-minute camping right inside Disney World. Whatever your trip, RV spells FUN.

Whether you’re a seasoned RVer or a newbie, an owner or RV renter, everything changes when your grandkids are on board. How can you keep ’em safe on the road while giving them an experience they’ll always remember?

Before you go

Advise parents on how to pack for this trip — especially if they’re not RVers themselves. Space is limited. When using campground bathrooms, it’s handy to have a bag with handles that can hang on a hook or nail. There is seldom enough clean, dry space to hold one’s toiletries, towel, washcloth, and change of clothes. Bring shower clogs, too.

RVs differ from other small vacation homes in one big way: They travel at highway speeds. So, everything must be firmly stowed before the RV moves. A toaster left on the counter top becomes a deadly missile in a panic stop. Left unlatched, a cupboard door opens when you round a corner and everything spills out.

It’s a good idea to have the youngsters can help with pre-start checklists just like the ones airline pilots use. And, have a fire drill so children know where all exits are. Many RVs have emergency window exits in addition to entry doors. Together, walk completely around the RV before starting up to make sure nothing is still hooked up, hanging out, or left behind.

On the road

Buckle up. Seat belts — and perhaps a booster seat — are a must, whether or not RVs are required to have them in your state. If your RV doesn’t have belts for everyone on board, have them installed by an RV expert who knows where and how to anchor them. Seat belts rule even during naps. In our RV, no bathroom or refrigerator visits are permitted while the RV is in motion.

Look for roadside stops about once every 60 to 90 minutes. Let the kids loose to toss a ball, play Frisbee, and otherwise let off steam.

Enlist the kids as navigators. You’ll never hear “Are we there yet?” if you put the grandkids in charge of tracking your route on a map. Have them exercise their math skills by figuring out how far you’ve come, and how far to your next destination.

State-run welcome stations are always worth a special stop. They have clean rest rooms, plenty of parking space for big rigs, and free travel information, including campground brochures.

Be on alert for motion sickness. Visibility in the cockpit of an RV is excellent, but back-seaters see less of the view and more motion — such as swaying curtains or towels swinging on their racks. The chief antidotes to motion sickness are a good view of the horizon, plenty of fresh air and/or a motion sickness pill taken 30 minutes before the ride begins.

At the campground

The United States has about 16,000 campgrounds ranging from public lands to lavish resorts. Public parks offer more space but fewer amenities; resort campsites are usually crowded together.

Choose campgrounds that offer lots to do: swimming, playgrounds, miniature golf, fishing. Most commercial campgrounds also have a video arcade, pool table, or other hangout for teens. Resort campgrounds often feature hayrides, water slides, square dancing, tennis courts, and Wi-Fi access. State parks have ranger-led activities.

Mature, responsible kids might prefer to sleep in a tent next to the RV. Some campgrounds allow one RV and one tent per site.

Campgrounds have rules about pets, quiet hours, fires, pool hours and how many people can stay on one campsite. Respect them.

Have treats and games to bring out when kids get bored, keeping a few surprises in reserve for rainy days. Make popcorn. Teach kids to use a pie iron over the campfire. Practice scouting skills such as geo-caching and GPS hiking. Collect seashells or rocks. Make scrapbooks. Keep a journal. And remember that simply watching a campfire and telling tall tales in the dark still has amazing appeal, even to the Facebook generation.

Know who is responsible for each child at all times. Don’t leave room for I-thought-she-was-with-you tragedies. In the outdoors, one of the best safety devices is a whistle for each person. Even small fry can whistle for help.

Everyone has more fun when the kids are part of the camping team. Assign age-appropriate chores.

Appetites swell outdoors. Be prepared to serve seconds, even to picky eaters.

Fancy campgrounds don’t allow clotheslines outdoors, so have a plan for dealing with all the wet swimsuits, damp towels, and soggy shoes.

Many young people today are inseparable from their electronics. Use this to your advantage by bringing wholesome movies on DVD or tuning in to helpful podcasts. Then again, you may want to consider banning cell phones and music players so the kids can focus on the people and places around them.

Add these to your itinerary: