Summer is almost upon us, and we’ve got three words for you in 2021: family road trip. Whether you’re taking a five-hour drive to that idyllic cottage on the water or a months-long adventure around the country, you’re going to need some gear (because: kids). To help, we enlisted a lineup of super-experts (i.e., six nomadic families who have bunked up in Airstreams, RVs, and converted school buses) and asked them to share their must-have supplies and camping accessories. The amount of time each has spent living on the road varies (from six months to four years), and their family sizes range (from three to seven people), but they all have one thing in common—they know a lot about efficient small-space design and keeping kiddos occupied and happy on the go. Here are the items they can’t live without.
When textile designer Dana Haim decided to relocate her family of four from San Francisco to Miami in June 2020, they turned the move into a six-month trip in a 25-foot Flying Cloud Airstream—hitting as many parks and natural springs as they could along the way. Rather than lug a towel and a change of clothes anytime they went for a dip, their sons Orion (4) and Luca (2) would dry off in soft hooded robes. “We could wrap them up and not have to worry about getting them dressed immediately. I found these robes to be so much more practical for folding up small into a daypack,” says Haim.
Nearly all their cooking, including pizzas, was done in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet (Haim advises to avoid using it to prepare fish, as the taste might linger in the pan, and never use soap to clean it). Another go-to: “Cozy linen sleeping bags were so useful for our journey because the kitchen dinette transforms into the boys’ bed, which we had to take down and remake every day,” explains Haim of skipping sheets and duvet covers. “Another great thing was, of course, being able to take them outside.”
With the goal of paying off $118,000 in student loans, Karen Akpan; her husband, Sylvester; and their son, Aiden (8), sold their home, bought an RV, and hit the open road. They’re aiming to visit all 50 states on their adventure. During their transition to on-the-move living, they had to really pare down their kitchen gadgets, but this compact tool made the cut. “We love coffee, so we grind beans fresh every morning. The small grinder is very efficient,” explains Karen.
The Kennedys—Nicole; Gary; and their four kids, Amali (10), Abbi (8), JR (5), and Gavin (2)—have been full-time RV traveling for nearly three years. They spend the winters in warmer locales, like the Southwest and Florida, then hit areas in the North during summer. This fall they’re heading to upstate New York for the salmon run “to catch and fill our deep freezer for the year with delicious wild-caught salmon and flounder,” says Nicole, while noting that Gary is a professional fisherman and the family’s resident chef. “Then we head to Maine to fish for lobster, too!”
During their time on the move, the Clam camping tent has become an absolute must for the Kennedys. “It’s an outdoor living room that protects you from the sun during the day and bugs at night, all while allowing air to flow through—so you can soak up that good forest aromatherapy,” says Nicole. It’s a versatile space that they’ve used for meals, family game time, and an office—and they’ve even brought a portable propane firepit inside. “It adds major square footage to your camping experience,” she notes.
Gianna and Jake Bachowski—along with their daughter Luna (4)—began their adventures in their “tiny home on wheels (aka a converted Sprinter van) in 2018. After a year and a half of #VanLife, and while expecting their second daughter, Capri (now almost 1), they upgraded to a midsize school bus, which they completely renovated into a sleek, shiplap-lined mobile home (they recently resettled into an actual home and are launching a business to build out buses and vans).
The couple’s must-have gear includes reusable stainless steel water bottles, since the material “will help keep your water colder longer,” says Gianna. Another essential for the young family: breakproof dinnerware. “When you live on the road, your home moves! There will be speed bumps, sharp turns, and sudden stops. Having plates and cups that are unbreakable is your best bet. These plates are great because they’re colorful,” she adds.
On and off since 2018, this family of seven—Renee and Shaun Tilby, plus kids Audrey (14), Mason (11), Levi (9), Lincoln (7), and Jesse (3)—has been exploring national parks around the country from the comfort of their RV. “Our main goal is to teach our children to experience as many things firsthand as possible,” explains Renee. “We plan a large amount of our learning around where we are, and we hope to expand their minds, their compassion, their curiosity, and their worldview through travel,” she adds.
The supplies they can’t live without? A durable outdoor-friendly rug that “extends your living space and creates a great dining area, playroom, yoga studio, etc., while also helping to reduce the amount of dirt and debris that makes its way into your trailer,” notes Renee. And a 2.25-gallon water filter. “We are water snobs, and you never know what you are getting when you hook your RV up to a campground’s spigot,” she says. “We run 100 percent of the water we drink through our Berkey filter, even thawed snow in an emergency.”
“Full-time RV life has given us an appreciation of the benefits of living simply and the freedom to take our home where we want,” says Floshea Harrigan. Her family—husband Kalil and four children—are only on the move part-time now (they lived stationary 2018 to 2020). But for the days they do travel—which, with toddlers, can sometimes be “stressful”—these handy, pocket-plentiful trays “have just the right amount of compartments for their cups, toys, and snacks [to keep] them entertained, content, and organized during hours of driving,” says Floshea. What more could a parent ask for?
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