If you have been thinking about hitting the road in an RV or motorhome whether for just a short vacation or a more long-term trip, you probably have come to realize that there are plenty of choices available to consumers these days when it comes to these rolling homes away from home. There are more manufacturers than ever and a dizzying array of sizes and configurations to select from.
But thankfully, the industry has come to recognize a few general classifications to help bring some order to all of this and make your choice a little less confusing. There are four main classifications that we will discuss in this article, and hopefully when we are done you will have a better idea of which type or class of motorhome.
When I asked fellow RVers about traveling with children, there was always a short pause before they would answer. Was this a trick question, I thought? Then came their wry smiles, as if their minds were suddenly flooded with memories of the madcap and the maddening. "I just left him outside for a second," said one full-timer friend with a chest full of family war stories. "The next thing I know I hear footsteps on the roof." Quick, someone call SpongeBob to talk him down.
Ask around and you'll hear a million tales just like that one from RVing parents and grandparents alike, all of which made me petrified to take my youngest on his first motorhome trip. As it turned out, RVing with Parker was a breeze when he was two. Two months old, I mean, when the only thing he had on his mind was his next nap and blobbing about the living room, counting the rug fibers. But then he - gasp! - grew up, got mobile and oh so curious. And then you wake up one morning to find him shuffling down the hallway looking for something to smash with that hammer you accidentally left by the nightstand.
So how does one dare unleash Junior on that poor, unsuspecting recreational vehicle? It's called childproofing, and as I've slowly discovered, the only difference between a bull in a china shop and a toddler in a fifth wheel is your level of preparedness. So prepared we will become, since nothing spoils a family getaway faster than an Elmo doll stuffed down the toilet. Or so I'm told. Here's how to get your RV ready for those little ones.
Chances are good if the homestead is adequately childproofed for your youngsters or grand kids, those instincts and practices will carry over to the diesel-pusher rather nicely. After all, we're talking about the proverbial home on wheels here, with many of the same temptations and trouble spots found here for the family roughneck. Be sure to start with the basics. Outlet covers are a dime a dozen and should be used liberally throughout the interior. Latch all cabinets, even those compartments with nothing to hide, if for no other than to dissuade kids from hiding the family cat. Be on the lookout for sharp edges and corners found on some dinettes, entryway steps, and counter tops. One enterprising gent used piping insulation to dull these areas, possibly saving their kiddo from a nasty gash and new crew cut.
Everyone's got a different idea of how to handle the oft-perilous entryway area. A fall down this well is particularly nasty, culminating in a major-sized head-on with the door itself. One needn't listen too closely to hear these horror stories around most any campfire. Some families simply gate off this opening, while others fill the space with fluffy items until it's less hazardous. One family I know buffets the entryway with pillows; another uses their luggage to fill the abyss. Just don't make these contents too tempting to where it starts resembling the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese.
Pay careful mind as to how the RV is packed and loaded to avoid any problems. Obviously, any cleaning agents, detergents, poisonous items, sharp utensils, and tools should be kept locked up and away from all interested parties under four-feet-tall. When my friend Mitch told me about the runaway bowling ball that tumbled out from an overhead cabinet breaking his aunt's toe, well, it was sort of funny. However, the consequences of that strange scenario could be deadly if that had happened to be a one-year-old waiting down below. When loading the vehicle, remember this simple rule - heavy items go low, light items up high. Add some non-skid material to cabinets to keep contents from sliding around and be careful when opening doors for wayward projectiles. And ask yourself - is there really any reason to bring a bowling ball? I thought not.
Pretend you're four-years-old with a daredevil mentality. This kind of mental role-playing is particularly useful for those unaccustomed to communing with youngsters, like you grandparents spoiling, err, I mean taking care of your kid's kids for a weekend. What kind of mischief could you uncover on board? Shorter counter tops allow for greater access to boiling pots, hot pans, and utensils that can definitely leave a mark. Watch those handles on your cookware! Dangling cords from coffee pots and curling irons can be pulled on to youngsters down below. The bathroom door, with the ever-tempting toilet (latch that, too), should be fitted with a childproof doorknob handle to thwart trouble before a devious plan from a child is hatched. One full-timer told me to give appropriate thought to places my son could climb. She mentioned how her boy used the toilet to climb up on the sink, exposing him to unprotected outlets, potentially hot water, and a slew of items best left alone.
Whether they're known in your family as "tumbles," "bonks," or "earth-shattering wipe outs," kids do more falling than the NASDAQ did last year. Those linoleum and vinyl floors used liberally throughout many vehicles don't help matters, either. Shoes and/or socks with traction are terrific ways to keep kids upright. A rug on slippery surfaces is that much more destabilizing to a two-year-old in a full-out running frenzy, so watch out for that. Enforcing a walk-only rule inside and keeping obstacles out of walkways whenever possible serve as two tumble deterrents.
The escape window on any recreational vehicle is a constant source of fascination for most kids. Those bright, red handles attract like neon beacons, screaming "Come Play With Me." While it's wise to talk with the family about ways of exiting the RV in case of a fire, the term "emergency exit" sure sounds like fun to most young ears. Don't tolerate any horseplay (Geez, what a grown-up thing to say) here, making sure everyone knows this area is off-limits during non-crisis situations. Windows in general also deserve attention. A toddler leaning on a screen could potentially fall out. Get in the habit of sliding windows open only a few inches, installing wedges to hold them in position, if necessary. The entryway door should be locked at all times since that last step to the outside is indeed a doozy. Any Greg Louganis diving impressions from the bottom step should be strictly prohibited.
Now comes the question of how to stay out of trouble when the lights turn off for bedtime. As you know, RV designers have come up with no shortage of places for kids to bunk, including sleeper sofas, convertible dinettes, double and triple bunk beds, and recliners. The key challenge, however, is to keep kids in place, with numerous products available up to the job. Bedrail guards or side netting should do the trick for toddlers getting used to crib-free sleeping. Wal-Mart, for instance, has an entire section devoted to childproofing items. Otherwise, line the perimeter of the sleeping nook with pillows to serve as a blockade, while cushioning the floor below with materials to provide a soft landing if things go slightly awry. Nightlights strategically placed throughout the coach are an excellent way to safeguard groggy walks to the bathroom or trips to your room for that early morning game of Chutes and Ladders.
All this readiness may sound daunting, but it isn't really. Think of all this work as a labor of love, a dutiful act to keep the kids safe and you with a chance to relax knowing the RV won't turn into a kind of house of horrors. Then you can turn your attention to childproofing outside. Speaking of which, what's that I hear on the roof?
Article written by Brent Peterson for the June 2009 issue of CyberSam. Brent is the author of the The Complete Idiot's Guide to RVing