The lure of the open road got you into an RV in the first place. Whether you're a first-timer renting a rig for a vacation to test the RV lifestyle or a veteran pulling into campgrounds across the country, everyone who spends time in a recreational vehicle has to come to terms with spending time in cramped quarters. It doesn't have to be about killing time. With some thought and planning, you can stock your home away from home -- and your imagination -- with activities that will make your staying-put time as enjoyable and memorable as your rolling-along time.
1. To watch or not to watch? If you've got electric hookup and TV, you might be tempted just to turn on the tube and kick back. Dare to turn it off, or, if you must watch, try some local programming or pay special attention to locally produced commercials to see if you can pick up on cultural differences from what you're used to back home. Learning about other parts of the country and the way other people live is fascinating; using the television as a means to this end shines a new light on that gray flicker. If your rig is equipped with a VCR, rent movies that stretch your consciousness and take your mind somewhere you might not otherwise go. A travelogue to Morocco, anyone?
2. The sound of music. Even if you're not especially musical, you'll appreciate the acoustics of your small space. Bring along a jambox -- with batteries if you're not going to have a hookup -- and a few new CDs or tapes that you refuse to open 'till you're on the road. You'll forever associate this music with your trip. Woody Guthrie is all about seeing America -- you'll be singing along to "This Land is Your Land" before you know it. If the other ears in your party are game and patient, bring small instruments -- harmonica, spoons, maracas, tambourine. Pack a small lidded tub with some compact non-deafening instruments. Bring a songbook of whatever kind of favorites your family will like. By the end of your trip, you might be singing in three-part harmony with accompaniment. If all else fails, whistle!
3. Are you game? How long has it been since you sat down to a good game of Crazy Eights? Or Solitaire, or Fish, or War? Pack another small tub with games. Throw in a deck of cards, Scrabble, Yahtzee!, Monopoly, a cribbage board, and a backgammon set. If you don't know how to play, now's the time to learn. Search a bookstore or the Internet before you depart for easy instructions for games like cribbage and backgammon; then learn to play as a family. Don't forget the checkers and the travel chess board -- boards with magnetic pieces work especially well. And pick up a few easy smallish jigsaw puzzles. Since you don't have the luxury of enough space to devote a big tabletop to a puzzle for the entire trip, choose something that can be accomplished solo or with the whole family pitching in over the course of an evening.
4. Plenty to paint. You're on a trip seeing new things. Why not capture them in paint? You don't have to be accomplished with brush and color to experience the joy of really looking in order to see. Take along a Polaroid camera to document landscapes, flowers, roadside oddities, and special moments on the trip. Then use the photos for reference later when you sit down to paint. Pack a tub with art pencils, charcoal, watercolors, watercolor paper, sketchbook, brushes, even a small easel. Or buy a travel easel, which folds compactly and has built-in storage for your art supplies. Throw in a how-to booklet on the basics of sketching or painting with watercolors. You might be surprised at your -- or a family member's -- talent. For some hilarious fun, take turns drawing each other's portraits.
5. History in the making. Your memories of a trip in an RV belong in the annals of family history. Use some of your inside time to take turns documenting your trip, or, better yet, do it together every afternoon or nightly as a family project. Assign one family member to be the lead documenter each day. Everyone can pitch in writing down thoughts about your experiences of the day, collecting souvenirs, taking photos. Bring along an acid-free scrapbook or photo album with envelope-style sleeves suitable for tucking things into. In a small "Trip Scrapbook" tub, you'll also want a glue stick, markers, metallic pens, card stock for captions, and such. Collect mementos of your trip -- ticket stubs, brochures of attractions, campground and park pamphlets, found objects, matchbook covers, pressed flowers, menus, out-of-town newspaper clippings -- and store them in the tub for affixing later in your scrapbook. If you work on your trip log as you go, your memory won't fail you when you get home. And there will be a ready-made place for your pictures, complete with the stories behind them, when they're back from the photo lab.
6. You can't go wrong when you write. Whether it's your very own great American novel or your little ones' limericks, you'll be a happy camper if you jot your thoughts down. A blank or lined-paper journal is perfect for the job. The content is constrained only by your imagination. You and the kids can keep personal trip or thought journals or try your hands at short stories, inspired by your trip (or not). If it's sounding too much like the family scrapbook you're keeping, develop your inner poet and try composing your written documents in verse. Or, devise a plot and some characters and begin a novel. Maybe start a murder mystery or detective story, and read the new installments to each other. If the murder mystery takes on a life of its own, plan an Agatha Christie-style murder-mystery who-dunnit dinner for the end of the trip. For something a little different, experiment with a progressive story, where each person takes turns writing and hands off the composition or story to the next family member to continue the storyline in any way desired. When energy flags, there are always postcards home.
7. Tell a great story. Away from the usual distractions of home, your family might enjoy simpler pleasures from a simpler time. Not so long ago, storytelling was a chief form of entertainment -- and education -- in many, if not most, cultures. You'd be surprised what you can come up with when you turn the lights low, snuggle in your cozy space together, and start spinning a yarn. If it's late and dark, ghost stories never disappoint, and family stories -- when Mom and Dad got married, what it was like when Grandma and Granddad were little -- are good any time of day or night. When you see how gratifying the oral tradition is, you might get fired up at the idea of reading aloud. If so, pack some thrilling tales like The Count of Monte Cristo, Treasure Island, Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, and Robinson Crusoe. No matter how old you are, the sound of someone reading is music to the soul. And when it's time to go inward and be quiet, make sure all the readers in the group have a stash of personal books for their private pleasure.
8. Things that come in handy. Got room for another tub? Gather up some handiwork. If you're so inclined, in your down time you can tend to those socks that need darning. Better yet, find a needlepoint, crewel, knitting, or crochet project. As you work on something that brings you joy, share your enjoyment with your kids and pass down your skills. Your children will always remember the intimate times when they learned a hand skill from you on an RV family vacation. Imagine the family fun of working together on an afghan, which can become a snuggly RV standby on future trips. If you get ambitious, you can give each family member a square to decorate for a trip quilt. Piece it together as a family on a special evening back home (or in your RV). As the quilt comes together, so will you as a family reliving your trip and stitching together new memories.