It’s our least favorite part of RV travel, but trips do have to come to an end and the RV does need to be unpacked. We’ve done it the wrong way, and learned plenty of lessons in the process. What’s the bottom line? Be quick and thorough, and it won’t be so bad. Just like pulling off a Band-Aid.
Here are our hard-learned strategies for making the unpacking process as easy as possible.
1. All hands on deck
It’s easy to give the kids a free pass on unpacking, but we have learned that involving them in the process is worth it. Studies show that chores, and specifically family projects, are crucial for healthy development, so we look at this as a great opportunity to impart valuable life lessons to our children. We all played together on the RV trip, and now we all have to clean up together.
When our boys were younger, we put them in charge of shuttling things from the RV into the house. One of us would stand in the camper and hand off bedding and clothes to the kids who would carry them to the parent in the house. This was amazing efficient. Now that they are a bit older, they are responsible for actually returning items to their proper places and unpacking their own books and toys.
2. Establish a laundry strategy
Laundry can be the most difficult part of unpacking from a longer RV trip. You might have an entire week’s worth of dirty laundry to deal with, and this can easily feel overwhelming. We sort the laundry before it even comes into the house to make it easier. Do all of your camper laundry first–sheets, blankets, and towels–and then return it immediately to the RV.
Another amazing strategy for us has been to do the laundry before we come home. If the last campground you are staying at has laundry facilities, you can wash those clothes while packing up camp. We have washed an entire trip of dirty laundry in two hours and returned home with clean clothes. Try it once and you may be hooked.
3. Restock right away
Even though it’s easy to remember now that you ran out of shampoo and garbage bags on this trip, you’ll probably forget by the next RV vacation. Make sure you have a system for keeping track of things that you need to restock. Some people prefer a digital tool, like a notes or list app on their smartphone. We are old school analog and have a white board in the camper where we keep a running list.
We prefer to restock immediately upon returning home, since it makes it so much easier to pack for the next trip. If we ran out of paper towels or tin foil, we just bring it out to the camper from our house supplies, if possible.
4. Establish a “camper return spot” in the house
This is another lesson learned by experience for many RVers. Items from the camper inevitably make their way into the house and you don’t realize it until the next trip when you are missing the can opener. Linens and bedding are the usually culprits, but dishes come in with leftovers from the refrigerator, and phone chargers seem to wander in as well.
Have a designated spot in the house where you immediately put any RV item that needs to be returned to its home in the camper. The next time you are going out to the driveway, bring the items to drop off. We also check the camper return spot before we leave on a trip, to make sure no errant items are left behind.
5. Don’t sit down until you are done.
It’s tempting: you just got home from a long RV trip, and you just want to sit on the couch and watch a little TV. We’ve been there, but have realized that unpacking immediately upon return is just easier and more efficient. If we all work together, we can honestly unpack the RV in under one hour. Then it’s time to order pizza and chill out in front of a family movie.
Just like that suitcase that waits to be unpacked for weeks after you return from a business trip, sometimes we want to just shut the door to the RV and walk into the house after a long vacation. We have found this makes the situation worse, since you end up running out to the camper, looking for items and rummaging through dirty laundry. We don’t always follow our best advice for unpacking, but when we do, it’s amazing how much easier the process it.
Just remember what we all learned in kindergarten: Cleaning up is part of having fun