4 Relationship Survival Tips for Camping Couples

Learn how to get along in a small RV space

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February 12, 2020

The author with her partner Jim Nelson.

Every couple has communications challenges. But there’s something about travel that can raise bickering to a whole new level. Let it spiral out of control, and your trip will self-destruct. But if you learn how to get along in a small RV space, a grand adventure is yours for the taking. As my husband and I embark on our 15th year of full-time RVing, here’s how we keep the peace and ensure camping relationship survival in this fun lifestyle.

Here are just a few of the lessons we’ve learned during our journey together:

A couple poses for the camera with a trail in the background.

Jim Nelson and the author setting out on the Continental Divide Trail. Photo: Rene Agredano

Size has nothing to do with getting along in a small RV space.

Some people say that the tiny confines of RVs are a recipe for disaster when couples or families go on vacation. I disagree. When I tell people that my husband and I live full-time in a 27-foot fifth-wheel, they’re shocked. Many are even more surprised when I explain that seven of our 13 years on the road were spent in a 24-foot model. “We couldn’t live together like that,” most tell us, with each partner nodding in agreement. That’s too bad, I think to myself.

Full-time RVing has enriched our lives more than we ever dreamed possible. And while it’s not always rainbows and unicorns in our downsized life, the reality is that if my husband and I want to keep scratching the hitch itch in our hearts, we must learn to get along during stressful times. Thankfully, the unpredictable nature of full-time RVing gives us plenty of opportunities to try.

A couple lounges on a hammock near a lake.

Photo: Esther Tuttle

From poor directional navigation to bumping into each other in the kitchen and so much more, some days it feels impossible to escape the consequences of emotional meltdowns. But the good news is that you can learn how to mitigate and lessen the impact a tight space has on frayed nerves. Four RVing strategies anyone can practice include:

Assign RV camping duties.

RVing takes practice. When you’re new at it, the process can be confusing and sometimes stressful. From driving to navigating, setting up camp to tearing it down, learning to live on the road takes patience and practice for everyone on board. The best way to minimize the impact is by assigning camping duties to everyone on-board. These checklist activities that stay consistent from place to place. For example:

  • One partner can assume duties for outside chores like setting up or packing away utilities and extending or retracting RV levelers.
  • The other partner will handle inside duties like extending slide-outs, taking tension bars out of the refrigerator and securing objects before departing.
  • Traveling with kids? Children can handle easy camping chores like walking the family dog while the adults get the campsite ready. They also can pick up clothing and toys before departure.
A woman on a trail takes care of her dog.

Photo: Rene Agredano

Pursue separate activities.

RVing puts you in the middle of places and circumstances you wouldn’t otherwise access in a typical life. If you have always been a couple that’s joined at the hip, now is the time to learn how to be a little more independent. Make the most of your new surroundings by feeding your soul with activities you enjoy doing or have always wanted to pursue, but your partner does not. From museum trips to fly fishing to volunteering, set off on a solo adventure when the opportunity strikes. Absence not only makes the heart grow fonder but at the end of the day, you two will always have lots to talk about.

Happy couple with motorhome on the beach

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Be mindful of your actions and emotions.

Whatever size of RV you choose, living in one can feel like a pressure cooker of emotions when things get stressful. And in this unpredictable lifestyle, it happens more than you can imagine, especially in the early days of figuring it out. From tire blowouts to backing into a giant boulder, windstorms to traffic jams, even after thirteen years under our belt we know that things can and do go wrong. When they do, we must avoid playing the blame game and bickering if we want to keep the adventure moving. We do this by remembering the “STOP” method developed by stress reduction expert Jon Kabat Zinn:

S: Stop what you’re doing in the heat of the moment.

T: Take three deep breaths to re-ground scattered emotions. For the best effect, breathe in for four seconds, hold for four, exhale for six.

O: Observe what’s happening to your breath, your mind, your pulse. Ask yourself: do I really want to feel this way? Obviously, you don’t, so then you will:

P: Proceed with calm voices and non-judgmental discussion to figure out a solution.

Couple lounging in front of RV with small child.

Getty Images

And finally, remember to laugh.

Whether we’re in the middle of domestic bickering or enduring an RV calamity, we don’t have to like what life throws at us, we just have to accept it. One of the easiest ways to do that is by practicing a technique called Laughter Yoga. No, it’s not about stretching yourself into a human pretzel, but rather laughing on purpose to reap mind and body benefits. That’s because science shows that a good belly laugh, whether from watching a comedy movie or forced during a stressful situation, improves health. It can boost your immune system, relieve pain, make it easier to cope with difficult situations and helps you connect with other people. The benefits of laughing on purpose have helped my husband and me through roadside emergencies, mountain bike wrecks and more. I know it sounds silly, but give laughter yoga a try the next time an argument ensues and watch how it changes the tone of the situation.

On the surface, RVing offers endless benefits, like the ability to explore exciting new places, meet new people and appreciate the beauty of our world. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that more importantly, it helps us become more fulfilled, happier people when we learn to get along in a small RV space and go with the flow of this adventurous life.