Camping is, without a doubt, our favorite pastime. Getting away from cell phones, computer screens and city noise refreshes our souls and reminds us how small we are. When my wife and I were first married, we used to go camping all the time… but then came the kids. Before we new it, we had two kids and could barely manage to get them out of the house to run errands, much less take a camping trip. So what did we do? We put camping on the backburner… That is, until this last summer. Between the months of July and October, we took three camping trips, one in the desert, one at the beach and one in the forest. And what did we discover? It’s not scary; it’s fun! So whether you are about to have your first baby or on your way to number 3, like us, here are 5 helpful tips to help you survive, and thrive on your family camping vacation.
1. Know how to prepare: Packing for camping with kids can seem overwhelming. What do we bring? What will we need? Our first family camping trip, we made the mistake of bringing way too many things that we didn’t even need. We thought we would need a bunch of toys to keep our kids occupied – turns out they barely touched them. They spent all day running around, throwing rocks in the river, and digging in the dirt. I will say that in addition to the normal camping gear that you would expect to bring, with kids I would recommend brining a system for being able to clean them up at night if the campsite doesn’t have showers. Also, as our kids tend to get hurt and sick more than we do, make sure to bring a well-stocked first aid kit and remedy kit.
2. Pick the right spot: When my son gets older, I plan on taking him on long backpacking trips. We will test our skills in the wild with nothing but what we can carry on our backs. “Son, this is the day you become a man.” You know, a masculine “right of passage” kind of trip. But for now, I have to be realistic. My son is 4 years old and he won’t walk to the mailbox and back without saying he’s tired. Throw my lovely wife and 2-year-old daughter in the mix and I’m forced to redefine the term “roughing it.” I’ve learned that there is no shame in choosing a spot that has bathrooms and easy access to civilization.
3. Let them be wild and get messy: At first we tried to maintain some level of city-style civility (Don’t touch that! Stay out of the water! Don’t throw that!). But then we calmed down and realized “it’s the great outdoors for heaven’s sake!” Let them do all the things they can’t do at home, namely get messy, touch everything (well, almost everything), be loud, and stay up late by the campfire. I’m not saying don’t have boundaries; I’m just saying that they were made to enjoy nature, so let them explore! Langhorne Slim said it best, “If I could go back to when I was a child, I’d forget what I learned and go back to the wild.”
4. Choose your friends camping wisely: On one of our trips, we went with a bigger group, which was great, but we noticed one thing, we spent the most time with other people who had kids around our age. Younger couples without kids and couples with older kids went on long hikes, afternoon fishing trips and other non-toddler-age activities. However, those who were in or around our station in life enjoyed letting the kids run around the campsite and play with each other, which allowed us time to prepare group meals, play games or just relax. It was perfect!
5. Know when and how long: That 2 week summer vacation may not be the best time to take the family camping, at least not yet. For our kids, 3-4 days is usually the max they can handle. Furthermore, the dead of summer may be a miserable time for certain campsites, like desert or certain forest areas, but a great time for other places, like beach camping. Just do your research and check what the weather is like in that specific location.