Whether or not you’ve done it before, camping with kids takes a special kind of planning if you want it to be stress-free. There are a lot of details to remember and plan for. Spend a few minutes thinking ahead with these tips andyou’ll be ready for a camping trip your family will remember for years:
1. Find the Right Campground
Obviously the first thing you’ll need to do, if you haven’t, is select a campground. Do you know where you want to go and how many nights you want to spend? For a camping trip with kids, it might make more sense to stick closer to home and only be gone for a couple nights. Many campgrounds, like KOA, have amenities like playgrounds, swimming pools, and outdoor games that are good bets for families.
Most places, particularly state and national parks, have online reservation systems that tell you what amenities are there. Chances are, you won’t want to do a hike-in trip with no potable water while you have a baby in tow (and if you do, you’re probably not even reading this!). Beyond that, make sure you understand how to park the vehicle you drive – different campsites have different requirements depending on the size of your car. Some may even charge extra for trucks and campers.
Also read reviews of the campsites. Some
are known for being more family-friendly and some are known for loud keg
parties that go all night. Most campgrounds have curfews, but these aren’t
always enforced. Reviewers generally note either occurrenceand reading their
reviews will help you get a feel for what to expect.
2. Prep Your Car
Having a broken-down car full of children is no fun. If you’re traveling any distance with kids, double check your car’s condition before you leave– fluids, oil, tires, space! If you’re bringing family friends, you may want to find a larger car. Or, if you typically drive a van, perhaps renting a smaller vehicle will save you money on gas. Check the weather and road conditions. Sometimes, areas on the way to your final destination may have snow or other hazards that you haven’t considered. Be sure to get chains ahead of time if there’s any possibility of snow, or have all-terrain tires in place.
You’ll also want to pack snacks and water for the car. Most sites have some source of potable water even if it doesn’t have running water, but it’s still a good idea to bring several gallons with you in the car, in case the car breaks down someplace. People need between 3 and 4 liters per day to stay hydrated.
The standard non-perishable snacks your kids already enjoy will do fine– no need to go buy freeze dried food or anything. Bring drinks and perishables in a cooler filled with ice or frozen water bottles.
3. Make a Sleeping and Bathing Plan
If you haven’t purchased sleeping bags, make sure you’re getting the right kind for the weather. You don’t want to be too hot or cold. Before you pack these, make a sleeping arrangement plan. Do you have a family size tent, or two smaller ones? It might make more sense for one child to sleep with each parent.
Small children are more resilient than adults when it comes to sleeping on hard surfaces, but you might also want to bring along an inflatable sleeping bag pad, if not for them, then for you. A foam pad is another good option– it won’t have to be inflated, and your kids can easily take this to sleepovers later.
Also consider how you’ll keep kids clean. Or clean-ish. People are supposed to get dirty during camping trips, but sometimes clean-up is mandatory. Small kids generally get terribly dirty during camping, which they then track into tents. Set up a dishpan and some dishwashing liquid with some water and keep it around for easy hand washing. Then, before bed, use it to wash their feet as they get into the tent. Put a beach towel under it so the kids step directly onto that. You can also use the bin to clean dishes (later, of course, not at the same time). A solar shower is another good option if it’s warm and your kids are older.
Baby wipes are handy even if your kids are out of diapers. These are useful for cleaning up whole bodies and faces. Toilet paper and paper towels are always good to have on hand, too. Even if a site has bathrooms or Porta-Potties, you never know when supplies will be low. If the campground is very primitive, then you’ll need to bring a shovel to bury your business.
Other Things to Pack
- A bear bag to keep your food safe and dry. Remember that smaller critters like squirrels or raccoons also like to chew through packaging and backpacks to get to food, so pick one that’s multipurpose.
- Illuminating items. Flashlights and/or head lamps, glow sticks, and a bug repelling lanternor citronella candles are all useful.
- Bug repellent bracelets with citronella are a good choice for kids so you won’t have to keep spraying pesticides on them.
- Camp chairs for everyone. You never know what the seating situation will be on the campsite, and holding a child on your lap for two days will be tiresome (and potentially painful).
- Pre-make meals before you leave. Breakfast burritos can be frozen, then put onto the campfire for heating. Pancake mix can be stored in a squeeze bottle. Oatmeal is easily made with just some boiling water. Chilis are filling and are good reheated.
- Pack the cooking tools you need, but don’t overpack. You won’t need measuring tools if you pre-make your meals. One frying pan and one pot will be all you need.
- A first-aid kit that includes trauma supplies, because it’s better to be prepared when medical help isn’t close by.
- Equipment to enjoy nature. Binoculars for looking at birds and a telescope for looking at stars are both handy to have. Nature guide books, like the Who Pooped in the Park? series, will teach kids how to identify animals through their scat.
Now that you’ve planned ahead, you can relax and have fun without worrying about anything. Make memories about nature and relaxation when your camping trip goes without a hitch.
Sam Casteris is an avid travel writer and personal finance blogger. You can find her hanging out in her camper car or reading books on her porch most days. Find more of her work at samcasteris.contently.com