Camping with Kids (part 1)
This is part 1 of a 2 part 'Camping with Kids' series. This post will focus on the tips I've collected over the past 4 years, and the second post will be recommendations for my favorite items that will make your trips easier!
We are on our 4th season of camping with two kiddos. We started when our youngest was around 2 years old, and I've taken the kids on a handful of trips by myself at this point too. I've learned a lot over these trips and hopefully by sharing some of these tips, it won't seem so overwhelming to those of you who want to start camping with your kids. And you should!! Once you get a few basics, it's an easy and cheap option to explore and adventure with your kids! It's become one of our favorite ways to spend family time. Not only that, but with many of us living in cities and suburbs these days, our kids aren't getting the exposure to nature they need on a regular basis. So even if it's just for a weekend, we cherish these opportunities for them to get dirty, check out bugs and plants, and see the stars.
Here are some of my best tips for you!
1. Start close to home!
Don't make your first trip (or two. or three) somewhere far away! Choose a spot within an hours drive or less, if at all possible, for your first few outings. Kids are always unpredictable, we know this. This means camping trips with kids are also unpredictable. One of my kiddos was 3 years past being potty trained, but wet the 'bed' one night. A combination of playing hard ALL day outside with friends, and then sleeping too deeply, made for a rough night. The next morning we aired out what we could, until it was dry enough to pack. We slowly packed back up throughout the day as we hung out and relaxed, and then drove home in time for dinner and bed. Being close to home means that if the unexpected happens, there's no need to panic because you can easily throw everything back in the car and head out.
2. Start now! Don't wait until they're older!
Think they're too young, and it will be too hard? It will be. Oops, was that not the answer you were expecting? I'm all about truth here. And that is the truth. It WILL be hard. At first. You'll look at your spouse or partner and wonder what the hell you were thinking. It will feel like a lot of work with very little payout for you and you'll wonder if it is worth it... it is! Later! Camping well takes practice. Every time you go, you'll learn something. You'll add something to your bin that you forgot this time. You'll know to bring extra of something to accommodate those 'unpredictable' moments. Your kids will start to learn the boundaries needed outdoors to keep them safe. And every trip, it gets easier. And before you know it, you'll hit the sweet spot! You'll remember everything you needed. The kids won't have to be reminded of the rules as often. They're older and sleeping more predictably. And finally, the payout!!! The kids have a blast AND you come back feeling refreshed! I promise, you'll get there! And all of those 'practice' trips will have been worth the headache.
3. Keep it easy!
I promise that if once or twice a summer, you need to use disposable plates and forks, it is ok! Once you've got it down and the kids are old enough to entertain themselves more easily, you can switch to reusable camping dishware. But don't start out that way! Washing dishes while camping is a chore that takes up a decent amount of time. And it's not like you're backpacking. Save yourself the headache and just buy disposable for now. It is worth it! Also, make as much of your meals ahead of time as possible. Yes, there is a draw to 'cooking in the great outdoors' and you'll find a lot of recipes online for 'easy camp meals'. Ignore those. If you want to serve chili...make it at home. Bag it up and pop it in the freezer. Buy the pre-cooked bacon. Bring this pancake mix for breakfast that only requires water, or fresh eggs that don't require refrigeration (so that you're not taking up precious cooler space for them.) This was one thing I didn't do from the very beginning and now I've learned this along the way, and it makes things SO. MUCH. EASIER. Don't try to make elaborate meals, it isn't worth it.. even if Pinterest tells you to. (your kids will be much too busy running around getting dirty to eat much anyway!)
4. Go with other friends, preferably with kids!
This one doesn't need much explanation. You won't have to work to keep your kids entertained, and this makes everyone happy. But, and here's a big one, it's also key because if (when) you forget something important, it's almost guaranteed that your camping partners will have it! You WILL forget things in the beginning. Having other friends around as backup for these times ensures that your trip will still go smoothly!
5. Bring activities!
We keep a small bin full of easy activities for those times when you need a little down-time or if the weather is uncooperative. We are really lucky here in So-Cal to not have much bad weather to contend but we try to enforce a little 'quiet time' in the afternoons to give everyone a little break and to keep the kids from getting too overstimulated or overtired. Sketchbooks (these are a great travel size) and pencils, travel games, cards, activity books, small toy sets; these are all great things to keep stocked in a bag or bin for those times!
Stay tuned for part two, where I will tell you the supplies and items that have made camping easier for us!
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