We’ve had three years of great camping memories with our babies/toddlers and can’t wait for our summer camping adventure season to start!
Each year has looked different as our children’s ages and phases have changed and we have picked up great ideas and tips from our experiences and other family campers along the way. Here are the top seven tips we’ve learned about camping with our twin toddlers.
1: Have fun!
Camping with the little ones is a lot of work, but we haven’t (so far) regretted a trip. Some journeys were easier or more difficult than others. But they were all opportunities to spend quality family time outside in our beautiful Pacific Northwest.
2: Plan in driving breaks on the way to your destination
Before a long drive, consider making a few strategic stops. Are there parks on the way? rest breaks? Restaurants where you would like to eat out? friends visiting?
[ Related: Destination playgrounds for your next NW road trip ]
A little planning can go a long way when you’re in the car with screaming toddlers.
Our longest drive to date from Seattle to the Pacific Coast coincided with one of our children suddenly becoming very disinterested in being in the car. What great timing. It was undoubtedly a long day of travel, but we planned a few stops along the way to give our little ones a break from buckling up in their car seats. Stops were a nature reserve just off the highway (with a short walk and lunch) and a seaside park.
3: Don’t forget to plan the trip home
Planned stops helped us avoid frantically searching for stops when our kids desperately needed a break, which unfortunately happened on the way home.
I was so focused on the drive to the campsite that I didn’t plan any breaks on the way back (we took a different route home). And so we ended up in a tiny parking lot just off Highway 101, sitting in direct sun and trying to keep our kids from touching the ground while we ate a thrown together lunch. If I had planned something better we wouldn’t have had such a chaotic stopover.
4: To protect the children, divide and conquer
Rather than trying to manage the kids with packing/unpacking, cooking/cleaning, or setting up and tearing down camp, my husband and I split the responsibilities: one person is 100% in the children’s ministry and the other is 100% in charge of the Tasks).
This ensures we meet our non-negotiable goals for the trip (protecting the kids and doing the necessary chores like setting up the tent so we have a place to sleep).
Childhood usually looks like taking the kids for a walk around the campsite or sitting and playing with them at the playground we towed into the woods when they were mobile 1-year-olds.
Doing camp chores is a big job, but one that you can do more easily without worrying about the safety of the kids. We have found that this method has worked well for our family (perhaps because we are a family of multiples!). We will continue to do this until the children are able to protect and support themselves or help with camp jobs.
5: Bring a comprehensive first aid kit
Thanks to my prepared husband, we always carry a basic first aid kit on camping trips. In fact, he put one together that we just toss in the car every time we drive.
We learned our lesson when our toddler had a horrible night, was cranky and lethargic throughout the next morning, and woke up quite warm from a nap. We didn’t have a thermometer to take his temperature and weren’t sure if our child had slept badly at night or was warm because of the weather. Or maybe he really did have a fever.
Luckily, another family had a thermometer that confirmed his fever.
We cut our trip short, packed up our gear and headed home so our little fella could recover.
And I’ve learned that while any first aid kit is better than no first aid kit, it might be better to have a comprehensive first aid kit, especially when camping with little ones. As camping season kicks off this summer, we’ll be going through our first aid kit and seeing what items we should add. Included is a thermometer and other helpful tools to help with sick infants and young children.
6: You don’t need all the equipment
It seems like everyone says, especially as a parent, that you need to have the right gear for your child for every moment. Camping is no exception. But before you fill up your closet or garage with gear, consider using what you already have for camping.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how to keep my kids warm at night when they were 2 year old campers. They had outgrown their full-body fleece suits but seemed far too small for sleeping bags.
There are a handful of sleeping bag-style bodysuits for camping, but it seemed silly to spend money on something they’d probably only use for a year (we expected them to use sleeping bags the following summer). I was so worried about going into the woods and getting them cold, but I just couldn’t justify buying something new for a season.
After talking to friends, I realized that we could put on several layers of warm clothes and cover them with blankets. We did that all summer and they slept well. (We occasionally checked for them and put a blanket over them when we thought they might be chilly.)
As you prepare for your adventures and consider what you might need, don’t forget to look at what you already have.
7: Look at the sun
I have to admit that I never thought of that when we arrived at a campsite and were looking at possible campsites.
Luckily, other parents kept pointing out the earth’s constant rotation around the sun.
That’s right: sun and shade alternate constantly throughout the campsite, which is a big deal when you’re desperate for your toddlers to be snoozing peacefully in their temporary forest home by early afternoon.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any advice on how to find the best spot for your lunch break at your campsite. In our experience, sometimes there is simply nothing you can do about leaving your tent in the blazing sun during your midday rest.
I’m not sure how much research you could do unless you’ve been to a campsite before to know the makeup of a campsite well enough (where are the trees? how tall are they? where are the flat spots for Tents? Will your tent fit in this space?) to ensure you have a shady spot during the lunch break.
A few things we tried on those scorching afternoons included keeping all vents and windows open in the tent. We tried putting blankets and towels over the tent (I don’t think this did anything to cool the tent but we got desperate). We even tried to put our travel cots in a shady part of the campsite. Also 0% effective but our toddlers entertained our whole campsite with their babble and constantly craning their necks to see what was going on).
So, no big tip here, just a reminder that the sun can make afternoon naps a challenge. And make sure you check on your kids when they’re napping in the sun: tents can get super hot, super fast.
Make unforgettable camping memories with your toddler, 5-year-old or teenager this summer. Enjoy the joys and challenges of each stage as you experience outdoor life together with your children.
Ellie White shares more tips on camping with kids
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