One of my favorite family vacations growing up was camping. It’s still one of my favorite activities. Once a year, my son and I meet up with my parents, siblings and their families to enjoy the great outdoors. Of course, as a kid, I had no idea the preparation that went into camping. Now that I’m a mom, though, I have a pretty good idea of what my parents went through. I’m grateful they were willing to do it two or three times a year. As I thought about the last couple of camping trips with my son, I thought of a few commonsense ideas for camping with kids that I think are worth sharing.
Tips to make camping with kids a little easier
Whether you are roughing it for real, or taking things a little bit easier in the outdoors, there are a few things that can make the whole experience a little more fun for the kids.
- Start closer to home: This is especially important when you have younger kids. You don’t want the camping trip to be ruined by an exhausting drive. Look for campgrounds closer to home, then gradually branch out as your kids become more excited about camping — and as they get old enough to amuse themselves for longer in the car.
- Consider campgrounds with running water: This year, we had a campground with running water and flush toilets. Sure, it wasn’t exactly the “wilderness”, but my two-year-old niece was much happier without being attacked by mosquitoes while trying to use the loo (like she was last year). Additionally, the fact that the bathrooms were lighted made it easier for my son to find his way in the dark. If you don’t have running water, make sure that you have plenty of sanitary wipes and gel. Consider bringing a large cooler (with spout) full of water. Hang soap in one of those nylon holders underneath to give the kids a place to do a little washing.
- Flashlights: Let each of your children have his or her own flashlight. My son has a cheap Cars-themed flashlight that he uses. It doesn’t need to be fancy; it just needs to light the way. Glowsticks can also be a cheap way for children to have a little light.
- Backpacks: School backpacks can be great for camping. Let your children keep snacks and water (get each of them their own small water bottle), as well activities — books, travel games, coloring, a few small toys, etc. — inside a pack. This also provides them with activities for in the car.
- Tents: When your children are old enough, consider letting them sleep in a different tent from you. My son slept with one of his cousins in their own tent this year. It was a big hit. I know they didn’t get to sleep until late, but they were reasonably quiet, and they amused each other in the morning, allowing me to get a little more sleep.
- Safety: You want your children to be safe. For very young kids, a playpen that can be set up near you can keep them contained. Older children can understand and obey rules of the camp. Make sure you tell them fire safety rules, and tell them not to go outside the boundaries of your campsite without first asking permission. For children under the age of nine, it’s best if you can see them most of the time. Issue a whistle to each of your children to wear around their necks. Tell them to blow it only if they are lost. This way, you can come find them.
- Outdoor activities: There are a number of activities that you can do with your children. We like to choose a campsite near fishing, so that we can spend a morning attempting to catch fish (four-inch brook trout this year). Make sure that you have a license, though, if you decide to take your child fishing. Many states require that adults have licenses while they help their children. We also like to go swimming in the lake or find someplace near good wading. I bring an inner-tube for my son to float on. This year, my son and I also did some stargazing. Bring a star chart and look for constellations. You can make bug boxes and help your children catch different specimens. Create a “camping journal” and encourage them to tape in leaves, flowers and other items of interest. You can also have them bring disposable cameras, and add their photos to the camping journal.
For the most part, you want to make sure that there is plenty of food, and that there are activities for your children. You also want to keep an eye them. I taught my son how to build a fire this year. But I didn’t let him wave his flaming “torch” around. In the end, it’s about common sense and being involved.
Do you have any tips for camping with kids?