We all know that camping is one of those outdoor activities that creates some of the best family and childhood memories, and I am sure that’s how our passion for the outdoors evolved, but even though we are seasoned campers, we, as parents, still found ourselves asking a bunch of questions prior to every camping trip.
How far should we travel? What campground should we choose? Is wilderness camping too much with children? How do you get your children to sleep when it is still daylight until 10pm? What if it rains? Will they be bored? What should we pack… and the list goes on and on… if this is you, then read on to learn from our experiences!
How far should we travel?
In our experience the answer to this question is directly proportional to the quantity of car snacks available and that’s not just applicable to the children! However, on a more serious note, four to five hours of travel seems to be the magic number for our family. We have pushed the boundaries with longer journeys and have found that the key to success is not to be in a hurry. It’s best to accept that it is a travelling day and that you will get there, when you get there. Do not, under any circumstances, commit to anyone what time you will arrive, rather give yourself a generous timeframe. This way, the extra stop isn’t a problem and if you have a small one on a nap strike you can even squeeze in a stroller / baby carrier nap if needed!
What campground should we choose?
In our opinion there are three things that you should always consider:
- Safety: choosing a campground that has been constructed with pea-sized gravel is a non-issue until you have a toddler! Likewise, that campsite right next to the river sounds idyllic for the barbeque you’ve got planned but if you have little ones that just need to be in the action then you should consider a site slightly further away.
- Scale: choosing a campground with well-spaced sites is important, if you are going to a place where there isn’t a lot of space between sites, we recommend booking a double site. It’s worth the extra $!
- Facilities: Often, facilities are directly proportional to scale, so consider what’s important for you and your family and go from there. Regardless of what you choose, always locate yourself close to a washroom!
How do we all get a good night’s sleep?
This is by far the biggest concern we had, it’s a new environment, the temperature is variable and what on earth do we do with a 4am wake-up call?! After a lot of trial and error we have a few tips to share:
- Plan the sleeping arrangement and talk about it ahead of time: We have found the travel cot to be essential and have arranged it so that we can come in and out of the tent without our daughter being able to see us. We also take a variety of layers for her to sleep is so that we can decide on the day what she will wear to bed that night.
- Be flexible: This doesn’t mean throw the routine out of the window but if you know you are going to arrive at a site late on a Friday, allow the children a bit of time to acclimatize to their new environment before going to bed – even if it is 9pm!
- Don’t let them get overtired: We all know that overtired = less sleep and early wake-ups so while its important to get them out in the fresh air and exploring make sure they get to nap as normal and get to just ‘be’ at times throughout the day.
What if it rains?
Plan for rain, then if it doesn’t rain you will be pleasantly surprised! Pack a tarp and/or a 10×10 easy-up gazebo. This means your picnic table is useable during rain showers. Bring a couple of table activities, or one of our favorites is to send dad out for a selection of bugs, grubs and plants to learn about. If you have good rain gear then just don’t let the rain stop you – but make sure you have plenty of dry / warm layers to change into when you get back.
What should we pack?
The answer ISN’T everything… its NEARLY everything! We started with a packing list, and we were geeky enough to save it on the laptop so that we can now just hit print for every trip!
Here are our top five things to take:
- Travel Cot: We try to keep everything the same as home, from the cot sheet to the (battery operated!) noise machine – which has been great at blocking out the background noise of dinner and campfire chatter.
- Snacks, Snacks and more Snacks: Do not under-estimate how far a good selection of snacks will get you. Kids run off a lot of energy while camping so having lots of things just ‘ready-to-grab’ is critical. Prepare it all before your trip if you can, we usually pre-boil eggs, pasta, chopped up veggies and buy a roast chicken. These items alongside a selection of granola bars, fruit sachets and some biscuits / crackers will keep you going!
- Baby Carrier / Stroller: This is your freedom! Hikes become possible and the carrier is the best snuggle spot. Make sure your child is used to the carrier before your trip, your trip is NOT the best time to try it out for the first time. As for the stroller, yes, getting it to fit is always a pain, BUT if you plan to visit any small towns or head out to lunch then it is worth its weight in gold!
- A Blanket or two: These are so versatile, they can be a picnic blanket, tablecloth, snuggle blanket for around the fire or the play mat! Take your pick!
- Bikes and Bike Helmets: If you have the space, and if you are able to transport smaller kids on your bike set-up then this is the way to go. It’s a great option for a day trip or it’s just great to let your kids do a couple of laps of the site while you make some dinner.
Some last top tips:
- Location, Location, Location: We love wilderness camping – but for our first few camping excursions we chose campsites that had some facilities, just to make life easier for ourselves.
- Book! We love spontaneity but there is far too much to be thinking about, so book your campsites ahead of time so at least there is one less thing to worry about.
- Don’t be afraid to change the plan: If Phoebe has taught us anything, then its that Plan A is more of a dream-state with Plan D or E being more the reality! If its not working, then change it!
So, what are you waiting for? There are eight weeks left of summer and your next adventure awaits!