By Graciela Sholander
On my first camping trip ever, I was six months into my pregnancy. My husband, our two-year-old daughter, and I - with my little bundle inside - set off for a week of camping along the coast. In a tent, no less.
Our friends and family thought we were nuts. Many wondered if I would ever go camping again. Well, I did. The following summer, my husband, our three-year-old, and our ten-month-old son spent a week camping by rivers. In that same tent.
Today, we camp in relative luxury - we've upgraded to a pop-up. But the tent experiences have taught me that anybody can take a successful camping trip with young children along. Hey, I did it. And a rugged, outdoors naturalist I'm not! But every so often, I like to put aside the hectic pace of my everyday life and head for the wilderness. Needless to say, the kids enjoy the change of scenery too. And if it was up to my husband, we'd be camping every weekend.
A good camping trip can be the best antidote to relieving the stresses of life. There's nothing like seeing soft sunlight filter through pine trees, relaxing next to a babbling brook, or counting a million stars in a dreamy night sky to recharge a worn body and lift tired spirits. Even with wiggly, squirmy youngsters along.
Of course, camping with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers poses unique challenges. To ensure a smooth, safe trip for everyone, extra precautions must be taken. Here are twelve tips to help you plan and enjoy your upcoming camping vacation with kids...
- Do Your Homework. Learn everything there is to know about your destination beforehand. How hot does it get? How cold? You'll want to bring appropriate clothing to handle temperature extremes. Are poisonous shrubs part of the flora? What wildlife might you encounter in the area? Answers to such questions will help you to eliminate riskier vacation spots, narrowing the choices down to ones safest for your children.
- Know Your Campground. Ask many questions before choosing a campground. What provisions does the campground's store offer? Is the on-site playground appropriate for children as young as yours? How far away are the nearest medical facilities? Is your campsite shaded? Are hot showers available? Are they free? Are there laundry facilities? Find out as much as possible about your campground to avoid unpleasant surprises when you get there.
- Make Lists. In addition to camping essentials, you will need to pack enough necessities for the children. Write down everything you plan to take, from a can opener to extra batteries for the electric lantern to plenty of diapers to a baby backpack for carrying your infant on walks. Make three lists - one for camping provisions, a second for food, and a third for personal items. In the last list, be sure to include a variety of clothing, warm blankets, hats, sunscreen, bathing suits, toys, quarters for showers, toiletries, towels, and so on.
- Go For The Layered Look. In the daytime, your whole family may be wearing shorts and a T-shirt throughout the entire trip. But when the sun goes down, even a thick sweatshirt and jacket may not be enough to keep you or the kids warm. Make sure you bring enough clothing to add on or remove as temperatures fluctuate. And remember that little kids are very messy. They spill juice all over themselves, they play in the dirt, they step into mud puddles. So you'll need to bring more changes of clothing for your children than for yourself. Warm pajamas and plenty of blankets are also important.
- Picture Possible Scenarios. Try to envision what you will need for different situations. Where will everyone sleep? In our tent, we managed to fit a portable crib for our son and an air mattress for the rest of us. Each person used his or her own sleeping bag on top of the mattress. We brought lots of warm blankets for our two children, who needed them since temperatures dropped into the 40's at night. Now our youngest has his own sleeping bag too. We continue to use sleeping bags, even inside our heated pop-up.
What will you do when your child needs to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? Again, in our tent camping days, we used a second, much smaller tent just outside of our primary one to house our daughter's little potty. Each time she felt the call of nature at two o'clock in the morning, I simply took her to the little tent next door instead of trekking through other campsites in the cold and dark. In our pop-up, we have a chemical potty.
Do you have everything you need for an unexpected nursing or diaper-change stop while you're on a trail? Do you have an up-to-date, well-stocked first aid kit? Have you brushed up on administering emergency treatment? Did you pack everything you need to wash dishes? To cook with? To eat from? Don't forget things like a spatula, a scouring sponge, a plastic tablecloth, a bucket, and jugs for fresh drinking water.
- Take A Break At A Motel. You don't need to spend the entire vacation camping. Plan to stay a day or two in the middle of your trip at a motel. Sleeping in a real bed and taking long, hot baths will give everyone a chance to feel pampered and squeaky clean before heading out to the wilderness again.
- Plan For A Rainy Day. You may encounter some storms during your vacation. Are you prepared? Do you have enough toys, puzzles, books, games, and snacks to keep the kids busy indoors? On a recent camping trip, it poured rain for three hours straight one afternoon. We kept the kids entertained with stories and games.
If possible, bring a tarp to cover the picnic table area so you have a dry place to eat from outside. Bring boots and raincoats, too, so you can go for a walk if the rain is light.
- Take A Practice Run. Long before your trip, try camping one night in your backyard or at a local campground. Make it a full dress rehearsal, so to speak. Pitch the tent or open up the pop-up, inflate the mattress, roll out the sleeping bags, use the propane stove. This is a great way to get a taste of what actual camping with the whole family will be like as well as to see if everything you'll need is in working order.
- Be On The Alert. When you arrive at your campsite, survey the area. What are the potential dangers? How can you reduce risks? Look for and remove any broken glass, bottle tops, and other hazardous items that others may have inconsiderately left behind. Place your car, tent, or RV strategically, creating barriers as best as you can to keep little ones away from streams and campground roads.
- Explain And Supervise. Tell your children what's allowed and what's off limits. Since they are little, though, they won't remember the rules all of the time. Their curiosity will often take over as well, leading them to danger. So, you must watch them carefully. Know where they are at all times. Make sure they stay off the roads, away from fire pits, and at a safe distance from streams and lakes. Keep them occupied - helping with food preparation, reading books under a tree, scooping up dirt and pebbles with sandbox toys - whatever it takes to keep them out of trouble. While one adult is busy setting up or washing dishes, another grown-up should be responsible for watching the children.
- Keep Your Options Open. Sometimes, unexpected foul weather will prevent you from enjoying the remainder of your stay at the campground. Know where there are cabins or motels nearby in case your camping trip has become too much of an adventure.
- Relax And Enjoy Yourselves! Take it easy. Don't try to do too much in one day with your children. Opt for more frequent, short walks instead of long, challenging hikes. Wade in the nearby stream. Soak up some sun and read a magazine while the kids play with shovels and buckets in the sand. Make walks especially interesting for the kids by collecting pebbles, twigs, and other treasures.
Looking for more information and other great articles about camping with kids? KidsCamping.com has a wide variety of articles, activities, games and learning tools to inspire kids of all ages to love camping and the outdoors