Remember camping as a kid? The experience seemed so magical, from the taste of charred hot dogs perfectly roasted over the campfire to the view of stars calmly twinkling in the silent nighttime sky.
As you start planning your trip, your excitement may diminish by the thought of how to take care of your family outside of the normal routine. Will the kids enjoy cooking over the campfire? Are they ready to ride their bikes around the campground by themselves? How will they handle limited access to WiFi?
The good news is that the very same challenges that you may find daunting now are what makes camping a great vacation. Exploring new activities is good for kids of all ages. Riding their bikes safely in a group can foster a sense of independence, and playing a board game instead of constantly checking in on social media offers quality family time.
That’s not to say that camping with kids will always be easy. Siblings will squabble, food will burn, and activities will be rained out. However, preparing for potential pitfalls can keep your camping trip on track and the magic in motion. Here, we share some tips for camping with kids of all ages.
Tips for Camping with Babies
Babies are quite adaptable to any situation, so camping shouldn’t be a huge adjustment for them. Just make sure you have basic care necessities and you should be all set.
Start with writing a list. Infants do not travel lightly and you don’t want to leave an essential item at home.
However, only pack what you really need. You may also consider purchasing portable items like a play yard, child carrier, and bassinet. These are especially great if you will be away from home for an extended period of time, make multiple camping excursions, or are planning to have more children who can use these items in the future.
One final piece of advice: Before leaving home, make sure you have your baby’s favorite comfort items on hand. Nothing is worse than reaching for the one toy that you know will soothe your child in the middle of the night only to discover you left it behind.
Tips for Camping with Toddlers
Toddlers without a doubt can be more challenging – that’s true for many activities. They love being active but reject changes to their routine. They want to try new foods one minute and then end up spitting them out the next. And, of course, they always have to go to the bathroom at the worst time.
First, talk to your toddler about your upcoming trip. Let him or her know where you are going and what it will be like camping. You may even want to try a test run by sleeping in the RV overnight while it is still parked in your driveway.
When packing, include a few familiar foods and activities. Encourage your toddler to try the foil pack macaroni and cheese, but bring along the microwave version just in case. Take them on a nature hike with the rest of the family, but decide ahead of time who will turn around if a meltdown happens.
Packing at this stage may be slightly easier, but it is definitely not lighter. Toddlers have their own opinions and they become attached to certain items, so even if you think that oversized teddy bear is too big to take on the trip, you may want to weigh the consequences of being without it.
Also, bring along plenty of extra clothes when camping with toddlers because toddlers:
- Will get dirty at the campsite
- Won’t have the patience to wait for their swimsuit to dry
- Are sure to have potty training accidents
Tips for Camping with Children
Older children and pre-teens make great campers. They typically have a wonderful enthusiasm for being outdoors and a desire to try new things. Here are a few tips to make camping with school-aged children more fun.
- Let them take on some added responsibility by packing for themselves, although you may need to offer guidance and want to double-check that all the necessities are there.
- Include them in the decision-making process: Should we bring along supplies for pancakes or French toast? Do you want to hike this trail or that one? Should we go swimming or bike riding today? Kids like to stretch their independence and appreciate that their opinions are valued.
- Research the rules, regulations, and activities at the campground before you make a reservation. What age can children ride in a canoe by themselves? How deep is the lake they will be swimming in? Are there recreational activities for them to participate in, like crafts and concerts?
As always, be prepared for a rainy day when camping with children. Entertaining them without the digital comforts of home can be a challenge, so pack board games, books, and art supplies. Pre-made craft kits are an easy way to fill an afternoon. Surprise them by suggesting something different like making up silly songs, telling scary (but not frightening) stories or busting out your dancing skills.
Tips for Camping with Teens
Many teens enjoy camping. While it may seem impossible to tear them away from their cell phones and video games, many actually welcome the change of pace and the opportunity to spend time outdoors.
Plus, they are excited to participate in activities that you may be interested in, but aren’t always good ideas for younger children, like zip lining, paddle boarding, and tubing. They can also participate in activities that take more time and patience – think outdoor photography, fishing, and astronomy.
However, most teens can only take so much “family time” so consider giving them their own space. If the campground allows it, pitch a small tent outside the RV and fill it with pillows and blankets so teens have a comfortable spot to get away for a little bit.
You may also want to consider letting them bring a friend along for the trip, especially if he or she is an only child. This way they can hang out at the beach, go hiking, or ride bikes together.
If bringing along an extra person isn’t an option, find a campground with activities they’ll enjoy or places they can make friends, like an arcade, volleyball court, or mini golf course.
Remember, the memories from camping trips last forever, so the effort you put into planning is well worth it. Childhood only lasts for a few short years, so make the most of those sunny days and starry nights while you can. Plan a trip to go camping with your kids and make some memories!