Our family has always been big on camping.
We have a Westfalia Camper Van which we use to tour New England in search of the ideal spots. We usually take our three-year-old for a weekend about half a dozen times every summer, so these tips are rooted in our personal experiences. Your mileage may vary.
1 | Team up with other parents of toddlers
Are you interested in relaxing with your feet up by a campfire; an adult beverage in your hand? If so, then having to constantly entertain your bundle of joy will certainly cramp your style. One of the best ways to avoid tackling this job yourself is to go camping with another family and let the kids entertain themselves. Choose your camping partners wisely, though. It’s obviously got to be a couple you enjoy hanging out with, but it’s almost more important to consider how well your kids get along. Happy kids who aren’t fighting make for happy parents.
2 | Make S’mores sooner rather than later
S’mores are a staple for almost every family campout. Determining when to make them should be a no-brainer. It’s tempting to wait until later in the night when the mood is just right around the campfire, but you’ll be loading up your rugrat with a ton of sugar right before you want them to fall asleep in a new place. Your extended adult relaxation time by the fire just went up in smoke. (Read: Stop Ruining S’mores, America)
3 | Leave the favorite toys at home
Your child might be begging to bring their favorite, very complicated, battery-operated toy with them on your camping trip. Bad idea. Any toy you bring camping will pretty much be completely trashed. Transformers will end up so gritty that you’ll think they have robot arthritis. Your daughter’s favorite doll will be looking like Crackhead Barbie in no time. Bring cheap plastic toys with you and encourage your little ones to use their imaginations and play with sticks and rocks (as long as they’re not throwing them at each other).
4 | Do your dinner prep before you leave
Messing around with food prep while you’re camping is a real pain in the neck. Cooking time keeps you at the campsite when you could be out exploring the area with your brood. Ideally, prep at home as much as possible and bring everything ready to toss on the grill or in a pan. We love to make steak tips and marinate them in plastic bags. We’ll also cut up vegetables and have ’em ready to toss in a cast iron skillet. Keep it simple with burgers and dogs for the kids and you’ll be in great shape.
5 | Bring your child’s usual blankets from home
There are some things you don’t want to mess around with when you’re looking forward to kicking your feet up by the fire. One of them is bedtime. Try not to introduce too many new variables into your child’s bedtime routine. There’s already a ton of stimulus when going to bed in a tent. Bringing some blankets and pillows from their bed at home will bring the familiar scent of their own bed into the mix even if they’re sleeping in a sleeping bag.
6 | Prepare your child prior to your trip
Have some conversations about what to expect when you’re out on your adventure. Show them photos of the campsite – and amenities if you can – and ask them what they’d like to do while they are there. It might seem like overkill, but it can also be a great idea to spend a night in your tent with a sleeping bag so they’re used to the sights and smells that go along with it.
7 | Bring the bikes and a wagon if you can
If you can bring your bikes, it’s a great way to zip around the campground as a family. There is often little traffic and drivers are usually very aware that there are little ones around. Having a wagon is also a big win. Sometimes there is quite a walk to get to where you’re going (namely the bathroom) and a wagon will make the back-and-forth trips a little easier. Wagons also come in super handy for getting firewood and water, which always tend to be a little farther away than you’d like.
8 | Consider a campground with rad amenities
Toddlers, although incredibly imaginative, can also tend to lean on their parents for entertainment when their little minds draw a blank. Choosing a campground with killer amenities like a big play structure and a great kid’s pool area can make your experience even better.
9 | Include the kids with helpful chores
If you’re a parent of a toddler, you know that “I can do it by myself!” is a big part of their ever-expanding vocabulary. This tip comes from our Editor-in-Chief who wrote a piece about his love of car camping. Getting the little ones involved with chores like gathering kindling wood and filling up water jugs is a great way to play to their growing desire for independence. Tasks like these also make them feel like they’re really part of the team.
10 | Be prepared for cuts, scrapes, and bruises
Kids will definitely get banged up while camping. They’re traipsing through the woods brushing past poison ivy, picking up ticks, and getting scratches. Bring a first aid kit that includes a children’s pain reliever, band aids, antiseptic ointment, tweezers, and calamine lotion. Also, be sure to do a thorough check for ticks each night before your kids change into their pajamas.