Even if you’ve never been camping before, or your last camping trip is a distant memory, you can still plan a great family camping trip. I’ve made a handy list to help any of you camping newbies who are hesitant to embark on a camping adventure with kids. I’m not going to pretend camping is easy, but with a bit of planning and practice, you can take your kids out for a night under the starry skies. Read on, campers.
1. Camp close to home. I have found that when you camp with young kids it’s less stressful to keep the travel distances short. On our last trip, we drove for one short, blissful hour to our favorite campground by the beach. At this campground, I struck up a conversation with another mom in the bathroom who admitted that her family had only traveled forty minutes from their home. As she wisely put it: “It’s nice to know that if something happens, you can just go home.” We all hope that nothing will happen when we’re traveling with kids, but experience teaches us that the possibilities are endless: fever, poison-oak, or just plain ol’ anxiety. It’s good to know you have a quick escape route.
2. Pick your campground wisely. If you are a newcomer to the world of tent camping, then you will want to consider the campground’s amenities. Basically, you will want running water, showers, and a spot you can pull your car into. It may also be easier to camp somewhere without any bears, in other words, stay away from the mountains. There are beautiful campgrounds in those places, but you do have to work a bit harder to bear-proof everything. If you’re a beginner camper, you may not be ready for the additional hassle. Check out my list of great campgrounds along the coast of California.
3. Get to know your gear. I say this with love, because I’ve made this mistake: practice putting up your new tent at home. When you’re with young kids, you don’t have the luxury of swearing and ranting as you throw tent poles around. If you do practice putting up your tent at home, don’t forget to put everything back in the bag. Again, I speak from experience.
4. Lists are your friend. You will need to make a list and check it twice. Even then, you will probably forget something. That’s why you chose a campground near some sort of market, because it’s good to know you can run to town to get batteries, marshmallows, or ice.
5. Keep the menu simple. This is not the time to plan five-course dinners, but you don’t have to eat canned soup for three days. If you do want at least one fancy meal, you could prep some of the ingredients at home. Maybe you want to make stew, so just precut the veggies ahead of time. You can also bake muffins or other baked goodies, and feel like Martha Stewart when you unveil them at the campsite. But since you’re not going to Camp Martha, remember that kids love sandwiches, hot dogs, and spaghetti.
6. Timing is everything. It’s easier to plan for a camping trip that’s three nights or less. You will have to take less food, less firewood, and less pairs of socks. Our magic number is usually 3 days and 2 nights. It’s just enough to get a taste of the camping good life, but not so long that your kids will need any serious bathing. If you’ve ever tried to bathe a toddler in a coin-operated shower, you know that the less times you actually have to experience this, the better.
I’m still finding new tricks for doing things better every time I go on a camping trip, so I’ll keep updating list. If you have any great tips, please do share in the comments below.