Overnighting in the great outdoors has never been at the top of my travel bucket list. That said, not having experienced it as a child (I apparently come from a long line of non-campers), I had this lingering feeling that perhaps I had missed out on something. Once my own kids came along and we had finally passed the all-encompassing toddler stage, I started toying with the idea of a family camping trip. Without much experience to go on, I did what any obsessive planner would do and I began researching how to camp. I called upon my camping friends to share with me their best tips and scoured Pinterest for camping checklists.
On our first trip, naturally, mistakes were made – including securing the worst possible campsite in the campground. This poor choice (although it was the only choice in peak camping season) did not go unnoticed by my son who remarked “It seems weird that our spot would be right next to the toilets and the road.” The best part was when I discovered that my husband had only put one camping chair in the car because “the rest took up too much room”, leaving everyone else to sit on the ground.
This trip was followed by several more and with each one we managed to get a little better at it. For those who have yet to try camping with kids, I offer you some helpful tips so that you can set off on the right foot, with your crew of happy campers.
First Time Family Camping Tips
- Start with a short getaway. Try a weekend, not week. Alternatively, do a test run in the backyard. It’s always nice when you can set up that tent with confidence, not under duress while your campsite neighbors watch in amusement.
- Book your campsite long in advance. Many sites can be booked 5-9 months ahead of time, with spaces disappearing within minutes of them becoming available. If you happen to miss the boat on this, some campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Also keep in mind that since campsite reservation fees are relatively low, people do sometimes cancel. Check back frequently for availability.
- Use a camping checklist and give yourself extra time to collect what you need. If you can plan a summer ahead, many outdoor stores over deep discounts when they clear out of their camping gear at the end of the season.
- Pack your camping gear in containers that can perform a double-duty. For instance, a large Rubbermaid bin can be a good place to store dirty shoes outside your tent, and a smaller one can make a great sink.
- Check into fire restrictions before you set out on your camping trip. For many kids, the fire is the best part (I know it is for mine), so it’s good to get those expectations into check ahead of time. While not quite the same experience, s’mores still taste delicious when toasted over a BBQ.
- Involve kids by giving them specific jobs both while preparing for your trip and especially while setting up your campsite.
- Prepare an easy first night’s meal ahead of time, just in case it takes you a little longer to get set up at your campsite than expected. Keep meals healthy and simple (one dish meals are ideal).
- Mine Google and Pinterest for camping hacks. Avid campers love to share their tips and tricks including freezing milk jugs full of drinkable water to store in the cooler, refilling Tic Tac containers with seasonings, and using a hanging fabric shoe rack to store utensils and other small items.
- Be sure to pack some extra layers of clothing (hoody, fleece pants etc.) as even in summer the nights can get chilly.
- Plan for some unplugged family time by leaving the technology behind. Think of games that would work well while camping, such as flashlight tag (bring extra batteries), charades, bocci and card games.
Still not sure if you can do this?
- You are not alone. The are quite a number of companies that allow you to rent an RV that is totally set up for you at the campsite. Sometimes they even set up the fire for you. All you need to do is show up and call for pizza.
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