Planning a camping trip? Don't leave the kids behind this time. Adult getaways are great, but if you have children, family vacations are just as important if not more so, and a camping trip with the kids is the perfect one. It's affordable, fun, and healthy for parents and kids from physical fitness to connecting with nature to developing new skills.
With a bit of planning, you can successfully take a relaxing camping trip with even the youngest children. Just use these nine ways to make camping with kids more fun and easy.
1. Teach Kids What to Expect
Make sure kids know what to expect once out of the house and into nature with a new routine. Homework and chores are replaced with learning a new existence. Get them excited about the fun they'll be having.
For most people, camping means little to no screen time. It's a big part of the camping experience. Explain to kids that the purpose of camping is to "get away from it all" and enjoy the great outdoors. Tell them you're also looking forward to spending time doing new things with them away from your own devices.
There is one exception. If the trip to the campsite is a long and boring one, you may want to allow screen time in the car. Pack devices away on arrival or set rules such as "phones only for pics." Might they cheat? Maybe, but maybe not, especially if they become engaged in exciting outdoor adventures.
2. Plan Your Sleeping Arrangements
It's lots of fun for tweens and teens to have their own tent, but if you have younger kids it's best to invest in a large tent designed specifically for family or group camping. These cabin-style tents are roomy enough for everyone to have their own spot for a sleeping bag.
As for sleeping bags, make sure they have a temperature listed that matches the climate you'll be camping in. A jacket or mummy-style sleeping bag is good for keeping young kids well tucked in.
If you camp out often and have older kids, you can save space with a double camping cot that works like a bunk bed. They can also be taken apart to function as two single cots.
A portable pack and play with a zippered top to keep bugs out is perfect for babies and toddlers who still sleep in cribs.
3. Organize Your Camping Supplies
If you’ve ever visited your kid’s elementary school classroom, you’ve probably noticed things are organized in plastic bins and labeled like puppets, blocks, etc. Before heading out on your family camping trip, spend some time organizing your supplies in the same way.
Purchase large, clear plastic tubs that can be stacked and stored when not in use. For your camping trip, fill the bins with supplies in categories and label them. Some ideas for categories include snacks, kitchen supplies, bathroom supplies, and toys…everyone’s will be different, but you get the idea.
4. Keep Clean Clothes and Dirty Clothes Separate
Keeping clean and dirty clothes separate has the biggest effect on the return trip home. Take a hanging clothes organizer for each family member's clothing. Once you've set up camp, everyone will have their own "closet." Keep in mind that kids will probably need to change clothing several times a day when camping. Include a labeled trash bag for each person to put their dirty clothes in.
This idea will help keep the smell of dirty clothes out of your tent and make doing laundry back home much easier.
5. Set Up A Bath Station
Even if you're staying at a campground with showers, a bathing station will be handy when camping with young children. Pack a plastic baby bath and fill it with water in the morning at the campsite. Cover it to keep out bugs and dirt and let the water sit in the sun all day to warm up.
Children will sleep better at night if they're clean and good rest means a family of happy campers.
Keep dirt out of your tent with a washing station for little hands and feet right outside the tent's door. Spread a towel on the ground along with a container of baby wipes or a foot bath.
6. Teach Kids New Skills
One of the most valuable things about family camping is the opportunity to teach kids new skills. Teachable moments will appear organically, but choosing a few specific skills will teach confidence and create unforgettable memories.
Some of the things older children can learn to do include the following.
Setting up a tent
How to build a campfire
Catching and cleaning a fish
Identifying plants and animal tracks
First aid basics
7. Bring Along Some Entertainment
There will come a time when most kids will tire of bugs and dirt and boredom will set in, especially if you're on an extended camping trip. For these times, pack some camp-friendly non-electronic toys and activities like the following.
Balls (football, soccer, lacrosse sticks and balls)
Coloring books and crayons
Board games and cards (Old Maid, Go Fish)
Magnifying glass and bug cage
Set up an extra tent as a sort of designated "game room."
8. Make Mealtime Fun and Simple
Cooking meals and cleaning up afterward while supervising young children is one of the biggest challenges for family camping. Keep it simple with basic meals like soup and grilled cheese sandwiches with sides of sliced raw veggies.
Bake potatoes on the BBQ, cut them in half, and top with cheese, bacon, or ham for delicious loaded potatoes. Or mini pizzas prepared with pita bread and tomato sauce served with toppings such as pepperoni, ham, and cheese will be a hit with kids. They'll look forward to any meal as long as it's followed by gooey s'mores cooked over an open fire.
For a yummy and satisfying stick-to-your-ribs breakfast, try a campfire skillet breakfast made with eggs, bacon, and potatoes all cooked as one dish.
9. Pack Items for Nighttime Safety
Nightime at the campsite can be dark and scary for little ones. Make it fun and safer with items that glow in the dark. Buy lots of glow sticks (get them at toy or craft stores for about a buck each.) Kids can use the glow sticks to make necklaces and bracelets.
Headlamps are inexpensive and a good safety feature for every family member to have. Rechargeable camping lights are good to have inside the tent and around the outside. Look for strings of solar fairy lights for an enchanting nighttime campsite.