With Australia pretty much being shut to the rest of the world, a lot of people have turned to a good old fashioned camping trip as their holiday of choice. Camping and caravanning is a great holiday experience but doing it with kids can present its own challenges.
Surviving a camping trip with kids comes down to planning with the ability to go with the flow. Know where you are going, what to pack and get the kids involved. Once you’ve got it sorted, you’ll love camping as a family holiday.
Surviving a camping trip with kids
Yes camping is fun, but it can also be stressful. A different environment from home, change in the noises they hear when trying to get to sleep, early wake ups, not being able to separate from each other etc can all lead to a bit of stress. But there are things you can do to ensure a more harmonious and therefore enjoyable camping experience.
Ease everyone into the camping experience by starting off small. Go somewhere within a few hours of home to see how everyone copes with the car ride, sleeping somewhere different and how many things you forgot that you really need.
Try a caravan park with a few activities or a pool to keep the kids entertained, and just see how everyone enjoys it. Some kids (and adults) won’t have any issues with a different bed, environment etc but some will really struggle and it’s much better to find that out within 2 hours from home if you decide camping’s really not for your family.
Make a camping checklist
You will forget things. It happens. But a camping checklist can make that a lot less likely. Work out what you need to take and make a list, ticking things off as you pack them. Think about your living necessities, your clothes, cooking and dining and some things to keep you entertained.
If you need some help figuring out what to take, check out what you need to take when camping with kids. With a checklist you less like to forget the pillows, toothbrushes or your kid’s favourite teddy that they can’t sleep without!
Unless you’re seasoned campers, make sure you know where you are going to stay each night. There’s nothing worse then having a long day, the kids are exhausted and hungry and the campsite you’ve picked an hour ago to stay for that night turns out to be full when you rock up. Plan ahead, (even if it’s just by a day or two) where you are going to be staying each night and book.
Look at a map before leaving
Traveling with kids in the car can be stressful. Especially if it is a long car trip and the kids are bored and asking when you’re going to get there. Make sure before you head to where you are going you have a look at the map and get a general idea of the direction and what towns you are going through. If you’re going remote, take a paper map, or some screenshots of your route as you may not always have phone reception and you don’t want to be caught out. The ‘are we there yet’ questions might not be so stressful if you have an accurate picture of how much more you’ve got to go.
Don’t go too remote first off
You make think it’s a great idea to just go for it and travel 11 hours to a remote campsite with no power and water but if you (or your kids) have never been camping before this is going to end badly. You also need to be set up for this situation, with batteries connected to solar or a generator for power and water tanks for water, and that is generally not the case for your first camping trip unless you spend a lot of money up front.
Even if you have got everything you need to go completely remote, do a test run first to make sure everything works. Try a campsite a bit closer to a town (just in case) and try it all out.
Weight is your enemy when camping. Not only do you not want to be lugging everything in and out of your car and tent or camper, but if you have too much gear you can actually overload your car or camper and make it go over its maximum weight (check out what is a GVM, GCM and ATM). Think about what you really need and try not to pack more than that.
If you only have 4 people in the family, then only pack 4 plates, forks etc and just wash after every meal. Don’t pack 2 weeks worth of clothes if you’re only going for 4 days. Be mindful of what you are putting onto your packing list.
Don’t bring their best clothes
It’s ok to toss in one set of clothes that are ‘nicer’ if you decide to go out for dinner, but on the whole, make sure you’re packing the clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty. Camping allows kids to play and roam outside, but this generally leads to dirt, mud and sand. Pack things that you know will clean well, or you don’t mind if it gets a stain. This will lead to less stress for you in the long run, as you won’t be worried about what they are doing to their clothes.
Delegate jobs for them
If your kids are old enough to help, let them. Delegate them some jobs, especially at set up and put down time. Things like setting up the camp chairs, carrying their own bags inside or even just holding the rope pegs. Not only does giving them jobs keep them from running around and getting in the way when you’re trying to do stuff, it gives them a sense of belonging and responsibility to the campsite you’re creating.
Have safety rules
We have a set of ‘camping rules’ for our kids which include things like playing where we can see them, not going to the toilet block by themselves and not heading off into the bush without shoes on. Set some basic rules to follow so the kids know what is expected of them.
Bring a fully stocked first aid kit
Things happen. Kids fall over, get bitten by things, or sometimes get sick. It’s important to have a first aid kit handy to solve basic issues. Just in our last holiday we had one child split their chin open, one bitten by mozzies and we went through about 500 band aids. Make sure if they need any regular medication that you put it in as well. What to put in your first aid kit for camping is a handy guide.
Keep the kids routine
This isn’t to say that your kids will have the exact same routine as home because that is virtually impossible. But if your kids go to bed at 7:30, don’t let them stay up to 10pm every night because it’s a holiday. You will generally be doing a lot of things during the day, even them just running around a campsite all day in the sun is tiring, and having too much deviation from their main routine just leads to tired grumpy kids. If they still have daytime naps, make sure they have them too, and keep meal times similar.
Get a tent with more than one room
If you are camping in a tent, rather than a camper trailer or caravan, make sure you have enough room. A one room 4 person tent, literally means you can fit 4 people sleeping in it side by side. What they don’t give you is any room apart from that, so all your bags and cooking stuff really has no where to go.
For family camping harmony, ideally get a tent with more than one room so that you get to sleep in one section and your kids in another. This will also give you a bit more room for your stuff so that you can find things. Even with a camper trailer is it a good idea to make sure you have enough room for everyone. If you have an awning or annex, consider getting walls for it to give you a whole other room.
Take a Porta-Pottie
If you’re staying in a caravan park or even other designated camping areas, there will generally be a toilet block, which is great. But at 3 am when it’s raining, and your kid is busting to go that toilet block is a long way from your campsite. A porta-pottie is a great option to have in the corner for those situations. We have one with us in the camper trailer that only comes out at night or in heavy rain, when you really don’t want to try and wrangle kids off to a toilet block in the dark. We don’t use it all the time, but it is a godsend when you need it.
Yes, kids will make their own fun camping, but it’s worthwhile bringing a few activities to keep them occupied, just in case. It might be raining for a day, or they need some chill out time and you want to have things with you that will keep them going. It doesn’t have to be their entire toy collection but books, colouring in, board games or whatever they are in to bring a couple of things along. Remember that stuff like LEGO has a lot of small pieces and although will keep them entertained, you don’t want to be looking for anything they’ve dropped in the grass or a caravan.
Walkie Talkies are great for when your kids want to go exploring but you want to be able to keep in contact with them. We keep one with us and give the kids one each. You don’t need an expensive brand, just make sure they have a good range distance. Our kids use them to go to a playground or jumping pillow, or just if they want to go exploring. You can keep in touch and make sure they are alright, or just use them to let them know they need to come back to camp.
Have quiet time
Going full throttle all day everyday can lead to some very tired and grumpy kids (and adults). Have a bit of quiet time during the day to let everyone recharge. It doesn’t have to be a nap, but some downtime to read a book, do some colouring in or even watch a movie can be very helpful in stopping the late afternoon tantrums.
Teach them about camp courtesy
Some adults need this lesson as well, but make sure you teach them about campsite courtesy. Things like not walking through other people’s campsite to get somewhere, where they can and can’t play, and that just because you’re awake at 5am doesn’t mean everyone else at the campsite needs to be too.
Headlamps are a great invention. Whether you are trying to get kids to the toilet in the middle of the night, cooking dinner, or need a light and use of your hands at the same time, headlamps are fantastic. We have one for each member of the family which means the kids get their own too, which they love. You will be amazed how handy they actually are.
Take lots of snacks
Kids get hungry when their camping. Extra energy burnt playing, swimming and just being kids need to be replenished. Pack lots of snack food. Things easy to grab and eat like fruit, carrot sticks, mini muffins, bliss balls etc. If they an grab it themselves, then that’s one less thing you have to do.
If you’re travelling far, consider breaks
Our kids can cope with about 3 hours in the car before they go a bit stir crazy and need to get out and expend some energy. If you’re going to have a long time in the car, consider when you can have a break. Look for playgrounds or parks to have morning tea or lunch so the kids can run around for a bit before they need to sit in the car again.
Take lots of photos, and not just of your kids. Its great to look back at family holiday pictures when you’re older and reminisce. And when you’re gone, your kids want to be able to look at pictures with you in it as well, not just them.
Family camping trips can be an amazing experience and a lot of fun. But if you haven’t been before it can take a bit of time to get organised in the best way to ensure you have everything you need. With a bit of preparation, you can survive a camping holiday with kids without stress and have a great time. Remember to enjoy the adventure and think of all the fantastic memories you are creating for you and your kids.