Camping with kids can do one of two things; make you excited and happy, or strike absolute fear into us as parents. Luckily I’ve been down both roads and I can share my top tips for camping with small children. Ditch the screens, grab your tent, and find an adventure the kids won’t ever forget.
For the last three years, my husband Justin and I have been travelling across Australia with children of all sorts of ages — from six weeks to six years. Our full-time caravan travels had us hit the road with a 6-month-old baby, two and three year old! We might sound crazy, but it’s been a life-changing experience. One of the things I love the most is the fantastic qualities and experiences our kids have gained from camping along the way.
Stick to these tips and you’ll get an enjoyable family holiday.
Before You Go
It always pays to plan ahead. While it’s great to be spontaneous, it can be a little harder with kids in tow! It’s good to know where you’re camping, what fees you might be up for, what to bring, and where to gather food for your trip. There’s nothing worse than running out of food and water, so make sure to pack appropriately for the length of time you’re away.
Research the local weather forecast for your camping area. If you are booking months in advance give the Information Centre or National Park a call to find out what the weather is like at your desired time. You definitely want to avoid a torrential downpour and wind gusts.
If it’s your first time or first camping set up, opt for a dummy run before you take the kids. It really does make life easier when you know how to set up your camp. You can figure out if you’re missing anything or require any essential items such as extra pegs.
Testing your gear to make sure it’s in working order is also a very handy tip. No one wants their air mattress deflating at 3am or running out of gas while cooking the BBQ. Ensure you refresh batteries in torches, don’t overpack and keep to the essentials, but do pack for all kinds of weather.
Now this one is a must for me. When we go away camping I always refer to the checklist. I have had it written down for years! There’s a lot to think about and it’ll help put your mind at ease. Factor in what to bring to keep the kids busy too.
At the Campsite
It’s much better to arrive in daylight to set up your camp. This way you can give the kids a job like unpacking or setting up the tent. This is for all ages, kids love to get involved and feel accomplished.
If you’re arriving later in the day, have a meal prepared so you can make the dinner routine much easier. For example, precook a spaghetti bolognese before the drive and just pop it over some heat when you get there. This way the kids are fed and you can continue to set up your campsite. Alternatively plan a super simple meal with no fuss such as a snag in bread.
Let’s face it, it’s not much fun as camping is really an outdoors activity. But if you strike some bad weather, having a few games to keep the kids entertained is very helpful. Some Lego, colouring-in books, puzzles, reading books and magnetic tiles all do the trick.
I love cosying up together in the swag. It’s a great opportunity to sit down with the kids, give them your full attention and play games that they love to keep the family connection alive. Note: we don’t use mobile or digital devices as we want our kids to explore the great outdoors and gain as many nature experiences as possible.
We want our kids to gain their independence but also need to keep them safe. It’s always a tricky one when camping, but you can find the balance.
- For older kids, be sure to set boundaries around distance from your campsite and timings on returning home.
- Helmets are a must on scooter and bikes.
- Be wary of cars driving through the campsites, many DO NOT stick to the speed limit, so informing your kids to keep to the left and be vigilant.
- A handy tip is to give your child a walkie talkie, this means you can gain contact when you like and if trouble arises they can get in touch with you straight away.
Kids need to be reminded about a few things every time you go camping:
- No running through someone else's campsite. Take the few extras steps to avoid walking through and teach your kids to do the same. If you do need to, be sure to offer a quick apology.
- Camping means early mornings for the little ones, try to keep them quiet (hard, I know) as many don’t wake at the crack of dawn.
- Keep as much space between you and other campers as best you can. No one likes to go away with others camping on top of them.
- Fires usually go hand in hand with camping, but before you light up make sure there is no fire ban or restrictions. Educate your child on fires and if they don’t understand, keep them well away.
Once you put out your fire, educate your kids that the area might still be hot in the morning. If you find that’s the case, make your kids aware and/or rope off the area. No one wants a trip to the hospital!
To make your camping trip a smooth one, stick to your ‘at home’ routine as much as possible, more so with young kids. Our bedtime ritual involves dinner, bath, book, teeth, bed. Kids are creatures of habit and routine. Follow nap times throughout the day and this will ensure a good night’s sleep (well… as good as it gets when camping with kids).
Load up on baby wipes and sanitiser as you might be skipping a shower if there are no facilities available! Alternatively, look into a camp shower, or a 12V camping shower which are handy and lightweight. These are easy to use and it means you can scrub the dirt from their kids’ knees and go to bed nice and clean.
This is my most useful tip. If you’re camping in the bush or at the beach with no toileting facilities, a kids portaloo is an excellent item to bring. They’re handy when your child needs a midnight toilet stop.
If your kids are up late and in the dark, glow sticks are a great way to keep track of them. They can wear them like a necklace, bracelet or anklet and they’re easy to spot! Plus they are loads of fun and a great way to keep them entertained.
My last tip - have a great, fun and happy time.
It really is important for you to unwind and remove yourself completely from the daily grind. There’s something about camping: it has a way of balancing you out, relaxing you and being grateful for your life and family. The added bonus is that the kids feed off this and it really is an enjoyable time for all.
You will be amazed at how adaptable and resilient children are with the camping experience. They thrive on the ever changing destinations and constant adventure and it’s a great way to get to know your kids.
Once you begin, you develop camping fever and will be off as often as you can. Camping with kids is hugely beneficial and everyone should do it!