Tips for camping with toddlers

The Lorrimers sold their home in 2015, piled their three kids in a camper van, and have been travelling around Australia ever since. Their and other people's incredible travels were featured as part of World Ready here!

I admit camping with toddlers can be extremely exhausting and hectic. Before we started our trip around Australia, my feelings would swing between ‘it’ll be fun!’ to ‘should we really be doing this’? But even though I’ve had moments where I’ve questioned my sanity, there have been so many super fun moments to replace them.

For a toddler, the outdoors is play heaven. With the abundance of wildlife, marine creatures, beach outings, swimming holes and waterfalls, your tiny person will have marvellous fun and tire themselves out!

I’ve put together some tips for successful camping with toddlers which have had a positive impact for our family.

Start with small camping trips

Rather than planning a big family camping trip for a few weeks or on the move to different campgrounds, start small. Perhaps camping in your local area for a shorter period, like the weekend, so you can figure out what works best for your toddler before making commitments for a longer camping trip.

Plan ahead before camping

Do your research and find out if your camping destination is suitable for toddlers. Are you on a busy road? Can you get to the showers? Do you have a powered site? Are there activities nearby? Is there wildlife nearby you may not be comfortable with?

Safety: every camping holiday is different

Think about your specific camping holiday and how you will handle issues related to your toddler’s curiosity. This includes bringing the appropriate footwear, swimming flotation devices, sunscreen and maybe a satellite phone if you’ll be out of mobile service. Always make sure you pack a refreshed first-aid kit with some band-aids for any scrapes.

Before you head off, make sure you set some boundaries for your toddler. This is challenging, but the more you camp, the easier it gets.

Set strong routines to avoid a camping tantrum (they're worse than regular tantrums)

It’s so important to keep your toddler on a routine or as close to your regular home schedule as possible.

Toddlers are creatures of habit: most love the feeling of a routine. Delaying their 5pm dinner to 8pm probably won’t work well in the minds of a two-year-old. Insert tantrum.

Don't forget nap times

While we’re on routine, make sure your toddler takes their day nap. It can be easy to forget this when you're packing your days with travel or activities. You don’t what a whinging child while you try to enjoy your campfire meal. Stick to a day sleep and do whatever you can to make sure it happens. Take them for a walk in the pram, stroll the beach in your baby carrier, or take a scenic drive for a sleep in their car seat. In fact, get a nap in for yourself as well. 

Family cooking sausages on an outdoor fire

How to get a toddler to sleep when camping

Probably the most challenging part of camping! Before you leave on your trip, I’d advise you familiarise your toddler with their camping bed. Pull out their blow up mattress or porta cot and let them have a day sleep on it at home. This will help ease them into sleeping in a tent or caravan and get them excited for a new experience.

Some nights can be a long process but it will get easier. You can try lying down with them, take them for a stroll in the pram, or do what I did, and cut laps around the campground with your toddler in the baby carrier.

You’ll also need to think ahead to keep them calm throughout the night, like minimising your own noise. A handy tip is make sure you have everything you may need on the outside of your tent so not to wake them. Consider what you will do if they wake during the night. For us, we always bring them to bed with us which instantly calms them down.

Camping food requires some forethought

Bring lots of it! When gathering food for your impending camping holiday, consider what your toddler loves to eat and double the amount. All that running around will have them extra hungry and tired. Take simple snacks that they can hold and move with, such as muesli bars, rice cakes, fruit, or a dried biscuit. Also handy when you jet around to various activities.

You don’t have to overthink it- 1 quick and simple breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and a filling meal for dinner. Full bellies at night means a good sleep for your toddler.

> Get more camping meal ideas for kids

Heating up a bottle when camping

Although it’s a novelty heating up your toddler’s bottle of milk over the campfire, they aren’t as patient as us parents. Research if your campground has a camp kitchen that contains a microwave. So much more convenient. You can thank me later!

Bring a mat for crawlers

A handy item to bring camping if your toddler is crawling. We would put a large mat down with some toys to keep them entertained and out of the dirt. If they’re anything like my toddlers were, they’ll try to eat dirt and insects. Also convenient after they have had a bath, to keep those hands and feed clean.

Baby wipes are a toddler's best friend

You can never have enough and baby wipes are your best friend when camping with a toddler. They have multiple uses other than for changing a nappy. Faces, feet, hands, highchair and wiping all surfaces your toddlers dirty hands have touched.

Take your time

Patience is a virtue, especially when camping with a toddler. They love to explore and slow down to look at a lady bug or pat a horse. Remember to factor this into your plans and account for toddler tantrums. Keep your cool and your toddler will too.

Games & Devices

Having a campsite activity for your toddler is important if you’re preparing dinner and would like your toddler to stay still.

A game on a phone or tablet is a great option to keep them occupied. They’re fun, age appropriate, and often the games teach your toddler about animals, shapes, and colours. Don’t feel ashamed for giving your child a device while camping. We often go camping to disconnect, but this can be a good option for this kind of situation. Alternatively, take a few toys with you to pop into your tent for you toddler. This way they are contained and kept busy.

Choose the right activities

Research any nearby activities and decide which is the most appropriate for your toddler. Bear in mind that toddlers like to do things at their own pace and don’t like to keep quiet, so something like a guided tour might not be the best option.

If you want to do some day-walking or a hike, make sure you’re prepared and check the terrain, weather, any park warning/restrictions and the total return distance. All these things will weigh heavily into a toddler’s comfort, and let’s face it, our own!

Bring a headlamp

Give your toddler a headlamp to wear around the campsite, or when you’re heading to the toilet/shower at night. They love exploring in the dark with one and it is also a great sense of security. Another fun option is a glow stick.

Toddlers are cheap campers!

More of an FYI than a tip, but toddlers are cheap as chips! When it comes to camping site fees, it’s more than likely your toddler will be free. Likewise, if you’re heading to a nearby attraction (or activity) toddlers are generally FREE of charge. How good is that!

These tips have had a positive impact on our family’s camping adventures: the kids are happier and we’re more relaxed. And when everyone is happy, you’ll enjoy proper, quality time together and your toddler will grow more confident, independent and resilient in the outdoors.

So what are you waiting for? Time to get out there and make some camping memories with your adventurous toddler. But before you do, make sure you’ve got everything you need with the camping checklist.

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