Here’s some real talk. We took our almost two-year-old twins camping for three nights and though we had moments of fun, it was on the challenging side. Usually my kids love the outdoors, and they know and love all the people we camped with, so I expected them to be in heaven. But as soon as we got to camp, they both went straight to the car and cried “home”. Those demands didn’t stop, and when they weren’t asking to go home, they were clingy and just wanted to be held. I’m going to chalk this all up to some sort of toddler stage that I don’t understand and say it can only get better from here!
In both my research and my experiences camping with toddlers, I’ve learned some things I thought I would share-
Talk it up
Talk to kids about the idea of sleeping in a tent so it’s not a surprise. We did this and I think it really helped them get to sleep at night. We also had been taking the kids outside every night before bed to show them the stars and the moon, so when we got to camp they were so excited to see so many stars.
Make sure they nap
If your kids are used to napping, do everything you possibly can to make sure they nap. Ours ran around like crazy when we tried to get them to sleep for a nap, so we finally went for a drive and they were out in minutes. I’m sure that was the only thing that made the afternoons and evenings tolerable.
Prep food at home
Prep most (if not all) of your food at home so that when you get to camp, all you have to do is reheat. The less work you have to do preparing food at camp, the better. If you end up with a child who will not let you put her down, you’ll be able to heat your meal one handed.
Don’t count on campfire cooking exclusively
I made the mistake of planning to cook most of my meals on the campfire, without thinking about the timing of things. It takes time to build a campfire that’s hot enough for cooking, and by the time our fire was ready, the kids were way too hungry. Also, having a campfire around a toddler requires CONSTANT supervision. So if you’re going to start a fire before the kids go to bed, you’ll need at least one adult whose job is to make sure a child doesn’t get too close to the fire.
Bring healthy snacks
This one seems obvious, but I screwed it up so maybe it’s worth mentioning. Junk food will arrive at camp, so focus as much as possible on bringing healthy snacks that your kids love. I was so busy thinking about meals that I forgot about snacks and so the kids ate way too many chips. Some of our favorite snacks I wish I had are string cheese, small apples, and those fruit and veggie puree pouches (which you can freeze and stick in your cooler).
Bring a play tent or play yard
Our car was completely packed, so we didn’t have room for an extra tent or play yard, but if you do, bring one! It’s so nice to have an “indoor” play space that can get dirty. Our kids were constantly in and out of the tent and it was a pain to have to pull their shoes off and back on again whenever they changed their fickle minds about where they wanted to be.
Bring some old and some new toys
Familiar toys and books are a must have, but I kept things exciting by bringing some new things like glow necklaces and new crayons and coloring/sticker books. Camping is a great time to bring out all those art supplies that you might not want to deal with at home for fear of a big mess.
Throw out expectations
Finally, don’t be disappointed if your kids aren’t happy and/or things don’t go as planned. You have to go into this knowing that it could go any way. Even if it’s hard, you’re creating a memorable experience for your kids that will have a lasting positive impact on their lives. The next trip will be easier because they’ll be more used to it. They had new experiences and that will benefit them (and you!) in many ways. And the only real way for the whole family to get good at this stuff (even without toddlers!) is to practice.
Do you have any favorite tips for camping with toddlers?