Camping can be the perfect family vacation. It’s relatively inexpensive, there is plenty of together time and no television to distract everyone. Your kids can learn all about your love of the outdoors. Maybe you’ll bond over fly fishing as the sun comes up over the trees or quietly bed down and observe a herd of deer grazing nearby.
But, let’s all be honest with ourselves. There’s a good chance some of those things won’t happen. Camping with kids, especially very young ones, can be its own special challenge. Sure, it will be rewarding and a fun shared experience, but only if you go in prepared. Here are a few tips to make your first camping experience with your kids a fun one:
Stay close to home
For your first attempt at camping with your family, it’s not a bad idea to stay close to home. If you have a toddler who absolutely cannot sleep in a sleeping bag or a preschooler who discovers she is terrified of the dark, it will be much easier to just hop into your car and zip home instead of driving five hours out of the backwoods. It even opens up the option of spending a few days at the camp site and returning to your own beds at night.
Prepare the kids
The key to a successful camping trip is laying out the appropriate groundwork before hitting the trail. Discussing what camping is and what they can expect is a great start. Try watching movies or television shows where the main characters go camping, though make sure you stick to ones that show a fun and successful trip – maybe they can watch The Blair Witch Project when they’re a bit older. Another good idea is to introduce them to different aspects of camping in an environment where they are already comfortable. Try setting up a full-fledged campsite in your backyard for a night. Take a walk around your neighborhood when it’s dark out so they know what to expect.
Pack for the kids
If you’re a veteran camper, you can probably pack for a weekend outdoors with your eyes closed. However, packing for your little ones requires more than just bringing smaller clothes than usual. Make sure you have enough to keep your kids feeling safe and secure. If they are not quite comfortable with the dark, bring plenty of flashlights and lanterns. Consider bringing some disposable glow sticks along as well. They are great as makeshift night lights – just slip them into mesh pockets in their tents for some extra illumination without wasting batteries.
Bring along entertainment
While your idea of a perfect evening of camping may consist of a quiet evening around the campfire with close friends, don’t expect your kids to feel the same way. Be sure to plan kid-friendly activities for the evening when hiking is no longer an option. Of course, roasting marshmallows and making s’mores is a time-honored activity, but be ready with a contingency plan. While you’ll probably be happy leaving your smartphones and portable video games at home, being prepared with cards or other travel-size games as a fun way to pass the time before bed.
Get plenty of sleep
Nothing ruins a trip faster than tired, cranky kids. Because of this, it’s important to make sure your kids get plenty of sleep. There are a few things you can do to make this easier for them. Sleeping on the cold, hard ground in a sleeping bag may be tough for little ones. Consider investing in a camping-friendly air mattress to make them more cozy. A few days before the trip, have your kids try a night out in a sleeping bag in the safety of their own bed. If they find they can’t get comfortable in one, pack accordingly.
Camping is naturally a fairly active adventure – lots of hiking, swimming and boating can really tucker the little ones out. If they are still taking naps, be sure to stick to their regular schedule to avoid a meltdown later in the day. Even if your kids no longer require daily naps, plan a little downtime during the day so they can catch some Zs if they need to recharge their batteries for the afternoon.
Whether it’s for safety or sport, you may be in the habit of bringing a knife or even a firearm with you when camping. While you don’t necessarily need to stop doing this once kids are in the picture, it is essential that you take extra precautions with dangerous objects around your kids. A handgun lock box or portable safe are both great options for guns and knives. They are lightweight and easy to keep close at hand without the risk of kids getting their hands on anything they’re not supposed to.