Thursday, 12 April 2012

Camping with young kids - what I've learnt

We went camping for the first time last December, to a beautiful spot in the Ku-ring-gai National Park, with no car access, hot water or electricity. I loved it! But Franky was unconvinced about the joys of camping with kids. We decided to have a more comfortable camping experience this time - we stayed at a caravan park in Kiama. I agreed that if he still didn't like it, that I would abandon my dreams of family camping trips.

Thankfully, this trip was so much easier! Franky is even talking about "next time we go camping....". Yesterday, I shared some pictures from our fun holiday. Today, I'd love to share with you some of the things I have learnt about camping with young kids. I am still a novice (so if you are an experienced camper, I'd love you to add your tips in the comments at the end!)

Write a packing list
I have a packing list that I wrote for our camping trip last December. I printed it out and took it with us - so I was able to check that we took everything/brought everything home. I also wrote stuff on the list while we were away - extra things that we would have found useful. I added these to the master list when I got home, so I was able to learn from our experience (eg taking a brush and pan to clean the tent). As a camping novice, I have found it helpful to look around at other campers & take note of things that they do well - I add useful equipment to my list.

Sort your stuff & label it
The first time we went camping, I had a few kitchen/food boxes and just put stuff into them wherever they would fit. It made it a bit tricky to find things while we were trying to cook! This time, I made box for pantry food, a box for cooking/serving supplies, a cold bag for fruit/veg and a small fridge for perishables. I labeled all of the bags/boxes and tried to put things away into the right spot while we were camping so it was easier to find things (I must confess some things got put "down" rather than "away" during the week, but generally the organised system worked well). In addition to the food boxes/bags, I had a bag for cleaning supplies, one for toys & one for electrical/hardware stuff.

Plan your meals
When we went camping in December, we had a lot of food leftover at the end of our trip. This time I planned the meals more carefully and only had a bit left over.

Take a few toys
I take one bag of little toys (I limit myself to one supermarket envirobag). This time I took snap cards, dominoes (which double as a track for cars), matchbox cars, a plastic tablecloth car mat (which doubles as a floor protector in the kids' room), bubbles, sticky hands, some watercolour paint, a sticker book, a notebook, a few story books, a balloon ball and spades. Because the weather was pretty good (and there was heaps to do outside), we didn't use all of the toys this time. But, it would have been a different story if we had a week of rain!

Kids' room, with the blue toy bag and car mat
Be a peacemaker
Camping can be lots of fun. I love the preparation beforehand - I love the challenge of packing all our gear into our very small car. I love the fun adventures that we have while we are away and the time that we spend as a family. But camping can also bring unexpected or stressful situations - eg when the tent is difficult to put together, or your lamp falls over and breaks, or a storm rolls in and you are stuck inside the tent for a few hours. Franky and I have found it really satisfying to work together to overcome these challenges.

Putting this frame together was a challenge!
My advice is to decide beforehand that you are going be a peacemaker - choose to treat your family well and to calm situations down rather than stir up trouble. Before going away this Easter, I spent time praying that I would treat Franky well while we were away - that God would help me to be respectful of Franky and to be a peacemaker. If your marriage is already in crisis, camping with kids may not be the holiday for you (try going to a relaxing resort instead ;)).

Keeping it clean
Before we went camping the first time, the most helpful piece of advice I received was to accept that we will get dirty: camping involves dirt. My kids would agree - they love the "dirty" aspect of camping!

But, there are some things that can make camping less dirty - particularly inside the tent. This time, I took an old bathmat to leave inside the door of the tent. Whenever we went inside, we left our shoes outside the door & wiped our feet on the mat. The inside of the tent stayed pretty clean! I also remembered to take a brush and pan this time, which was useful for sweeping during the week and for cleaning the tent when we were packing up.

We brought a picnic blanket to put outside the tent, under the shade shelter. But it wasn't large enough for the amount of dirt on the site. Next time, we are planning to cover the ground with a big piece of shadecloth that we have in the garage (we saw another camper doing this - I like the idea because it will prevent the kids incessantly digging with sticks and kicking dust everywhere everything getting covered in dirt, but will still let water drain if it rains).

The large shade shelter, with our small picnic blanket
Pack small
We drive a small car (a Honda Jazz), which does add an extra element of challenge to the camping experience. But it can be done! We bought a roof basket to attach to our roof-racks and we borrowed a bike rack. I try to pack space-efficiently (eg using the zip-up envirobags that can be squeezed into small spaces) and also to choose carefully what things to take. Things that inflate are great (eg air-mattresses), as are things that have multiple uses (eg a microwavable bowl for reheating food & for serving salad). I pack clothes that will dry quickly (eg polar fleece jumpers) so I can do a quick load of washing rather than taking heaps of clothes.

Our little car, loaded up with the roof basket and bike rack
I LOVE our microfibre bath towels. They are quick drying, absorbent and take up a lot less space than regular bath towels. I bought them cheaply on ebay before our first camping trip and I have been really happy with them.

Regular bath towels vs microfibre bath towels
Have a plan for set-up/pack-up
The most challenging part of camping this time around was the set-up. The kids were bored (they had been sitting in the car for a long time while we were driving) and we were under pressure to get everything set up so that Mr Fun could have a sleep. The trouble is that setting up the tent/shade shelter needs two adults - and there were only two of us! I think going with another family would make this easier (as you could leave some parents to look after kids while the others set up camp). The other option would be to invite someone lovely to come and visit you for the day to entertain your kids or help with set up (we were lucky enough to have friends come and set the tent up for us the first time we went camping!)

Things to think about:
* what will you set up first?
* what will the kids do while you are setting up?
* is there anyone who can entertain the kids?

Caravan Park vs National Park
These are the things we liked about staying in a caravan park:
* there was lots for the kids to do - places to ride bikes, other kids to play with, a playground, a pool, the beach
* car access - we were able to leave some things in the car, rather than storing everything in the tent
* electricity - used a fridge rather than an esky, used the ipod dock to play sleep music for the kids, cooked jaffles for lunch, etc
* hot water (ahhh.... warm showers & convenient washing up)
* baby bathroom - there were kids' showers, baby bathtubs and kid-sized toilets
* camp kitchen - we reheated some food in the microwave & used the sinks for washing up; there were also BBQs and stovetops

But there are some benefits to staying in the national park too:
* darker at night --> see the stars :)
* spaces are not marked - so you can pick your own site, rather than having it allocated to you
* being closer to the bush --> walking trails, animals
* depending on where you go, you could have solitude/peaceful surroundings (both of my camping trips have been in camp grounds with lots of other campers)

Goanna at The Basin camping area
That's it from me... now I'd love to learn from you! What are your best tips for camping with kids?

Additional info - responses to some questions & comments from friends:
* The microfibre towels are actually bath-towel size. They are absorbent enough to dry you after a shower or a trip to the beach/pool. They do feel quite wet afterwards, but dry quickly - ready for their next use.
* We use a kinderkot for Mr 1's bed. It packs up much smaller than a regular portacot. It is very lightweight and easy to set up/pack away (takes about 2 mins).
* Glorya suggested cooking some meals beforehand and freeze them ready to quickly reheat (eg pasta sauce, burrito mince). Also, keeping some toys separate for a rainy day.


Anonymous said...

My friend led me to this post and I loved it. We recently went camping and winged it. I would take onboard some of your tips for next time! Thanks again:)

Erin said...

Glad you found it helpful. I don't do "winging it" very well! But it looks like you guys had a great time :)

Erin @ Lohtown Life said...

Glad you found it helpful. I don't do "winging it" very well! But it looks like you guys had a great time :)

Keris Hobbs said...

Hi Erin - I enjoyed reading this. Am hoping to camp with our little boy (almost 1.5) later this year. I'm intrigued by your large shade shelter - How big is it? Where did you find it? Is it also waterproof?

Erin @ Lohtown Life said...

Thanks Keris :) The shade is a Coleman Event 14. It is waterproof (although when we were at The Basin, we did find a few drips came through the centre with heavy rain). The curved shape keeps the sun off much better than a regular gazebo. It is 4.26 x 4.26m.

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