Thursday, May 9, 2013

top ten tips for camping with kids

I usually get two responses from people when I mention family camping. Some people say, "O how fun!" Other people say, "Wow. You are brave. That sounds stressful. I could/would never do that." I will agree that family camping (or camping in general) is not for everybody. However, if any of you are  teetering on the edge of maybe wanting to camp in a tent with your children, here are my top ten bits of advice...

1. PLAN! It seems silly to say, but planning really is the most important part of camping. The more details you cover before the trip, the easier the camp out will be. I keep a huge tupperware box in our garage where I keep camping essentials. When I see beach balls or card games or cute acrylic coffee mugs on sale at Target I buy them and put them in the box. My husband plans the date and I plan everything else. I write out what we will eat for each meal and snack, what activities or games we will need, and what we will wear.
2. SURPRISES! If you are camping/traveling with children, it's always good to have a few surprises for them. When we get to a campsite, I usually pull out a few campy surprises for the kids while my husband sets the tent up. It's amazing how a new frisbee or puzzle or activity book can keep them occupied for a while. I purchase most surprises at the dollar store.
3. PACK LIGHT! We've never camped longer than three nights. I pack everyone's bag with only what we need for the days/nights of our trip. Underwear, pajamas, swimsuits and comfortable clothes for each day. Nothing extra. We have THESE duffle bags from L.L. Bean in extra small and medium size for each child. They are perfect.
4. FOOD! Food tastes better when you eat it outside. My kids say it every. single. time. we eat outside. I usually plan one "big" meal to cook over the campfire grill. I like to think outside the hot dog box and try new things like a grilled pizza or grilled veggies. Other than that we eat lots of crackers and peanut butter, trail mix and smores. I make muffins or scones the day before we leave and we have that for breakfast. We also bring lots of bottled water and juice boxes.
5. EXPLORE! Let your kids explore the campsite and climb trees and get dirty. We don't allow video games or electronics (besides my 4 cameras and our phones... and a fan) so the kids can have fun wandering and exploring. We bring bicycles and soccer balls and card games for down time. (Disney Campout included ZERO down time).
6. DO SOMETHING SENTIMENTAL! Find a stick and paint it or make leaf bracelets or see how many pine cones you can collect. Nature crafts are fun and they provide a free keepsake to remember your trip.
7. BRING A FEW COMFORTS FROM HOME! We sleep on air mattresses in our tent. We bring our own pillows and covers. The kids get to bring one special blanket or toy to sleep with. If the campsite has an electrical outlet, we bring a fan. It's o.k. to bring a few comfortable things when you're camping with children. Getting them to wind down and go to sleep is THE HARDEST part, so anything comfortable helps with the process.
8. DON'T FORGET A RUG! Our first campout away from home helped me develop a "must have" list for all future trips. You need a rug! We don't allow shoes in the tent. A sturdy outdoor rug serves as a place to wipe feet and leave shoes. Also, don't forget bug spray or baby wipes or towels (all things we forgot on that infamous first trip).
9. PRACTICE! Once we decided that we wanted to camp with our children, we knew we had to "practice." We started out in the back yard. The first two or three times we ended up going inside in the middle of the night. Then we ventured out to a local campground (our neighborhood is across the street from a nice campground). After that we went across town for a two-nighter. We set a goal to camp for three nights at Disney in spring 2013... check! And we've already got a lofty goal set for next spring.
10. STOP FREAKING OUT! The best piece of advice I can give you is to RELAX! Your kids are going to jump all around the tent and they are going to eat 40 or 50 marshmallows and they are going to get dirty and they are going to be loud when they should be quiet and they are going to wake up REALLY early. If you've planned and covered all the important details, you can laugh at the unexpected happenings. Remember that they are outside of their minds with excitement and they will keep thoughts of this trip in their hearts forever.
(Look at Millie G.'s face! Her heart is obviously overflowing with warmth and happiness.)

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