There is no sweeter sound to me than the soft breaths of my sleeping children lying close under a tent, while nightly creatures chirp lightly in the distant dark. And there is no worse sound than that tent being turned to a dark dome of hell as my 9 month old wails inconsolably at 2am, waking my 3 year old into her own hysterics and keeping her up long, long, long after the baby fell back to sleep. But we made it through our first camping trip as a family of four, five including the dog, who, lucky for him, was on his best behavior. Here’s how we survived camping with an almost three year old and a nearly nine-month old crawler.
Pack All the Things
Now is not the time for a hike in, live off the land kind of camping trip. We figure we can do that when the kids are able to drive themselves to the trailhead and we can stay home watching The Revenant 3 – The Bear’s Revenge. When in doubt, and you have room, bring it. We had a pop-up bassinet for our baby, but he just rolled right through it. Luckily, we had thrown the pack-n-play in “just in case” and he slept in that for his naps & night time. Same with the bumbo. It was a great portable feeding station for the baby. Art supplies, a milk carton boat to float on the lake, a soccer ball and bubbles were all key for entertaining first kid while we set up and broke down camp. The best get was my Dad’s extra-extra-large tarp (it was the most enormous thing, 20×30 maybe?) which we laid out under the tent and extended in front to create a semi-clean crawling space for the baby, and a shoe depository for my toddler. Pro tip: no shoes and no food in the tent.
Bring Extra Pants for the Kids, But Not So Many for You
This is a caveat to Pack All the Things. We found extra pants super helpful with the baby crawling through all the muck and my toddler’s impromptu lake dip followed by a potty emergency (2 pairs of pants used up in the space of an hour!). I brought way too many clothes for me though. One pair of pants and one pair of shorts were all I really needed for bottoms, plus a t-shirt and some warm layers for two days of camping. I could keep myself cleaner than the kids could, and could endure a little muck & wet better too.
Camp During the Week or Off-Season and Stay Close to Home
We went Monday through Wednesday the week before Memorial Day which was fabulous. We could pick our campsite right next to the bathrooms (pro: great for those emergency potty runs; con: bright lights shining into our tent at night). There was no one around to take offense to the midnight wailing, or to apologize to in the morning. And we were only an hour away from home if we had to abort the mission.
Get Up and Out of Your Campsite Early
If your kids are like ours, they kids will be up and bored of camp super early in the morning. So grab your industrial strength coffee sludge and hit the local sights. Or just walk around the campground looking for pine cones and deer, like we did. Of course, the only non-avian wildlife we saw on our camping trip was this lizard on our driveway when we got home.
Make Simple Memories and Go with the Flow
One of my favorite moments was when I attempted to get my toddler to take a nap by lying down with her. It was way too bright in the tent though and she was too excited to sleep, so I just felt little pats and kisses on my back. So sweet. I could have gotten angry and left her to “sleep.” But instead we played and snuggled a bit before deciding to take an impromptu trip to the lake nearby (see Bring Extra Pants, above). Another great memory was introducing the kids to s’mores. Simple and so fun.
Just Go! You Can Always Go Home Early
Like we did! It was cold and cloudy the second day and no one had more than 3 hours of sleep the night before. Plus, the baby was snotty and breaking a tooth. Time to head home. Yes, it was a lot of hassle for one night, but my toddler daughter had a blast, and the baby liked the dirt. So it was worth it to me and I think we might even do it again!
What are your tips for camping with the littles? Any crazy camping stories out there? I’d love to hear in the comments!
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