When my husband first suggested that we go camping for the weekend I looked at him like he had four heads and momentarily doubted my decision to marry him.
Um, spend a weekend in a tent, sweating, sleeping on the ground, eating only hotdogs, with a 1-year-old, a 3-year-old, a dog, and no bathroom? Not a chance. I would rather be locked in a room with crying babies and Barney the purple dinosaur playing on repeat.
But he was persistent, and I finally gave in. And you know what? It was actually really fun! I even found a way to avoid all of those unpleasant things I was worried about. We have been camping as a family at least once a year ever since.
For those of you new to camping, here are some tips and tricks that have been lifesavers to me on our family camping trips.
Tips for Spending the Weekend in a Tent
Ok, this one is pretty unavoidable unless you stay at a campground with cabins. There are several campgrounds nearby that do offer this type of lodging. However, if you only cabin-camp, you will be limited in where you can go and it’s also more expensive.
I suggest investing in a large tent that can hold 2-4 more people than you actually need it to.
With a large tent you will have space to separate your kids, keep your stuff safe, change your clothes, and walk around without getting dirty feet on your pillow.
We recently bought a 12-person tent with 4 separate rooms at Wal-Mart. It’s excessive but also kind of awesome. Note: Do not let your husband go tent shopping with other men – this is what they will come home with.
Tips for Sleeping on the Ground
This problem is easily solved with an air mattress. My husband and I use a super deluxe queen mattress that has us like two feet off the ground. It’s awesome. We have a pump with an A/C adaptor that connects to our car, so we blow it up and then throw it in the tent. Even though our kids don’t seem to mind sleeping on the ground, I feel bad for them. But not bad enough to buy more air mattresses! My husband had the genius idea to use pool rafts. We have one for each kid, blow them up with the air pump, and stick a twin fitted sheet on each one. They work perfectly, are way cheaper, and much easier to store!
Plus, if you have a dolphin sighting next to your campground you can easily grab one and jump in the water to swim after said dolphin while your wife and children look on in disbelief.
Tips for Sweating
One important thing to verify when booking your campsite is access to electricity. Then bring an extension cord, a surge protector, and a few small fans. Place the fans around the tent so everyone stays cool while they sleep. Remember that if you are sleeping on an air mattress you will need to raise the fan up off the ground. I usually bring our food bin in the tent and put the fan on top.
Small, handheld battery powered fans are useful to have during the day as well. If you are camping in the warmer months, it’s also a good idea to find a campground with a pool or swimming area.
Tips for Eating More Than Hotdogs
My food game has significantly improved since we started camping, thanks in large part to smart friends and Pinterest.
When I plan camping food for the weekend, I try to prep and cook as many things ahead of time as I can.
That way when it’s meal time we can just throw the food on the fire or the camping stove. Our camping stove has a burner and a grill, and I highly recommend having a stove. It is much quicker and more reliable than a campfire, and no one wants a fire in the middle of the day in Florida anyway.
If you do plan to cook on the fire (we do most dinners this way) I suggest buying a grate. Some campgrounds have grates you can put on top of the fire circle, but many do not. I learned that the hard way!
Here are some of my favorite camping foods for each meal:
- Muffins (make ahead, freeze them and they will thaw in time for breakfast)
- Breakfast Burritos (make ahead, wrap in foil, warm over the stove or fire)
- Fruit (fill a few mason jars of cut fruit)
- Mason jar salads, dressing separate
- Ham and cheese melts (wrap in foil, warm over stove or fire)
- Chicken, potatoes, veggies in foil packets (cook over fire)
- Mac & cheese (make ahead in foil pans, heat over stove or fire)
- Kabobs (bring meat and veggies in bags, use marshmallow skewers and cook over fire)
Tips for Camping with Kids
Rule #1 for a successful trip – expect to get little to no sleep, have dirty kids, and for something to go wrong.
Some of my favorite memories are from the crazy things that have happened while camping.
I vividly remember my husband’s dolphin encounter, my son’s first wasp sting, and the nocturnal noises from a neighboring tent that I was subjected to while trying to get my daughter to sleep. Plan to throw out the sleep and nap schedules. Your kids will get tired and will eventually sleep, and you will be way less stressed if you aren’t constantly fighting them on it.
Camping is a great opportunity to let your kids be adventurous and practice their independence.
Let them climb on that rock, scale that tree, and jump in that creek. Just make sure you have a first aid kit on hand to patch up any boo-boos.
Tips for Not Having a Bathroom
Unless you are wilderness camping with a backpack, your campground will have a bathroom. It will be shared of course, so we try to get a campsite close by. I always pack two bathroom bags – one for the boys and one for the girls. That way my husband and I can split up the kids and go all at the same time. If you want to shower, bring some shower shoes. But also keep in mind that swimming can definitely count as showering, and if the pool area has an outdoor shower you can bring some shampoo and clean everyone there. Also remember that clean is a relative term while camping.
Make sure that everyone goes to the bathroom before you head into your tent for the night to avoid any late night bathroom trips!
Tips for Packing
One of the most overwhelming things about camping is all the stuff you need to bring. Last year I finally got smart and cut my packing time in half! I bought 4 locking storage bins that we use only for camping.
Two of the bins stay stocked with camping supplies like:
Paper goods, rope, bug spray, sunscreen, lanterns, table cloths, a dish pan and sponge, our stove, a lighter, skewers, our camping grate, and anything else that we use for every trip. I store the empty bins underneath.
Then when it’s time for a camping trip I do a quick inventory of anything that needs to be replaced, fill one empty bin with nonperishable food and snacks, and the other with outdoor toys and coloring supplies. Add the tent, air mattresses, and cooler to the car, and we are good to go!
I know that for many of you camping with kids sounds overwhelming and awful.
I used to think that too. There is definitely a lot of prep work involved, but once you get to the campsite it is totally worth it. There is something special about unplugging, watching your kids play and imagine, and sitting around a campfire enjoying the company of your family and friends.