I wrote this article a couple years back for a small online magazine. Since I am going camping this weekend with my little family before all the snow comes to our mountains, I wanted to share with you some practical camping advice from a mother with 3 young children.
I love camping, within reason. Car camping is a staple family vacation that I grew up on and formed wonderful memories from. So it is completely logical that I would want the same for my own little growing family. Over the 7 year period of our marriage, I have been slowly accumulating all the “necessary” items for a well-planned camp-out to accommodate my less than enthusiastic husband and overly-excited young daughters (ages 6, 4 and 18 mo.). Of course any expense was always chalked up to “emergency preparedness”.
Here are 10 practical lessons I learned from our first 3 day family camping trip.
1. Make sure to set up the new tent with your spouse as a trial run in the backyard before you get to do it together at the campground. If you didn’t already know how different you and your spouse think, tent setting will enlighten you.
2. Make sure to test the lantern before sunset or it becomes necessary for a late dinner in the dark. Even better…take 2 lanterns or extra batteries and bulbs!
3. Strollers are an absolute must! Tie it to the roof rack if you have to! A husband’s marathon skills may come in handy as he might end up walking the kids around the campground to wear them down a little be more, get the baby to sleep as well as keeping them away from cooking hazards.
4. Pack enough PJ’s for each night for each of the kids. Kids like to play in dirt before breakfast and after dinner.
5. Even if you find it unnecessary, pack a pillow for your spouse. Also, blow up your air mattress every night, even if your husband doesn’t want to roll off for you to do it. Otherwise it will be like sleeping on a thin water bed where you touch down with every move.
6. If you are staying multiple nights, be prepared for a horrible first night’s sleep. Maybe your 18 mo. old will be up for over 3 hours, wanting to simply “play” the first night. But, luckily sleep like a “baby” the second night. Too bad you didn’t blow up the air mattress again that second night or you too could have slept like a “baby”!
7. Make sure to bring a pot for boiling water. It doesn’t have to be big, but it makes a big difference. Try to camp close to your water source. If not, make sure to have a 5 gallon water container to use for cooking/clean up.
8. Mix up the meals. Quick meals for breakfast. Easy meals for lunch. Snacks available 24/7 and something nice for dinner, with a fun campfire dessert. Meals can take the most of you “vacationing” time to prepare, cook and clean. Spending time planning your menu effectively will allow for more family time at the campsite and put a smile on your hubby’s face that he isn’t left to child duty. If your car isn’t big enough to transport kids, gear and food, make a shopping trip once you’ve arrived. I chose to do mostly Dutch Oven cooking…my indulgence, my children’s torture. My husband loved the meals, but my picky eaters would hardly touch them. Though I did have a couple meal successes, next trip I will follow my own new found advice!
9. Don’t let kids play in the car, lights are left on and car batteries do die right as you have packed everything and everyone in the car to return home. Do make sure to have AAA.
10. For the first handful of times you camp, don’t drive too far. Within 2 hours distance is perfect! If you are camping nearby sand, just remember that sand will not come out of kids hair for a good 2-3 days after returning home. FYI – campfire smoke also stays in your hair for 2-3 days after returning home.
I took 2 medium sized plastic boxes that will now be dubbed my Camping Boxes. One for Kitchen Supplies and the other for Campfire Supplies. They are ready to go at a moments notice. This is what I put in each.
Dish Rags and Towels
Plates, Cups, Bowls (we used the steel camping ones and washed after each meal)
Medium Size Mixing Bowl – Stainless Steel
Cooking Utensils: Spatula, Spoonula, Wood Spoons, Ladle, Tongs
Paring Knife and Chopping Knife
Small Tupperware for Leftovers
Table Cloth – Clips to hold down
Zip-loc Bags Various Sizes
Utility Pocket Knife
Hatchet – Whet stone
Small Hand Broom and Dustpan
Overall, we made it home alive. Not many scrapes or bruises. After a good scrub down and a welcomed nights rest in my own bed, I am ready to plan for the next camping trip. Enjoyable family camping is something you build up to and that requires repetition. I am sure I will learn another handful of things next time we go “into the wild”, but we all have to start somewhere! So, get to it and enjoy the outdoors a little more practically prepared.