Going camping with young children can be a wonderful and rewarding experience for everyone – if it is planned properly.
The right preparation and expectations can make the difference between happy campers and never again under canvas campers.
The freedom that children can experience on a camping trip will provide them with confidence and happy memories for years to come. Days spent playing in the great outdoors will hopefully instil in them a future love of nature and adventure.
I always find when we are all staying together in a tent or caravan we spend much more quality time together. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all perfect. On one camping trip (not yet wiped from memory) I was awoken at 5am by the pitter patter of rain on canvas, quickly followed by the realisation that I was not only laying on a punctured and deflated airbed, but also the puddle of my 2 year olds wee. Not the best start to the day. Thoughts of all inclusive holidays on a Greek island did flicker through my mind.
If you have camped before not all of these will apply. I hope some of them will be useful and help make a camping holiday what it should be – fun!
If you have never put your tent up before test it out in your back garden first. Not only will this give you a rough idea of how long it takes to put up, it will also ensure there are no vital parts missing. On our first family camping trip to Spain we didn’t heed this advice and assumed the sales guy in the camping shop was accurate when he told us it would take less than an hour to put up. Four hot and sweaty hours later we finally had it up (partly in thanks to some kind Spanish campers who took pity on us.)
Once the tent is up in your back garden why not go one step further and actually spend the night in it? This way you can almost figure out how well your children will drop off to sleep (hint: don’t expect it to be anywhere close to their normal bedtime!) You can also work out what camping equipment you might need and how comfy that camp bed really is.
Why not really get into it and cook the family meal on a camping stove or BBQ?
Get the children excited about the holiday. Involve them asking them what jobs they want to be in charge of when you are setting up camp. Perhaps one could be responsible for putting all the camping pegs in the ground (obviously this needs to be age appropriate!) or fetching the first load of water.
Have a look in your local book shop for the Eye Spy series – I’m pretty sure there is a nature one. This would be great for the trip and give them a mini project to do when they are there.
We’ve been there. Car so packed to the rafters that we almost had to leave a kid behind. Sometimes its hard to know what to take. I guarantee whatever you do take you will use less. If need be you can always buy something when you are there, either onsite or at a local shop. I will create a handy checklist of what I think are essentials quite soon and link to it here.
It is a good idea to make sure you have some snacks and quick to make food for when you get there. You might also want to take some essentials if you are likely to arrive in the evening when shops might be closed.
Depending on the age of your children this can either go smoothly or take way longer than expected. Older children can help set the tent up and run little errands for you. I really recommend bringing bikes, scooters or whatever your children like to play with outside. As long as they are in close vicinity they can be playing on these whilst you set up. Have handy snacks at the ready to feed the troops.
If all is not going well, practise your looks of confusion and distress and I’m sure a fellow camper will be willing to lend a hand. All the campsites we’ve been on have been incredibly friendly and people have gone out of their way to help each other out.
Due to the freedom and space on a campsite children usually make friends easily with other kids. It helps to bring a few items if you can from home to fill in any gaps. There will be times when you are doing small jobs (or hopefully chilling out) and you want to occupy the kids with something. We quite like to bring the following with us if we can;
It’s great to let your kids to have a run around and enjoy the space. Just make sure you teach them a little campsite etiquette! Don’t let them run too close to other people’s tents (and trip over the guy ropes!) and be too loud right next to someone else’s pitch.
This isn’t meant to sound patronising but remember to remind them about wandering off. It is easy to be really laid back on a campsite and children will sometimes get disorientated, especially on a larger site. Perhaps show them a few landmarks and talk through with them how far away is acceptable for them to go.
I would love to paint a pretty picture of perfect bedtime routines. The reality is this rarely happens, despite the best intentions. Expect your children to go to bed later than at home.
Some campsites will be noisier than others. I must say we have never really suffered any problems from noisy neighbours. We are quite careful to make sure we always pick family friendly sites that usually have a quiet time curfew after a certain time. Camping Bel is a great example of this and it works well.
Also ones that don’t allow large groups should hopefully eliminate those who like to stay up later and keep you awake. We’ve often found that our children are so tired after a day in the fresh air (you are usually outside for the majority of the day on a camping holiday) that they fall asleep pretty quickly anyway, noise or no noise!
If you want to try and reduce middle of the night toilet trips try to limit liquids to close to bed time. Make sure they use the toilet just before bed. If they do need it then for younger ones a potty will do for a quick wee and perhaps investing in a camping toilet for the older ones (and you!) might be an idea.
Out of all our holidays our children talk most about our camping trips. It is something about the magic of being closer to nature and the adventure of a camping holiday that sticks in their minds. Make sure you use the time to switch off from the electronics and enjoy each others company.
Do you have any handy tips for a family camping trip? It would be great to add some more to this list.