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Home » Camping & RV-ing, Family Vacation Planning, Kid Friendly Adventure Travel, Kid Friendly Green Travel, Kid Friendly Parks, Low Cost Kid Friendly Activities, Travel with Toddlers & Preschoolers

Tips for Camping with Toddlers

Submitted by on Tuesday, March 10, 20096 Comments
photo credit: Jody Halsted

photo credit: Jody Halsted

My husband and I used to camp quite a bit.  And by camping I mean real camping…  ie: no running water, no toilet or shower and no electricity. 

Of course we wanted to share the experience of camping with our girls but no one in their right mind would take a (then) 1 ½ year old and a 3 ½ year old out in the middle of nowhere.  So we did what I call “camping in luxury”.  We found an RV park that also accepts tents.  The park also had a playground and plenty of trails for exploring.

With so many families looking for an affordable vacation this summer I highly recommend camping; you don’t need a big RV and you don’t have to go far.

Here’s what you need:
• A tent.  We have a large “2 room” tent that cost just over $200 at Sam’s Club.  It’s huge.  You want to make sure the tent you choose is comfortable for your family.  Nothing too small; you’ll spend more time in it that you think.  Visit Outdoor Stores like Sportsman’s Warehouse, Scheel’s, REI and others to see tents set up, feel the weight and ask questions of knowledgeable staff.  Then find your best price.
• I highly recommend an air mattress.  Or, at the very least, a nice foam pad to lie on the ground.  Kids may not mind sleeping on the hard ground but my body certainly doesn’t enjoy it.  (Don’t forget the air pump!)
• Sleeping bags and more blankets than you think you’ll need.  The ground and air mattresses are cold and night air, even in the hottest days of summer, can be chilly.
• I use plastic bins (like Rubbermaid) to pack everything.  You don’t want to mess up nice luggage and they close completely to keep food safe from critters. 
• For clothing and bedding I use Space Bags.  They are simply the best way to fit a lot of stuff into small spaces.  And, if you have an air pump handy they can be repacked easily.
• At least two extra changes of clothing- just in case.  And jeans, tall socks, long sleeves and hats for exploring any wooded areas.
• If there is electricity available don’t forget a long extension cord.  And, if you have one available, bring a fan for the tent.  I know it sounds silly, but if you have a toddler who naps you’ll need one if it’s hot outside.
• Baby wipes.  A million and one uses.
• Don’t forget towels if the park has a shower.

Of course you’ll also need to remember food, drinks, sunscreen, bug spray…  A great camping checklist can be found here.

Not sure where to camp?  Look close by.  State and county parks often have great campsites.  Looking to go a little farther?  Check out Camping.com or Reserve America

Keep in mind that the most popular weekends (4th of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day) can book up to a year ahead of time.  And some sites (especially state and federal parks) may require 2-3 days advance reservations.

If you prepare camping can be fun for the entire family- no matter how old.  Don’t forget the marshmallows!

Jody is a native of Iowa and loves to travel with her kids.  Read more travel tips on her website HaveKidWillTravel.com.  “In America there are two classes of travel: First Class and With Children” (Robert Benchley)  We’re the latter…

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  • Your picture reminds me of my daughter when we go camping. She just loves to poke at the camp fire. It makes me nervous! Other than that she enjoys roughing it now. It was not always that way. Your tips are right on. As long as she is comfortable and has a full tummy she is fine. Thanks!

  • Leigh says:

    Your tips are right on the money. There’s six of us and the kids are between 15 mths and 6 years. We’ve recently taken up camping and love it. The kids especially enjoy the swimming and general running around outside. I take the Nintendo DS’s just in case they need a modern day distraction bust it’s just me who uses them after everybody has gone to bed and they haven’t even asked yet.
    My wife will only let me go to places with a public toilet as a minimum but when you’ve got kids you need to keep it a bit more civilized than usual so that’s ok.
    I would also like to recommend a shade tent with surrounding net if luggage space allows. They are much cooler than a tent and are generally nicer to hang around in than a tent and are also able to keep the flies out when cooking and eating. We don’t spend much time in our tent at all since we got ours ( a 3Mx3M which gets a bit crowded when we camp with other friends who also have kids).
    For cooking I would have to recommend a cast iron oven. Roasts and roasted vegetables on a campfire are the best eating anywhere.

  • There is nothing better than taking a child camping. I would second the air mattress. You can do with out a lot but if you want to be able to walk in the am buy an air mattress.

  • Leigh says:

    We went from simple camping to bring everything and the kitchen sink once we had kids. After a couple of years of that, we realize all the kids want to do is play in the dirt, whack trees with sticks, collect rocks and run around. Now we bring one daypack with books and some arts/craft supplies for them and they are fine with it!

  • Agreed that nothing better than taking a child camping.my kids love to do this.

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