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Tips for Camping with Toddlers

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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