Confession: Before this past week, we had never camped for more than one consecutive night with our boys (aged 2 and 4). Usually one night was plenty and we were ready to head home and get some real sleep the next morning. It was, quite honestly, more of a lets-see-if-we-can-survive-this more than anything else. Shocking, I know, but the truth! Yes, the getting away part was always greatly appreciated and definitely worth it, but as far as I knew, camping with babies/young kids never was easy (and sleep was next to impossible.)
So, when I decided that I was dead-set on finally taking that trip to Moab we have talked about for years before the busyness of summer began, Mtn Papa was understandably a bit apprehensive. However, being the supportive husband he is, he humored me and helped me throw together our first family vacation ever (going to visit family does not count….)
Our motto for the week that served us well: “Whatever Works” and “Just Go with It”
- 7 nights of camping
- 2 different camp sites
- 7 car rides to put one kid to sleep (the other one was Super Sleeper)
- 1 3 am car ride (Lesson learned: a two-year-old eating three hot dogs for dinner isn’t a good idea. Ever.)
- 1 tent
- 3 days of hiking
- 3 days of biking
- 8 days of afternoon drives in the air conditioning
- 4 happy smiles….most of the entire trip
We were car camping so we didn’t even bother packing light. In fact, we brought way more than we would normally have for the sake of testing out gear (pathetic, I know…) Our crew cab truck with a topper was packed full (though the bikes, Weehoo and Chariot took up much of that room.) But, that also meant that we didn’t skimp on the stuff we needed to make sure everyone staying comfortable for the duration of the trip.
We visited Moab and stayed in First-Come-First-Served campsites. In my opinion, these ones were awesome and totally worth the effort of getting to a campsite early to snag it. **Usually we camp in dispersed camping sites or just out in the woods, so this was a little new to us.**
Here’s the thing – camping longterm does take some planning. But, really no more than if you were going on any vacation. Plus it’s WAY cheaper. And really, as long as you are planning to camp one night, might as well make it 7 nights….it’s not really that much more work. In fact, some would argue that camping for just one night is just WAY too much effort for such a short amount of time (so go ahead and extend your stay).
Why Family Camping (For Vacation) Beats Out the Competition:
- Everyone tends to be more relaxed outdoors so stress levels are reduced in general
- Even if you are paying for a campsite (average $15 a night), it is way WAY cheaper than paying for a hotel room
- Less laundry (you can just keep on wearing those dirty clothes, Sister…or Brother…!)
- All that fresh air does wonders for the soul
- Easier access to (cheaper) family activities – hiking, playing in a stream, digging in the dirt/sand, bike riding
- An excuse to have S’Mores (or at least roasted food) every night
- Sitting around a campfire in the evening sure beats sitting around a hotel room in the evening
- Going to bed early is definitely ok (sometimes you just “have” to lay with the little ones to get them to fall asleep!)
- Kids’ imaginations run wild and they seem to entertain themselves better than anytime inside
- Unplug, unplug, unplug.
Camping is absolutely different for every family. Admittedly, I dreaded bedtime every night (because P just had a hard time settling down…though that really isn’t different than at home.) However, the good, clean (err….dusty/sandy/muddy) FUN we had completely outweighed any temporary discomforts. The way we camp is just going to be our way. So our challenges may not be your challenges. And, really, that is part of the excitement of camping – the unknowns of nature.
A few tips for longer camping trips with kids from our perspective:
- Spend the mornings being active. Hike, bike, run, explore or swim. Wear them out! Spend the afternoons a little more relaxed. Our boys both still take naps, but it was way too hot during the day to nap in the tents. We took advantage of that time to do some exploratory driving that we wanted to do anyway. We got to see some cool things that we will visit again next time we are in Moab and then got good rest in an air-conditioned vehicle. Granted, we went through fuel, but as our motto stated, “Just Go With It!”
- Let the kids lead hiking/exploring and let them be challenged by different terrain and conditions. Even very small children can learn so much from lessons on the trail. Stay safe, but step back and let them discover LIFE….
- Make sure everyone has their own sleeping bag, pad, pillow (which could just be clothes stuffed in the stuff sack of the sleeping bag) and hats for sleeping (depending on night temperatures, of course). Since we did have extra room, I threw in some fleece blankets that I put over P because he tends to prefer not to be contained to a sleeping bag. While we do not deliberately co-sleep, we also had our Teton Sports Mammoth family bag which was great for keeping little ones warm and cuddled if they awoke.
- Plan packable lunches you can take with you on daytime adventures and easy, nutritious meals for dinners. I found it helpful to have 4-5 days planned out and pre-chopped/marinated so I was ready, and then took a trip to the store partway through the trip.
- Bring enough headlamps for everyone. Bring books too!
- All joking aside, S’mores and hot dogs tend to not be the best things to eat right before bed for little ones…
- ENO has some great Twilights that help provide a bit of a nightlight for kids going to bed. I also love their HiFi Speakers for some light bedtime music (which helped drown out the sounds of nearby campers.)
- Push the water for the whole family. It’s really easy to get dehydrated (especially in the desert) when you are busy having fun!
- Pack M&Ms or your choice of small treat to help encourage kids along the trails. J hiked longer than he has in his (short, little) life, and a little treat he had to find as he went the last mile or so helped distract and direct his forward movement. Little P too….
- Chill out. Plans may change, hikes may not work out, nights may be rough. It’s ok. You’re out there together as a family. Camping/Adventuring as a family is NOT the same as it was when it was just you and some buddies in college (or in your life before kids.) Embrace it!
- Bring a few toys. A ball and glove (or T for T-ball), pocket frisbees, small games, sand toys, etc. They sure help when kids are tired and you need to make dinner and clean up camp!
I want to know – what are YOUR best tips for camping with kids (particularly for longer stays.) We’re certainly learning too.
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