Prepping for Your First Camping Trip ... with Kids

Prepping for Your First Camping Trip ... with Kids

By Michelle Mady

In a family with small children, many children, or even just lots of moving pieces in schedules, it’s easy to get sucked into the monotony of the days. Instead of playing a game with the kids because it is fun, I sometimes find myself doing it to check it off the mental checklist. I count hours in appointments and after-school activities. The buzz of a busy family oftentimes overpowers the inner call for peace. But there are occasions where my family stops and just exists together, and that is when we are camping. Something about vacationing in the great outdoors brings a sense of tranquility to our lives. We enjoy a few screen- and obligation-free days together and remember how much we enjoy each other’s company.

The buzz of a busy family oftentimes overpowers the inner call for peace. But there are occasions where my family stops and just exists together, and that is when we are camping.

As much as I can highly recommend a family camping trip to everyone, I understand that it feels like quite an undertaking. The packing alone, considering all the equipment needed, is enough to give many a headache. However, the benefits of these camping trips cannot be understated., and there are ways to slowly enter the camping world and try it before you “camp” it. 

Camp at Home

Pitching a tent in your backyard, basement, or family room is a great introduction to tent camping. It can be really fun, and the kids get a kick out of the different sleep space. Camping at home is great because you have quick access to food, water, bathrooms, and any favored stuffies that help the evening pass. 

Expect children to leave the tent often, and remember that this isn’t a sign that they are not ready for camping. As much as I love to camp, if I know my cozy bed is just a few feet away, I am going to opt for that instead of a night in a tent! But, camping at home can be a great way to introduce the idea of camping at a site.

Rent Camping Equipment

Many outdoor stores will actually rent out camping equipment to families. There is typically a fee per night for a full set up. Some companies, like Kitlender, will even deliver the materials to your door. It is a great option for families who are not sure that camping will become a regular activity, not looking for the commitment of purchasing gear, or families without a lot of storage space. Renting equipment plus the fee of the campsite is comparable to a hotel stay.

Give an RV a Try

You could also do some RV camping. RV rentals are available in many areas, giving another option to families looking to dip their toe into camping. Although be warned, if you are used to a small sedan, rent your RV a day early to get used to driving it! They can be larger and take some time to master. There are so many private and public campgrounds that cater to RVs, including hook ups, that it is easy to find a site near any destination.

Camp in a State Park

If you plan on tent camping, I strongly suggest looking into state parks. My family has camped in five states, and the state park campgrounds are, by far, the best balance of family friendly and outdoorsy fun. Many of them have flush toilets close to most sites, drinking water available, firewood for sale and well-maintained showers. Dish washing sinks and games to borrow are featured in many campgrounds as well. State park campgrounds also have the best amenities to cost ratio.

Make a Typical-Day List

Go through a normal day in your home and note what you need. Not only clothing and toiletries, but how many dishes do you go through? Is pasta the go-to meal? Is there a “can’t live without” blanket on the couch? Take note of these things and make sure to add them to your packing list. A camp stove is a game changer, as you won’t want all of your food cooked over a campfire. We always bring a pot, two boxes of mac and cheese, butter and pre-measured milk.  In our house, some of my kids would go hungry without mac and cheese at least once a trip.

Map It Out

You will want to bring along anything you need, but check out the area on a map before heading to the site. Many times there are just as many grocery stores nearby as there are hiking trails.  We try to use one camping day for hiking and exploring, and the other we hop in the car and find a local ice cream place. The state park we stayed at in Massachusetts last year, for example, had a Target just six miles away. So, we brought enough food for the first two days and then headed out to replenish supplies. Not only does this help in a pinch, it also takes away some stress of keeping food cold/fresh while you are there.

Give camping, in any form, a try. It is a lot of work to prepare and pack, but once you are there?  The results are magical. It is the only time my kids go four days in a row with no (ok, minimal) fighting. They build fairy houses, find new and exciting bugs, listen to various bird calls and get so much from exploring nature together.

And? I read an entire book during a camping trip, which usually takes me at least a month.  While it may seem like a lot to take the family camping, it is worth it!


About the author: Michelle is a mom of 5 children ranging in age from 5 to 15.  As a toddler and preschool teacher, she shares experiences, activities and guidance to other parents, as both a parent and as a professional early childhood educator, at any stage of their parenting journey.

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