Somehow in my small circle of friends I’ve become the go-to on camping with Kiddos so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you. That being said, I am by no means an expert and I will tell you we have done it all the wrong ways but we are learning and not giving up because as a family we really love our camping weekends and we come home refreshed and closer each time.
Let me throw this out there right away: I did not grow up camping. My parents had zero interest in camping and have been confused by my love of camping since I showed an interest back in high school. I blame it on the rustic summer camp I went to growing up where we literally slept on the sides of trees one summer. Sleeping in the woods is full of magic and wonder to me. It’s packed full of beauty and nature sounds and peace and excitement. I just LOVE it!
Honest I didn’t really start camping much until I was an adult. I mean come on, do you think my high school girl friends wanted to go camping, um no. Think my parents would let me go with the 17-year old boys that liked to go camping? Heck no. How about my college roommates? Yup a big fat no again. But when I became an adult I guess I must have just started forcing my friends to give it a try.
I’ll be honest: camping with kiddos looks A LOT different from camping with your friends, but it’s still so much fun. I encourage you to try it.
So here are a few tips for camping with family… kiddos 6 and under:
If you are going to try tent camping first borrow a tent. No need to go all out and buy the 7-person tent with the added screened porch until you are sure that tent camping is going to be for you. On that same note, camp in your backyard and don’t call it a failure if you end up inside to sleep after a few hours.
Side story: The first time I tent camped I camped with my daughter only who was 2 at the time in our back yard. It turned out to be the one night ever that we lived in that house when someone nearby our home was having what sounded like the craziest teenage party ever. So we heard not one cricket but instead tons of crazy laughing and pool shenanigans and my daughter was terrified. We stayed out there until about 10 and then called it off and went inside. The next morning she wanted to do it all again and said it was the best time ever. HA! Who knew?
There are great places to camp that are close by Austin. One of my favorite places to send 1sttime campers is Emma Long State Park. It’s a first come first serve area so make sure someone runs out there to claim your spot pretty early on a Friday to make sure they have space for you. You can swim and fish and hike and still be close enough to home that if someone is scared or needs something you can easily just pop home. Other places like Pace Bend State Park are also very close by and 1stcome first serve so that’s another great option.
Try different styles of camping
If you try tent camping and it’s not feeling quite right I’d recommend renting a pop-up camper as your next option. We found that with little ones it was nice to get them both up off the ground and also nice to have a place to get out of the sun or have some downtime in the afternoons. Things to keep in mind if you are renting a pop-up camper. You need to have a car with a trailer hitch in order to pull them. They are small and not very heavy but this is actually something I overlooked the first time I rented one and had to borrow my best friends truck to pull the darn thing. And while they are easy to figure out there will be a bit of a learning curve when you pick it up so be prepared to get a tutorial and spend 20 minutes or so at the rental place. Some pop up campers have AC units in them which gives you options for staying at RV parks and Texas parks that have electrical hookup spots as options. You’ll have to ask for those specifically when calling to see if they have spots though so keep that in mind as well.
Make it easy on yourself.
For your first few times camping, I recommend making it as easy on yourself as possible. Maybe only go for just one night. Borrow every single thing you can. Make cooking easy too. While it might be a fun idea to cook the little hamburger pockets in foil you used to have a summer camp it’s probably something you’ll want to work yourself into. Bring ready made sandwiches, breakfast cereal and even go out to eat dinner those first few times. Save the fire and all that fun for s’mores.
Plan a little.
For your first time camping with kids you are allowed to read 3, that’s right mommas, only 3, Pinterest blogs on camping with kiddos under a certain age. There are approximately 24,472,388 different great posts about camping with kiddos and they have amazing ideas in them. But you only need to read 3 and get 2 fun ideas for your first camping trip. Plan to swim, hike, collect “treasures” read books, play tag, look for bugs, dig in the dirt and cook s’mores. Other than that, save the rest for the next time.
Do not let your husband tell ghost stories around the campfire.
I’m not sure who ever thought this idea was fun. I hated it as a young adult. Absolutely no one wants to be scared while camping especially tiny people. So if you are considering watching the Blair Witch Project I suggest you do it AFTER you have gone camping.
Book in advance.
You may not know this but camping is very popular in Texas and a lof of the parks you can book ahead of time which means folks like yourself have probably already done so. Some of the most popular camping places book up a year in advance for popular holidays like Easter weekend, Memorial Day weekend, etc. Check the Texas Parks and Wildlife site for the Parks Page for details and reservations. https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/
Get everyone excited before you go.
There are so many fun books on camping at the library. Everyone camps it seems. The Berenstain Bears go camping. Olivia camps. Franklin camps. Elmo camps. Whoever your kiddos favorite character is probably has a book about camping. Reading those books at bedtime in anticipation of your trip can really help kids get a grasp on what to expect.
Unplug. It’s tempting to bring along gadgets and things “just in case” but when you don’t iPads or learning tablets you don’t really miss them. Do take a phone charger so you can take lots of pictures because camping creates a wonderful opportunity for amazing memories. So come on, let’s all go!