Camping with kids: The no nonsense guide

Recently, I went on a camping trip to Yosemite with some friends. Not only was this my first “tent” camping trip, but it was also the first time my then 9 month old was coming along for the ride, too.

Our friends were very experienced with camping, so they helped a lot with the preparation. The main thing I was worried about of course was keeping my baby warm, fed, and entertained!

Many new parents may think that camping with kids is out of the question, but considering one of my friends also brought along his 2.5 year old daughter – and she had lots of fun.

I think parents are missing out if they don’t take their kids camping even if they’re very young!

Going camping is a way of getting closer to nature, breathing in gallons and gallons of fresh air, and just escaping from the daily grind.

This is especially true if you live in a city – your kids probably don’t get much outdoor time either, and a camping trip can really rejuvenate everyone!

Plus, you’ll be making great memories that will last a lifetime, and getting your kids into a great hobby from an early age.

What makes a successful camping trip?

Before you head off for a camping trip with the kids, it is important to prepare thoroughly. Planning can save you some serious issues along the line, so be sure to do all the necessary planning before you start your camping trip.

I know you must be thinking: camping is all about just taking a backpack and going in Bear Grylls style! With young kids, your trip will be a success if you’ve planned everything in advance.

In this case, it’s a wiser idea to pack some extra things in case of emergencies(with kids, you never know when one will come up).

But it also helps to travel light, so there will be certain things you’ll want extras for and certain things you can live without.

Choosing a campsite

First and foremost, for a safe, successful camping trip with your kids, you’ll want to choose a campsite that is frequented by other people, preferably in a national or state park.

These campsites are well maintained, patrolled regularly by rangers who make sure that animals don’t get too close, and have amenities like food storage lockers, parking spots, and proper toilets.

If it’s your first trip, you’ll want to try and make sure the divide between home comforts and full on nature is smoothly bridged so your kids aren’t shocked by the sudden change!

The campsite we went to in Yosemite was a perfect example of nature and amenities mixed seamlessly.

There were proper spots to light fires, park your vehicle, food storage lockers, and of course bathrooms(no showers, only toilets).

This way we were able to enjoy the outdoorsy parts of camping like lighting a fire, cooking outdoors, and sleeping in a tent, without the inconvenience of having to use a porta potty or go behind a tree any time we wanted to relieve ourselves!

Choose a campsite that is frequented by other people, preferably in a national or state park.

Best campsites for kids

Not all campsites are as suitable for kids; this is something you will notice when you check out the various available campsites across the United States, or in the rest of the world if you are considering an international camping trip.

Campsites suitable for children will usually have a lot of fun activities on or around the campground. Naturally, this is not always a big playground, it could also be access to the beach or the local petting zoo.

So, be sure to check out the facilities near the campground to ensure your children will stay entertained. Do not limit yourself to the facilities that are available on the campground alone.

One of the sad realities about campsites is that families often get placed in the noisier areas of the campsite; this means you might end up in a camp area where you get less than you have paid for.

To avoid this from happening and get a genuine family-friendly camping site, be sure to check online reviews from other families; this can give you better insight into the camping area and its benefits.

Finally, some camping sites have loads of facilities on the campsite. These types of camp sites tend to be ideal for children, since there is always something fun to do and it requires a minimal amount of travelling for the parents.

Facilities that can be available on the campsite are incredibly diverse.

Common types of facilities you can expect on a family-friendly campsite include a playground, kid-friendly restaurant, workshops, and even sports such as archery and bike riding.

In short, plenty of things to do during the family camping trip.

How to reach the campsite

The next issue is reaching the campsite. Depending on where you are, that may mean several hours of driving.

We drove from Bakersfield to Yosemite’s south entrance, and that was a good four hour drive.

Getting to Yosemite did not take long, but once we were inside the park, it was another hour to hour and a half before we reached the campsite.

During long car rides, you’ll want to keep your kids as comfortable and happy as possible.

This means making sure they’re:

  • Well rested
  • Well fed
  • Not holding the urge to go to the bathroom
  • Entertained
  • Getting some space

If you’re one of those fortunate parents whose kids fall asleep as soon as the car starts moving, you’re blessed! The entire trip should be a breeze for you 🙂

Make sure you have plenty of snacks and drinks with you in the car. Pack healthy snacks like fruits, veggies, seeds, and nuts for double the benefit.

Young kids, especially when trapped in a car seat may get restless much quicker than older kids. To get around this, plan strategic stops where everyone can get out of the car, stretch their legs, and go to the bathroom if need be.

Your four hour trip will end up taking 5 to 6 hours, but at least it won’t feel like an eternity!

For entertainment, there are of course iPads and screens, but if you want to do an electronics-free trip, there are plenty of games you can play with your kids to pass their and your time.

For really young kids, just pack some of their favorite toys with them so they have company. It’s really useful to carry along their security toy if they have one.

Camping tip: Make sure you have plenty of snacks and drinks with you in the car. Pack healthy snacks like fruits, veggies, seeds, and nuts for double the benefit.

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Best travel games for kids

While you are traveling, there are some fun games you can play with the kids and prevent them from becoming bored. Below, we have listed some of the most popular travel games.

These can be played while traveling to the campsite, but they can also be played during the camping trip as well.

One of our personal favorites is also a classic, more specifically Travel Scrabble. The game Travel Scrabble is a variation on Scrabble. Even though the game is played in the same manner, the overall size of Travel Scrabble is a lot smaller than the original game.

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Another fun activity while traveling could be a writing tablet. Writing tablets are simple and affordable. With them, kids can create fun drawings or messages, and simply erase them when they want to try something different. It certainly beats taking paper and coloring pencils.

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We do recommend taking some paper and coloring pencils for the camping trip as well, since this is an activity that can entertain kids all day long.

Finally, you could consider another classic called children’s bingo! The concept of children’s bingo is the same as that of adult bingo, only the cards are more child-friendly.

There are even bingo games that contain images of things you may encounter along the road. They are removed once the object is encountered. So, this is a great option to keep children entertained during the drive to the camping site.

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What to pack

Not sure what to pack for the upcoming camping trip with the kids? No worries, because we have listed all the things you need to put on your checklist. Go through the overview below to ensure you have everything you need!

Clothing

Make sure you have at least once change of clothes per day. However, since children can have accidents, or are more likely to get their clothes dirty on a camping trip, it can be best to account for extras too.

Meals

Even though you can find some food along the road and even around the campsite, it is a good idea to plan some meals beforehand. It is especially recommended to have stuff for breakfast, since many families do not leave their caravan or the campsites for fun activities until after breakfast.

Snacks

Running around the campsite can be incredibly tiring; therefore, it is important to get some snacks for the kids during the camping trip too. Ideally, you want to take some healthy snacks, which provide the kids with lots of vitamins and minerals. Of course, when you pack snacks, also make sure the snacks can be stored for as long as you plan to be on holiday.

Drinks

You need plenty of drinks for your camping trip too! While you can restock on drinks when you are on the campsite, you should always take enough drink for the trip and at least another day or two of extras. Also, make sure you have located a small supermarket or local shop before you leave; this ensures you can stock up on more food and drink once you arrive.

Shelter

No matter how much you plan for your camping trip, you can never avoid bad weather conditions. Therefore, make sure you take some shelter! Most campers will take a tarp, enabling them to create some shelter for the car or even the outdoor furniture when they require it. Of course, other types of shelter can be considered too.

Sleeping

When you go camping in the RV, it is likely you already have all the bedding you need. Still, camping with children can lead to some unforeseen circumstances, especially with younger children who still wet the bed. So, when you are heading on your camping trip, take plenty of spare bedding and even some washing powder so you can wash bedding if you need to do so.

Toiletries and sanitation

Toiletries and cleaning products should also be on your shortlist, especially when you take the kids on your camping trip. Even if you take your own RV for the trip, it is best to clean it while you are on the trip then waiting until you get back home. Remember, the last thing you want to deal with after a relaxing holiday is cleaning up the aftermath.

Activities

As we mentioned earlier, it is important to take some things with you to keep the kids entertained. First, you will need something to keep the kids entertained on the trip to the campground, which could be one of the activities we mentioned earlier. However, do not forget about activities the children can do on a rainy day, since nothing puts a damper on your holiday than unforeseen bad weather.

First aid

A first aid kit is an essential for your holiday, since both yourself and the kids could have a need for it. A good first aid kit may include plasters, antiseptic and bandages, but also pain medication and similar items.

Packing tips

When you go on a camping trip, you need to stay as organized as possible. Of course, when you are taking the kids on your trip, it is likely you will need to do a lot more packing than usual.

So, when you pack, make sure you get plenty of extra boxes or tote bags for all those extra toys and activities.

Using tote boxes for your camping trip can be especially useful, since it enables you to split your stuff up.

For example, you can use a different tote box for each day.

You could also use one tote box per tent, ensuring each tent has the right supplies immediately.

What to do once you’ve reached

Upon reaching the campground, you’ll want to unload your supplies and pitch your tents.

Try your best to reach during daylight hours as it’s not easy to pitch a tent in the dark. I’ve tried it, and it’s quite frustrating!

It will be even more frustrating when you have some cranky carsick kids waiting for you!

Pitching up the tent is a fantastic way to involve your kids – ask them to help you bring the tent over, spread out the tarp, thread the fiberglass rods, and make sure the tent is nice and secure.

With the tents up, it’s time to get everyone together to unload supplies from the car into the tent and food locker.

Move your sleeping bags and any lighting if you have it to your tent, and then start moving your food from the car into the food locker.

Hopefully you will have followed the steps in organizing your food by meal/snack into smaller containers so you can just pile them into the food locker in the order you’re going to take them out.

The last step is to light a fire.

If you reach after dark and there are no lights, you can position your car strategically and turn on your headlights for some ambient light. You should also carry camping lights - the kinds you can wear on your head.

Staying warm

While not all camping destinations will be cool/cold, some of the most fantastic campsites in the USA are in mountainous areas. When we went to Yosemite, it was late April, but it still got pretty brisk at night and you’d need some way to stay warm.

Staying warm is one of the most important parts of camping, since there are no insulated buildings to protect you from the cold weather.

Being too cold can also keep you from getting a good nights sleep, which will leave you tired for the next day’s activities. In short: staying warm is CRITICAL!

Packing warm clothes is a must, as you read above.

You also want to use a nice and cozy sleeping bag. This will serve two purposes: it’ll keep you warm, and a fluffier sleeping bag will protect you a bit more from the rocks on the ground.

You’ll also want to start a fire in the designated fire pit. There’s no feeling quite as comforting as sitting around a warm and toasty fire warming up your hands and feet from the cold weather.

Another thing you can pick up are hand and feet warmers – the kinds that skiers use. These nifty little things are perfect for kids, too(provided they’re old enough to understand not to bite into the packet).

Lighting a fire is a great team-building activity and a vital life skill to teach older children. Even learning the basics of how a good fire works and lasts is a valuable lesson – no matter if you’re using pre-cut logs and matches to start the fire.

Lighting a fire is a great team-building activity and a vital life skill to teach older children. Even learning the basics of how a good fire works and lasts is a valuable lesson - no matter if you're using pre-cut logs and matches to start the fire. #camping

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Fire safety

To ensure a safe trip with the kids, never leave your children unsupervised in the RV or elsewhere. Remember, children have access to all the kitchen equipment, since it is usually included in the general living space of the RV. To ensure your children remain safe, be sure to apply stricter fire safety regulations in the RV.

Before you leave for your camping trip, make sure you have your RV insurance in order. Even the safest among RV owners can encounter a fire, so it is always better to be safe than sorry.

In addition to having insurance, there are other things you can do to ensure fire safety during your camping trip. One of these things is making sure all the smoke detectors work. Make sure the smoke detector is positioned correctly and replace the batteries before you head off.

Gas and electrical appliances should also be checked. Experts recommend checking gas and electrical appliances at least once a year; this ensures that all your equipment is in working order.

Do you intend to barbecue on your camping trip? If so, please make sure that there is at least two meters of distance between the barbecue and your RV. Also, ensure children do not play around the BBQ, since accidental knock-overs could cause serious damage.

Finally, be sure to have some fire blankets and fire extinguishers on hand in your RV. Even though you might not need them, it is best to have the equipment on hand in case of a genuine fire emergency.

Be sure to have some fire blankets and fire extinguishers on hand!

Dividing responsibility

Even though you may be inclined to do everything yourself during the camping trip, just to make sure everything is done right, it is usually better to divide responsibilities among the children.

There are some things the kids can help you with and in turn it could make them feel more included in the camping trip.

When dividing responsibilities, you can make one of the children responsible for the cleaning. Of course, make sure the cleaning responsibilities are age appropriate.

For example, putting the dishes in the dishwasher or cleaning off the table after dinner. General tidying up can also be a task you give to the children.

In addition to cleaning duties, you can also make one of the children responsible for the food. We are not talking about cooking here, since the kids will be too young to do this safely.

Instead, they can keep an eye on the food stock and notify you when something is required. They can also make sure everything is stored properly in the refrigerator after a meal.

Hiking and activities

Check the surrounding area for child-friendly activities. If you are staying on a child-friendly campground, there are bound to be a bunch of fun activities around.

Once the children are a little older, you can certainly take them on a hiking trip. You can even choose a more active camping trip that involves some bike rides.

Be sure to speak to the kids beforehand and see if they fancy anything. It sure beats sitting in front of the television all day!

Of course, when you go off hiking with the kids, you must make sure the hiking activity is suitable for the kids. Ensure the walk is doable for them and choose a hiking route that is child-friendly.

When going hiking with the children, you must take the appropriate supplies too. Ensure you have at least one meal you all can enjoy along the way and take plenty of water.

There are other activities you and the kids can enjoy during your camping trip; this includes fishing, a trip to the local nature park, a zoo visit, and so much more.

Before you leave, be sure to check the surrounding area for child-friendly activities. If you are staying on a child-friendly campground, there are bound to be a bunch of fun activities around.

Cleaning up

Before you leave the RV for another year, be sure to do your final maintenance check. Even though you will have kept on top of cleaning during the trip itself, there are always small things you may have forgotten. So, before you lock up until the next camping trip, do a final maintenance run.

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