Camping with Littles

July 2020 | article & photos by jamie blotske

Camping with littles? Don't do it. Ha! I'm just kidding...

All jokes aside, camping with toddlers is work. Without a game plan, they will take your cake, eat it, and throw the crumbs in your face. 

Go back with me to the days before kids. Did you dream of going on camping trips with your children? It was a magical dream filled with stories by the fire, roasting marshmallows, morning walks in the fresh mountain air, skipping rocks in the nearby creek, and many other memory-making moments. Then, one day, you had a child (or a few), and reality slapped you in the face. Your dream quickly turned into a nightmare! 

Well, friends, I am writing to you today to be of some help (hopefully!). Camping with toddlers doesn't have to be a nightmare. It truly can be enjoyable, but it requires more work and finesse than simply packing up the tent and hitting the road. 

First Things First 

If you want to enjoy camping, your children need to enjoy it, too. If your children are unhappy and miserable, you will likely be as well. If there is one thing we learn early on in parenting, it's this: the way we used to do things doesn't exist anymore, at least for the time being. Our children should not rule our world, but if we want to teach them to love something as we do, we need to consider their needs above our own. If you want them to love camping, don't push them too far. Bring it to their level and allow them to have fun!    

Getting There & Where is There? 

Where are we going to pitch the tent or park the motorhome? 

With toddlers, the shorter the drive, the better. Someone once told me the "Two by Two Rule." When traveling with small children, do not drive more than 200 miles in a day and be off the road by 2pm. Once we implemented this rule into our camping trips, it made all the difference! From our own experience, the closer to home, the better. Having children under the age of 5 limits what you can and cannot do. You will essentially have the same experience whether you are 60 miles away in the Beartooth Mountains near Red Lodge or 360 miles away in Glacier National Park. As long as toddlers are in the picture, stay close to home!  

Parents, there is no shame in camping at a KOA or a similar type of campground. In fact, I highly recommend you stay at a KOA, especially if you and your family are new to camping. A campground, as such, is the perfect first step from your front door to the great outdoors. Most of these campgrounds come with amenities such as a pool, playground area, laundry facility, bike rentals, and even dog parks. What a great way to introduce camping to your littles!   

What's for Dinner? 

The central theme in all of this is "keep it simple." The same goes for mealtime. The less you have to pack, the better. When it comes to food prep, I shop for things that are either ready to eat, only require hot water/milk, or need minimal warming-up. I hate cooking and doing dishes while camping. I do enough of that at home! To limit this, I like to make things ahead of time that you can freeze, throw in the cooler, and warm-up when it's time to eat. Ground hamburger for tacos and spaghetti and pancakes for breakfast are great to prepare and freeze ahead of time. For those minds that go blank when it comes to meal planning, here is a look at my typical list... 

Activity Time 

A bored toddler is often an irritable and cranky toddler, so have some planned activities for them as individuals and as a family. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT bring all the toys! What's the point of camping if you bring the entire playroom along? It's good for our little ones to stretch and use their imaginations, and what better place to do so than in the wilderness?! A few toys are certainly fine. I recommend toys appropriate for the situation, such as plastic shovels, buckets, dump trucks, bikes, and jump ropes. These are things they can incorporate into outdoor play.  

Have a scavenger hunt! There are plenty of lists that you can find online and print off before your departure. Pinterest is an excellent source for scavenger hunt lists, as well as other outdoor activities for toddlers. 

Don't overlook the classics such as walking, hiking, and bike riding. These activities are easy and create space for quality family time. 

Ready, Set, Camp! 

I hope these tips will help as you plan your summer camping trip(s) with your little ones. In all of this, remember to throw your expectations to the wind! No matter how much planning and preparation you do, a toddler will do what a toddler does, and that includes a few tears, screams, and meltdowns. Things will never be perfect, but with the right game plan, you and your family have a better chance of genuinely enjoying your time. Here's to a great summer full of adventure and new experiences, despite the terrible two's! 

Originally printed in the July 2020 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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