We are blessed to have a close-knit family on my husband’s side that spends a lot of time together. It’s really a wonderful thing. We have fortunately also been able to go on a few holidays together. Most recently, our family holiday has been camping, because camping is obviously the most economical choice to accommodate so many people. To be more precise about what so many is: 8 adults, 3 children, 2 toddlers and 1 baby.
Yep. Call us desperate for a holiday!
Disclaimer: I am by no means a seasoned camper nor am I so skilled and knowledgeable about camping. This post is based solely on one camping trip. I am going to share some of our experiences and tips for CAMPING WITH KIDS.
Let’s begin then…
There’s A LOT You Have To Pack
This was the first thing we learned. Wow. You don’t realise how a hundred different things pile up. But the things I am talking about are only the really very necessary items. Children and babies need lots of different things which all add up. I am not talking about luxuries like your child’s whole collection of Barbies. There is only space for stuff you will realistically be needing. So abandon the idea of taking the whole bookset of The Lord of The Rings (that you dream somehow you will have so much time to read) and just take your tablet or e-reader with books downloaded to read. Definitely let your kids take a few of their toys (that you won’t mind getting a bit grubby or even lost) because toys are necessities. We actually only managed to fit everything into the trailer by accidentally leaving one of our mattresses behind. But no – please do not leave your mattress behind.
Camping Tip #1: Try to be realistic in what stuff your kids need and maximise your efficiency in packing. Use a list! Also, you best become a Tetris master at packing to help save space.
My husband grew up going camping with his family during the summer at Rocky Bay Caravan Park, situated on the Durban South Coast. There are many great places to camp, but as a family we felt we were lacking in Vitamin Sea. So we decided Rocky Bay would be a great place to go.
Camping by the beach! That sounds totally awesome, right? We imagined ourselves rolling out of our tents on a beautiful beachy morning right onto the beach sand… sipping our drinks out of coconut shells garnished with those little colourful umbrellas.
We didn’t think much of the actual travel time it takes to get there. Who cares? It’s the beach! For us, in reality it’s a 7 hour journey to get down to the coast. It made us feel a bit like old wagon pioneers, with our tightly packed van towing a heavily laden trailer.
Camping tip #2: Choose a campsite that is at most about 2 hours away or less just to keep things pleasant for your kids. Plus, if someone gets sick (I am still getting to the sick story part) OR you leave your mattress at home, a shorter distance is MUCH more bearable should you need to turn back. I am not saying never go camping to far-off places, but with young children, a closer destination really makes life less stressful. When the kids grow older and become more hardy, then it is more manageable to take them to other further camping places.
For the journey, be sure to make a lot of stops along the way for your kids to have potty breaks and to stretch their legs to run around.
Also, be overly prepared with their in-transit entertainment. Have car games, snacks, lots of fun and different music to listen to and songs to sing. Remember their comfort blankets and a few toys. Movie players and tablets are great, but be cautious with car-sickness. I remember having to get REALLY creative with entertaining our 5-month old baby in the car, as she had a boredom meltdown in her car chair and cried for the last hour of the car trip. I do not blame her for that; the travel time was really too much for her. Enduring the sound of a baby crying for an hour doesn’t leave anyone in good spirits.
Camping tip #3: Make sure you arrive at your campsite with enough daylight time for setting up. Due to some unforeseen circumstances we only left later in the day and got to the camping site in the evening. The kids were all tired from the car trip but they were overly excited. And it was supper time too. Then try set up tents in the dark to accommodate a bunch of grumpy adults and moggy children. We did it somehow – with a lot of patience and help from flashlights and phone lights.
Be Prepared For Rain Or Shine
Now don’t get me wrong, we loved the beach location, and we had great days out in the sand and sun. But the weather played up a bit so even being at a beach campsite didn’t mean we could always be at the beach.
Camping Tip #4: Be prepared for all sorts of weather! Bring your sunglasses and sunhats PLUS raincoats and gumboots. Bring some summer clothes and winter clothes. Being out in nature makes you very aware and vulnerable to every little change in climate, be it even the direction the wind is blowing. Also bring toys and activities for outdoors and indoors, for when the weather is awesome and when it isn’t so great. Be prepared or prepare yourself for a miserable camping experience.
Toilet Trips… Here We Go Again
Now we know children are little human beings whose bodies are growing too fast for the size of their bladders. And that is why they will almost always blurt out at the least opportune moments at the very last minute that they need the bathroom. But when you are camping, unless you do have a Porta-Potty, the closest bathroom may not be as close as your one at home. Depending upon your camp site of course, if there are ablutions or just dirt and leaves as your place to go. But where we went, the bathrooms were about a 2 minute walk. There was many a sprint made to make it there in time. So you may rack up some great numbers on your FitBit as you walk/run with your kids to the toilet a dozen times a day. This part actually made me glad my two younger children were still in diapers.
But what if they don’t make it to the bathroom in time? Yes, this really does happen. Thankfully, it is the outdoors, so some things done without a toilet are acceptable. But what if your child needs to throw up…?
This brings me to my next point.
In Sickness Or Health
Camping Tip #5: Bring extra blankets and clothing. You NEVER know how they may come in handy. Camping is pretty much all about being prepared. For anything.
So here is the story. One of the children somehow caught a stomach bug. Poor thing! She threw up on her blankets and pajamas and so other clean linen and clothing somehow had to be conjured for her. The dirty stuff was shoved into garbage bags to be washed at home.
Unfortunately… our greatest fears were realized when the tummy bug spread to others – 8 out of 14 of us, including me. This even happened the night before we had to pack up camp to go home. And what a night it was! It went from the sublime to the ridiculous when one person after the other was throwing up in the bushes behind the tents. Even mixing bowls and pots were used from the camping kitchen tent to throw up into. That night made saints of many in our family.
Camping Tip #6: Bring a fully stocked first aid kit which also includes some medication to help nausea and to prevent dehydration. Someone also had burnt themselves on the campfire while cooking supper. Thankfully I had brought some ointment and bandages to treat burns.
One last story I will share is when my husband found a beautifully preserved exo-skeleton of a crab in between the rocks in the rock pools. We decided to take it back home with us and we affectionately named it “Mr Krabs”. I carefully placed him in a plastic container for protection on the trip back home. However, we all were still nauseas and throwing up. At one point, when my son told me he needed to throw up in the car, the first container I could grab for him was… yep, you guessed it – the one with Mr Krabs inside. I am sure Mr Krabs was looking down from heaven feeling very relieved that he was dead. Brings new meaning to seafood chowder, doesn’t it?
Camping Tip #7: Bring lots of different containers and disposable bags for odds and ends and things like souvenir crabs and well, vomit.
I hope that as you read this post about camping with kids, that you are able to glean some bits and pieces of useful information that will aid you in your decisions for your next family camp-trip.
Camping is a great way to have a family holiday. It is affordable and it teaches children how to work for their holiday as well. But even with the tough things we went through on our camping trip, we made wonderful memories. We laugh about all the awful parts now. I should also mention that Rocky Bay is a very nice caravan park, there was a lot of things for the kids to do.
I wish you all the very best for a safe and enjoyable camping trip where you will make wonderful memories as a family!
Oh and please don’t forget to pack your mattresses.