Camping, although is a new concept for me; my husband has grown up camping throughout his childhood. Our very first camping experience was eight years ago when my husband and I went on a rather romantic weekend away. We couldn’t afford a hotel so we camped. It was not glamourous and it was freezing cold, but it was a good excuse for us new love – birds to get cosy in that tent. A few years later, we took our kids and dogs camping for the first time to Wales and it was a brilliant experience.
This year, we went camping but with an addition of a toddler. We went to the Lake District. It is surrounded by some of England’s highest mountains and a lot of beautiful lakes. We camped in a small town called Keswick. It was a hidden gem as all the places we wanted to go were already booked up. Our campsite only allowed families and couples. They had a strict ‘no group’ policy and requested absolute silence after 10pm.
We climbed some really high mountains. We went on some rather dangerous freestyle hikes (the ones with no ropes etc, it is not recommended at all). We swam in pristine clean lake waters and went on some great walks in the fields and farms that surrounded our campsite. Children had a lot of fun simply playing in the company of sheep, horses and cows.
It rained two nights that we camped, but there is something so cosy and magical about being huddled up inside your tent while the pitter patter of the rain puts you gently to sleep. We got woken up by galloping horses or the bellowing sheep all of which is so much better than the garbage collectors that make rounds on our street back home at 6am. All in all, our experience of camping with a toddler, plus two children and two dogs was spectacular.
Having said that, toddlers are pretty unpredictable and unreasonable. So you never know how would they take camping if they don’t know what it entails. A little bit of preparation and some planning goes a long way. I totally winged it this time, but it was so successful that I have chosen to write down a few tips that might come handy if you are planning a trip with a toddler.
1. What is camping?
I highly recommend familiarising your toddlers with the concept of camping. It all starts with picnics. Introduce the idea of enjoying picnics and outdoor bbq. Take them out in the evenings or visit enough people for a stay so children are used to falling asleep outside of their comfortable bed. For us, because we co-sleep, RoRo never has a problem falling asleep. But he has also been taken out late at night and visited a lot of people including a trip to India. So he is used to change in sleeping circumstances.
I also remember watching Peppa Pig talk about camping. Everytime, Peppa Pig went camping, I told RoRo about our upcoming trip and made it sound all so exciting, “Should we go camping? It will be so much fun sleeping in a tent.” Within days, RoRo started saying, “Just like RoRo”, everytime Peppa Pig went camping.
This way when we were actually headed to camping, he understood what we were doing. We were going camping.
2. Plan Long Drives
It was just over 10 hrs drive for us to get to our camping destination. It is unrealistically long to expect a toddler to enjoy the drive, whilst being cramped in with all the luggage, dogs and very excited and noisy siblings.
So we broke the journey half way by stopping over at my mother in laws for the night. So we had two 5 hrs long drive in two days. It was easier than one 10 hr long drive.
I would highly recommend breaking up the journey one way or the other. Book a travelogue or stay at a friends/family. Also try and stop every 2 hrs in between journeys for toilet breaks and to stretch everyone’s legs. It is not only good for children but probably safe for the driver too. Nothing worse than a tired driver.
This is part of planning your drive. Don’t drive just after the baby has woken up if your child has a tendency to be boisterous after sleep and restless in the car. I always take my children and dogs for a play in the park or a walk around the block before our drives. We drive just before naptime, so that 30 to 40 mins into the drive the toddler falls asleep and we can cover most of our drive whilst the baby is asleep.
4. Service Stations
We love a bit of service station time. We often stop after the toddler wakes up from his nap, by which time we would have covered more than half of our journey. Once we have fueled up car and humans alike from the service station, we get back in the car with another couple of hours tolerance for the drive.
Always carry plenty of snacks. We went through four bags of crisps, a whole bag of dates and plenty of oranges and apples. It is a no brainer and we might have indulged a bit too much on those crisps but because it is a bit of a novelty in our household, the crisps were a great distraction when the toddler was struggling.
6. Think Layers
In terms of clothing, always think layers. Even in summer, camping can get very cold at night. We went up north and the weather can be pretty unpredictable and cold over there. Be prepared for the rain if you live in a country like UK where it rains throughout the year.
We carried enough jumpers and blankets and even though it felt like we had over-packed; we did not regret it because it did rain and it did get freezing cold.
7. Baby Carrier
If you are planning hikes and long walks, pre-plan how you are going to carry your toddler. I would highly recommend using a baby carrier especially if the area you are visiting is all woodland and mountains like ours. A stroller would only make your life difficult. We climbed some seriously dangerous mountains. And whilst RoRo did an incredible job at climbing some parts of it, for his safety, we had to stick him in a baby carrier and carry on climbing the slippery, rocky bits.
8. Accessories For Dogs
I could do a whole separate blog about camping with dogs but I will throw this one in here.
Dog stakes, are a well worth investment. They are stakes are like poles that you dig into the ground and it comes with a long line that you can tie your dogs to. This gives the dogs the freedom to move around the tent area, without you having to worry about their whereabouts.
Collar and Tag: This one is a given, but believe it or not my dogs did not have a collar because they wear a harness. But somehow collar makes more sense when camping because it is more comfortable to sleep in and you don’t want to faff around with a harness at 2am when your dog needs a wee. Update your tag or get a new one if the details on your existing tag isn’t visibl, incase your dog decides to do a runner.
Food & Treats: My dogs eat a raw diet. I tried carrying raw frozen food with me last time but my dogs didn’t want to eat it. i think they went off after 24 hrs of being thawed. And when you are hiking with them, you want to make sure, just like you they are nourished enough. So I switched them on to dry kibbles a week before camping. Those were easier to carry and ofcourse, my dogs loved them because of the novelty factor. Also remember to carry enough treats that you can pop in your backpack on your walks and hikes to keep their energies and enthusiasms up.
Remember, climbing up a mountain and reaching up the top may give you a sense of achievement, but it won’t do the same to your dogs. If the hike is difficult, all they will feel is tired. A treat would be a fabulous reward.
9. Potty Training/Nappies
If you have a potty training toddler like ours, you do not want to ruin that by putting them back in nappies and undoing days of hardwork. We carried our potty with us and we brought heaps of pants with us. To our surprise, RoRo I think got himself potty trained on his own in this trip. He was always good about asking for a potty for wee or stopping by the side of the road but he also asked for a potty on our trip in times of no.2.
We did bring nappies with us in case that was the route we had to take. We used cloth nappies but for the convenience of this trip, we took biodegradable but disposable nappies with us. But if you want to cloth nappy during camping, why not. Just carry a clothes line to air dry your nappies. If it is sunny, your cloth nappies will thank you.
10. Toys, Books & Snuggly Toy
Even though the car is often jam-packed, always make space for your toddler favourite toys, books and atleast one cuddly toy. These things don’t just don’t come handy when camping but are great companions for road trips if your child is anything like RoRo, he’ll keep himself busy for hours with his own books.
Camping is a big adventure. It is a new place, a new living situation, long days, new people, new everything. A bit of familiarity would go a long way in grounding them when things get overwhelming, which we all know is a very frequent occurrence in a two year olds life.
We also brought our colouring set with us. All the toys, books and colours are a great way for parents to have some downtime. It is also a nice way to keep them occupied when you are packing up or simply wanting to wake up a bit slowly in the morning.
If you are like me you would not plan your camping around your monthly cycle. My period started literally the day we arrived. So plan your trip carefully. But again, if you are like me, it won’t really bother you that much. Just carry supplies and look for a camping site with better facilities and perhaps pitch your tent near the facilities.
If you have any tips and experiences to share, let me know in the comments below.