Tips for Camping with Children
We are pleased to present a guest blog with helpful tips for camping with kids from Courtney Garveink. Courtney was a birth doula with Gold Coast and a HypnoBirthing instructor.
As I sit here now, my husband and two girls, ages 5 and 4, are in our garage working on our fishing boat. Well, my husband is working. The girls are probably climbing up and down the ladder, in and out of the boat, pretending to talk over the CB radio, and swirling around on the seats.
We have several week-long camping and fishing vacations set for the year. My husband, who is a very good handy-man, likes to be super ready for our trips, so he starts prepping for summer vacations in the winter…this is our normal. We have taken our children fishing and/or camping since they were in my tummy. It’s the kind of vacationing we love most. Spending time together, showing our children the beauty of animals and nature.
We don’t live in a large city, or even a city at all. The closest gas station is about 5 miles away. So, when we choose our vacations for the year, it’s not too surprising that we like to be around nature, camp fires, a lake, hiking, and waterfalls. If you are thinking, “This sounds good but I have babies or little ones”, then hopefully you’ll find some good advice in what I write. We are certainly not experts on the subject, but may be able ease your concerns of how to start getting into the camping spirit while your children are little with some ideas on some low-maintenance vacationing.
It started when I was about 6 months pregnant with our first daughter. We’d take family trips to the U.P. to a large inland lake and go walleye fishing. There were about 15 of us that would rent a large house for the week and fish morning, afternoon, and evening. My husband and I were fishing in a little 14-foot fishing boat. Again, the following year, when our daughter was about 9 months old and I was pregnant with our next, we made the 10-hour drive to the west end of the U.P. with that same little fishing boat. This time we packed what felt like everything we owned, except a bed, in the boat and our truck. We even packed up the highchair and baby bullet (I was making baby food through the week), extra blankets for the bottom of the boat, extra toys and books, a little life jacket and lots of sunscreen for our little ginger. When we went out to fish, we laid a blanket or two down on the floor of the boat with a few toys and books, lotioned the little one with sunscreen, put a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses on her and set our lines in the water. We had a large beach umbrella that we tried to rig up, but it was a little top heavy to secure to the 30 year old aluminum watercraft, so we propped it inside the boat and tried to make a little fort with the beach towel to block some sun. Hey…we were new to parenting and using what resources we had. Each year gets better!
Now that they’re older, we try to find some falls to take the girls hiking to or a beach to look for gems. They’ve seen bear, deer, and eagles and yet they still get excited about chipmunks and squirrels. They’ve caught walleye, perch, and blue gill, which is so fun to see.
In recent years, we’ve started camping. We aren’t “camper” campers…no, we have a tent that sleeps all of us, including our 6 year old lab. Yes, he goes on all our vacations, and has his own bed in our tent and fishes too. When the girls are sleeping-in in the mornings, he is my husband’s fishing buddy on the boat. Luckily, we have been able to upgrade to a little bigger boat so we all have a bit more room to fish or play.
We have a designated boat bag for the girls that includes coloring books and crayons, reading books, blanket, extra sunscreen and some snacks…don’t forget toilet paper and a garbage bag…they have been known to hang over the side of the boat to go potty, after making the mistake of forgetting a bucket.
But back to the tent camping. We like to find state parks on decent inland lakes that look family friendly with clean bathhouses, playgrounds, maybe a beach area to go swimming. First thing we do when we arrive is set up our tents. We have an older tent from when my husband and I would camp. We use that tent like a storage room where we put all our clothes, pantry food, cookware, toys, etc. If it isn’t too warm and the girls want to get out of the sun for a bit, they go in there and color or play. Having a second “storage” tent has worked quite well. My husband can wake up early and get ready without ruffling our tent while we are still sleeping. Our sleeping tent is just that…for sleeping. I have a small battery operated lantern that we hang from the “ceiling” for the girls since at home they like a night light.
We all sleep on air mattresses with sleeping bags and pillows. The girls each have their own twin size mattress and glow in the dark sleeping bag, which they think is the greatest because it’s their very own and obviously, it glows! They each take a couple stuffed animals from home and tuck them in their sleeping bags with them at night. If they wake early and must go potty, the bathhouse is usually not far. I try to find campsites near them, for that reason.
Meals are planned before we leave for vacation. We try to do as much on open fire as we can for dinners. We have a grate that sits over the fire, hotdog sticks, and hobo pie makers. Cast iron skillets are amazing for breakfast and easy to clean. We take a large, cheap stock pot for washing whatever doesn’t go in the fire after use. I pack a tote with pantry foods and a tote with all my seasonings and kitchen supplies, which gets organized in the storage tent. I also have a tote designated for handy things I may or may not need…extension cord, duct tape, first aid, bug spray, axe for splitting wood, fire starter bricks, plastic bags, paper products, sunscreen…It probably sounds like we have sunscreen stashed in several areas, and we do, we are all fair skin with strawberry/red hair so sunscreen is very important when we are camping or on the water.
We found we like bug bracelets better than bugspray. They have 40 hours of wear and the children don’t stink like bug spray when the bracelets come off (I think we found them at Babies R Us but I believe Meijer has them as well).
Children are super adaptable. They don’t need extravagant vacations. When they were babies, I would think, “This seems like too much work just to vacation”. But we found they love it, they look forward to it every year, they remember years past, and little friends they’ve made that have become “pen pals”.
As the years progress, they are able to last longer in the boat before they are ready to go back. They each have their own fishing pole and tackle box that my husband gradually adds tackle to so they can pick their own when he sets up their lines. They also get to pick their bait, which are leeches and worms. My 5 year old loves playing with leeches, chasing me around the boat, laughing as I beg her to stop and nearly climb out of the boat because she knows I get squirmy with them! (Gross!) We’ve gone on nature walks through trails in the U.P. that end at look out points to beautiful waterfalls which are some of my favorite days, and costs very little money.
Checking out of social media and technology and just being together and doing things as a whole family is where our best memories are made. We spend our vacations as a family this way because we truly enjoy teaching our children these things and showing them an appreciation for all of nature.
Things don’t have to be harder because we have children. Sometimes it’s going back in time and becoming a kid at heart again to enjoy the simple things. That sounds cliché, but sometimes that’s when we connect best with our children.