Recently I had quite a few people requesting that I offer up some kind of post about camping with young children. Typically, I tend to shy away from that kind of thing on here only because I always feel silly taking the voice of authority on just about anything. It's just not my thing. However I figured it wouldn't hurt to share some of the tips and mindset we keep to ensure that camping as a large family is always more fun than stress.
Here, a handful of tips we lean on.
Excepting Disorganization : The first few camp trips of the season we are typically stressed out because of everything we either forgot or didn't prepare for. Naturally, as the camp weekends become more regular, we get better at what we include in our packing. But still, with this many people it's hard to have everything covered. I try to keep sane by running over the bare essentials, making a pile for each of the boys including things like their shoes, shorts, a few tee shirts, a sweatshirt, a pillow, blankets, and then all the regular stuff I know we all need like flashlights, radio, cooking tools, sunscreen, showering / first aid kit, ect. Once I have that all that packed I try and add things as I go but figure as long as we have the basics covered, anything that's left out is not going to make or break our trip. Also, Embracing the fact that we will never be 100 percent "prepared" makes it that much easier on me for sure. Some people can manage the art of preparedness, and I applaud those that can. But it's not us. Will most likely never be us. And I have come to accept that that's OK too.
Camp Close : Right now we tend to stick to what is familiar. Campsites that are not too far from home and where we know exactly what to expect as far as set up and amenities go. When the boys are all a littler older I assume we will be more up for adventure, hopefully branching out and camping in new and further locations, but for now they are satisfied by the simple facts of being away from home, in the dirt, "roughing" it for a weekend.
Make it A Two Day Affair : Because the baby is new, and the boys still need constant attention while camping, right now two nights feels perfect. When we camp close we will sometimes even just drive down for the night and head home late the following day. Occasionally Mike and Arlo will spend one additional night alone after we've gone back. To hit up the local skate parks or snag some more surf time but for me, I am usually ready for a hot shower and our regular routine after two nights.
Accept That it is Not Going to be "Easy:" A number of people were quite shocked that we were out camping as family when Hayes was just over two weeks old. "Isn't it HARD to camp with a newborn?! It is. In fact, it's very hard. To camp with a newborn, while looking after an ever curious four year old who likes to wander off every chance he gets, in addition to a notoriously neurotic five year old who can find fault with anything from sand in his shoe to the wrong kind of cereal, on top of an eight year old with a non stop need for new adventures making my head spin for a better part of the day. But like I always say, you don't have four children and expect anything in your day to day life to be "easy." Camping as a family of six isn't easy. But that doesn't take away from the overall enjoyment in it because I know it's one of the rare things we can still do as a family that doesn't cost a fortune and keeps them entertained better than anything else we've tried. And, it's nice to be outdoors away from television, ipads, and routine.
No Frills Food: Eventually, I hope to become a better onsite cook and get a little more creative with our meals. But for now we tend to stock up on simple snacks like nuts, cheese, sandwiches, fresh fruit, cereal for breakfast and bbq'd hot dogs wrapped in tortillas and grilled corn on the cob for dinner.
Forget the Toys & Gadgets : I use to be a wreck trying to include all their favorite outdoor toys, coloring books, tools, water guns, and gadgets until I finally realized - just recently - that they actually don't need any of them. That when they don't have those things, they make better use of their surroundings. The dig in the sand, or the dirt and find sticks and rocks in the brush. They sit around a camp fire, climb tress, and run wild with friends on the beach or around neighboring sites. Letting go of the idea of packing all the right toys has been a big deal for me. It means one less thing I have to consider and one less thing they come to expect. Seems these days many of us can get caught up in all the ideas behind what we believe to be our kid's "must have" when really, food shelter and warm clothes is where it all ends on these kinds of weekends. Mind are happy with so much less while camping. And that in itself is a welcoming relief.
RV Campers > Tents : Make a world of difference. Mike and I have never been tent campers. Since our early years as a couple, prior to all these kids, we had an RV we drove everywhere - even to Mexico one summer, and back. Having it now, with a family this size, is a major luxury. It allows us ample space to make food, take naps, recover from the sun and so on. The one we currently use Mike bought for 500 dollars a few years ago, gutting and restoring the bulk of it in a half assed, super cheap restoration that saw bamboo coverings and discarded hardwood floors where we knew it would make for a cozy, but practical place to hang out. One that we are never too concerned about anything getting ruined or broken and therefore an especially easy place to relax. Very recently we also added this new vintage stand alone tent that connects to our VW bus to camp in when we don't want to lug that big RV to certain sites. The tent itself reminds me of an old termite tarp, but we love it because it's tall enough for us to walk around in it and the boys seem to enjoy the variety - sleeping on old military cots we picked up for 10 and 15 dollars at a local flea last month. Both set ups make for a great space to easily enforce naps when they (or I) really need them. The fact of which, above all else, has been our real saving grace for years.
Anyway, there you have it. I ask that you please forgive any current grammatical errors in these new posts. I might find the time to draft a post these days, but can't usually not an hour more to properly edit.
Also, I am sure I left a few things out. Feel free to include anything you might want to share in regards to you and your family's own camp habits.