For many families, this summer has been the summer of camping. Across the country, with other vacations and plans cancelled, many have instead turned to the age-old art of getting back to nature.
RV rentals and purchases have increased across the country, campsites are booked solid, and even parents like me, whose ideal night includes being tucked in front of a giant fan, are considering taking the plunge into family camping for the first time.
Our family of seven—five kids, including a very active toddler—recently joined the ranks of official campers this summer, and I have to say, it was everything I thought it would be: a lot of work, a bit exhausting, but overall, a special time of memories and new experiences.
My biggest hesitation when trying out camping was that taking a trip with our baby, but with a little bit of extra prep, it turned out to be a lot of fun. So if you’re curious about camping with a baby and happen to be a bit of a camping newbie like yours truly, here are some tips to get started.
Browse Instagram for Advice
Before we took our first family camping trip, I bookmarked several posts I came across while scrolling a few camping hashtags to get real-life tips from experienced campers. Thanks to some helpful commenters, I learned a few strategies, like buying RV-only toilet paper (who knew that was a thing?) and bringing along a large tote with a lid to stash shoes outside. Thanks, Instagram moms of the world!
Do a “Trial Run” First
We purposefully planned a quick overnight camping trip for our first camping experience, because honestly, we had no idea what to expect. I knew that the best way to learn what to pack, what not to pack, and how to plan would be just to take the plunge—so that’s what we did. One 24-hour trip took me countless hours of prep and planning, but it was a necessary trial-by-fire, and I knew it would make the “real” trip run much more smoothly.
Prepare for Your Baby to Get Really, Really Dirty
There is no way around this: your kids will get filthier than you ever thought possible and you just have to be OK with it. Bring tons of wet wipes, pack clothes you don’t mind if they ruin, and practice looking the other way when you see the baby eating that cracker they dropped in the dirt, because it’s just going to happen.
Get Takeout for Dinner On Your Way Back
The most exhausting part of camping is definitely coming home. You’re exhausted, you’re all filthy, you have 10,004 things to unpack and the last thing you will want to do is cook when you come back. So save yourself some stress and 100% plan on takeout or pizza for the night you return. You will thank me for this later!
Think Outside of the Box for Essentials
With a baby, your camping essentials list will look a little different than normal. Although my husband was not exactly happy about what I considered “essential” for camping, I didn’t care, because any thing I had to help us get through intact was a win in my book. My out-of-the-box camping with kids checklist included:
- My daughter’s ride-on push car toy with a handle for a quick place to stick the baby while we were at the campsite so she wasn’t constantly in the dirt.
- Zippered freezer bags for everything—snacks, more snacks, sunscreen, stuff I didn’t want to get wet, car keys, phone, extra diapers and wipes, prepped meals, etc.
- A box fan—100% necessary for cooling down and for the white noise for baby’s nap and bedtime!
- A mini Keurig—yes, it’s a luxury and sure, you could get fancy and budget-friendly with something like a pour-over or coffee press, but a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do sometimes, OK?
- My beloved Evenflo all-terrain stroller wagon (folds super easily) for transporting baby + beach gear.
Great for the beach and the campsite!
Keep Your Expectations Low
My last tip might be the most important one to actually enjoying the camping experience with a baby in tow and it’s both the easiest and the hardest: keep your expectations low.
Camping, I’ve come to discover, is so much less about doing anything specific—like making ‘smores or going on the picture-perfect hike through the woods—and more all about the memories and experiences you build together as a family. Our favorite camping memories have been the simplest ones, like playing a board game in the camper together, going on a walk through the campsite while I sipped my morning coffee, or just watching my daughter toddle around in the sand as the sun set.
We have the opportunity in many ways to have a slower start into fall, with many schools starting virtually or delaying the beginning of the school year, so if you’re considering taking your family on a last-minute camping trip, I would 10/10 recommend it.
Just don’t forget extra baby wipes. And the coffee. No judgement here, mamas.