Camping with Toddlers - how to survive (& have fun)!
Last summer we went TENT camping as a family, not once... but twice!! First time we went to the Brittany coast and stayed in a lovely place called Benodet. The second time we went down to the south of France and split our week between the Pyrenees and the coast. The sites ranged from more basic 3* to super blingy all the facilities you could wish for, 5*. To be perfectly honest, I liked both, for different reasons.
Now this may not seem too crazy a thing, but as we had an almost 2.5 year old (who has just potty trained) and a bum-shuffling one year old. It was full on and felt like quite an achievement to not only do it, but to also enjoy camping with a toddler and baby.
Next week, we are going camping again for our big August family holiday to the promisingly blingy looking Suneila 5* campsite on Ile de Re, France. I cannot wait. Fitting everything we need into the car and roof box is going to be like some form of intricate puzzle, but I'm sure we will manage it. We are staying on the same site as friends this time, so we have more people to drink wine with, and for the kids to have some crazy fun playing with.
The excitement and prospect has caused me to reminisce about last year. The highs (the full on outdoorsieness and intimate togetherness that is involved in living in a tent) and the lows (rain, and a bumshuffling baby). So whilst I do this, here are my...
Top Tips for camping with young children and babies:
- Be as organised as you can, get in the right mind set, and relax. I found once I relaxed into the relative chaos we all had a lot more fun. And it is chaotic.
- Take as big a tent as you can afford. Ours is huge and it makes everything so so much easier. Space helps (especially if you have 2 rambunctious toddlers and a 6ft4 husband!)
- We got a lot of our camping gear from Decathlon - they have well designed and well made kit, at really competitive prices. Definitely worth a look.
- Practice putting up the tent before you go, so you are as slick and swift as possible. We have invested in an Air Beam tent (Vango Eclipse 600) and it is a dream to put up. I reckon I could even do it on my own. Obviously, I won't though... Camping requires team work!
- Request a pitch as close to the wash block as you can. This makes your camping life an awful lot easier.
- Request a pitch with shade. Check, at least once, before you go that you have been allocated a pitch with shade. In doing so, emphasise each time that you have young children. Of course this doesn't guarantee your request...and if it hasn't been allocated, it's always worth re checking to see if one is available before you set up home. Respite from the sun can be welcome.
- When setting up the tent: child containment is key - iPads in the air conditioning of the car was our trick. And snacks. We had an explore of the site when we arrived, so they had a run around, and then we got to work. Whilst it might be fun at home having the kids help out banging in pegs etc... the reality is in the heat and excitement you will be one parent down as inevitably one will be on child escape duties. Save them a peg to bash in at the end.
- Containment is also key more generally. With my then bum-shuffling 12 month old, we needed the pushchair to ensure she stayed where we left her at certain times, like preparing meals etc. It also doubled up as a highchair as we were unable to hire one on one holiday.
- I found naps etc were difficult, and on a couple of days we purposefully drove somewhere around the middle of the day so they would sleep. Or bike trailer naps worked well. If you're really jammy they'll bike trailer nap and you can pull up to a restaurant and enjoy lunch, wine, ice cream, - or even all three. It can happen, I promise!
- Fighting to have a normal bedtime proved futile and we just put them to bed as it started to get dark after they had a boogie at the disco - so cute (then we drank wine outside the tent). Does this mean lie ins? We are lucky with our 2, but don't bank on it!
- Despite warm weather, I took extra blankets which I popped over each of them when we went to bed - as the temperature dropped in the early hours.
- Take a washing line and pegs. You may end up using the expensive on site washing machines, but for a few items here and there a tube of clothes travel handwash is a good solution.
- Take a potty (if your nuts enough to go camping shortly after having started potty training, and even if not). I will bet good money that it won't be just the kids who will use it!!!
- After a wet Ready Bed (these are ace for kids camping) due to an out-of-character nocturnal accident one night one - we reverted to "camping pants" at night (regular pull ups, but this made them sound more exotic to toddler sensibilities!!). These were a novelty as we had never used pull ups before. Camping pants at night will be in use again this year for our youngest, despite being mostly reliable at night - holidays (and change from routine) always seems to present night time bladder challenges.
- Take ID bracelets for your kids. I love the Little Life ones, mainly because my kids will happily wear them and so they serve their purpose. Camp sites are open, there are no walls, stair gates, or effective containment beyond being strapped in the pushchair or car seat. If your little ones are like mine, they will be off and away in the blink of an eye. Trust me on this. This is the "full on" element of camping; it is constant from the moment they wake to the moment they (finally) fall asleep.
- Ear plugs for adults are really useful to help getting the best night sleep possible, and we always take eye patches to keep it nice and dark once the sun has come up.
- In advance, hire a fridge and have a pitch with an electric hook up. There are all sorts of things that you can hire from sites, (especially the big ones) like a highchair, travel cot etc which reduces your packing. This year for example we have hired some towels, as they are quite bulky to take. If you leave it to the last minute, or when you get there, they will likely have run out.
- We are all taking our own bikes this year, but you can hire bikes and trailers from most big sites. Particularly on large campsites, everyone cycles everywhere.
- Take less toys than you originally think you will need.
- Even if the weather is forecast to be hot, take jumpers as you'll be grateful of it in the early morning and late at night.
- Take wine. Boxes are good! (refer back to fridge hire advice above).
That's all I can think of right now folks. I hope this is useful, in whole or in part. If you have any more tips, please do add them in the comments below.
As we are camping this year with friends who have an older child (he is 5-6) I am going to watch keenly and learn how they manage and entertain him. I will add to this blog any additional tips I pick up from them, and along the way of our next adventure!
If you're having similar adventures this summer - happy camping!