Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tips for Camping With Kids – Practical Ways to Plan for a Great Family Vacation

The Joy of Camping With Kids - © Katrena
Many families have discovered the great joy of camping with the kids. This type of vacation can be an awesome way to get away, enjoy nature, and spend time together. Whether you are putting up a pup tent in the back yard, staying at a campground, or going the primitive route, perhaps these tips will help you to avoid common camping pitfalls and enjoy the moments of which memories are made.

Practical Tips for Camping With Kids © Katrena
Benefits of Camping

Many people find they can save money by camping. Popular destinations like the beach are often a fraction of the cost of a hotel room or renting a home in a similar area. Those who like to rough it on primitive sites can often find the cheapest rates. In addition, the tent campers tend to save money on gasoline en route. Extras like electricity, water, sewer hook-up, satellite, wifi, etc. may cost more, but they may be worth the extra expense for many folks.

Educational Opportunities on Vacation © Katrena
Kids can learn many valuable skills while camping. The children can provide valuable input in the planning stages and have the opportunity to learn about teamwork as you set up camp. Children can learn new skills like how to build, cook over, and put out a fire and safety tips such as how to avoid sunburn and properly store foods while camping. The whole family can learn about the history of the area as well as information about native animals and plants, such as what to do if they see a wild animal and how to identify poison ivy. This can also be a great opportunity to demonstrate care for the environment through "green" camping.

As a mother of three children with multiple food sensitivities, camping is particularly well-suited for us because we are packing our own food and supplies for cooking. We are not paying for a "free" breakfast that the kids cannot eat at a hotel. Since my children also have asthma, I bring supplies for cooking that do not involve a fire since I know that smoke tends to set off their breathing problems. It's okay – we just do what works for us. I ensure that the site has electricity before making reservations and bring two extension cords and a power strip because electrical cooking supplies have the potential to overload the circuit – I learned that the hard way with our first camping trip!

How to Find Pet-Friendly Vacation Destinations © Katrena
Those who enjoy taking pets on vacation are more likely to find campgrounds that are pet-friendly than hotels that allow animals. Some parks and campgrounds provide facilities for equestrian camping year-round or seasonally. One of the favorite parts of our vacations is meeting other campers and learning about their animals. We have met service dogs, show dogs, rescued dogs, and many other pets and their owners often share wonderful stories about themselves and their furry friends.

Enjoy Nature While Camping With Kids © Katrena
Campers tend to be very willing to help others and are often quite friendly. The pace tends to be slower, and often campers keep an eye out for one another. We have made lasting friendships at campgrounds – many campers coordinate their vacations with others they have met while on previous vacations. I keep up with several of my campground friends via Facebook and email after we arrive back home.

Some might think I am crazy to camp alone with the girls, but I have discovered an inner strength and have been able to demonstrate to my daughters that we are quite capable of working together to solve any problems that come our way. Life's challenges often bring out the best in people, and the experience may serve to strengthen our character. We have also been quite grateful when other campers have offered a helping hand at just the right time. It is quite alright to eat humble pie while camping...and then we can pay it forward to someone else!

How to Plan a Family Vacation © Katrena
Planning a Camping Trip

Choosing a destination can be a fun way to begin a vacation. Even if you are planning to camp in the great outdoors on the lawn out back, the excitement can build as everyone begins to anticipate the date. The surroundings pale in comparison to those with whom you are spending the time. One of my kids mentioned that she liked Disney World almost as much as she liked shopping at Walmart with me...there you go. If I had just known that before heading south!

Find Fun Things to do on Vacation While Camping © Katrena
Many campgrounds now offer web sites with details about their sites. Check regulations and rules of the campground. Many that used to be first come, first served now take reservations. Some may have requirements related to the use of firewood; most have rules regarding pets; and many lock their gates at night.

Before making a reservation, ensure that the site:
  • is large enough to accommodate your needs (some campgrounds charge extra depending on the number in the party and may limit the number of vehicles per site but it still might be cheaper to reserve two campsites than to rent a house or stay in a hotel)
  • offers whatever amenities you prefer (water, electricity, sewer, pull-through, level ground, etc.)
  • is available during the time desired (some campgrounds fill up months in advance, particularly if a special event is in the area at the time or if it has great rates – those who have their hearts set on a particular campground may find that they can camp a night or two on one site and then move to another site for an additional night or two and some campgrounds offer waiting lists)
  • is in the area of the campground you prefer (small kids may particularly appreciate a site in close vicinity to restroom facilities and near a playground if available)
Supplies for Camping © Katrena
Preparing and Packing Supplies for the Vacation

Ensure that the camper or tent is in good condition and dry before packing if possible. Areas that are wet when packed tend to leak. It helps to set up a tent or pop-up a few days before the vacation to ensure that no vital parts are missing and that everything is in good working order. This can also serve as a refresher course for those who have not set one up in a while.

Tips for Having a Smooth Family Vacation © Katrena
Thoroughly check the vehicle(s) to ensure that fluid levels are appropriate, tire pressure is adequate, and any problems are corrected before leaving. Nothing can put a damper on a vacation than breaking down halfway to the destination. Plan to leave with plenty of time to reach the campground before dark, planning for several stops along the way to re-fuel, stretch everyone's legs, and allow for plenty of bathroom breaks.

Traveling to the campground can also be an adventure. I like to pack a few simple surprises, like new music, cool book on CD, bubbles for blowing at the rest area, travel games, etc. so that the children can enjoy the ride a bit more. If you have a child who tends to get carsick, it can be helpful to have supplies readily available in the car. You might also want to choose destinations that are closer and have less twists and turns, plan for extra stops, and adjust eating times so that you are not combining a full stomach with a long road trip.

Vacation Packing Tips © Katrena
Make a list of all supplies you plan to pack. It is easy to forget items like a flashlight and batteries, washcloths and towels, soap and shampoo, a can opener, clothesline and clothespins, oven mitt, dishpan and dishwashing liquid, matches or a lighter, first aid supplies, bug spray, suntan lotion, etc., particularly if new to camping. Many of these items may be available at the campground store, but they will usually be paired with a pretty price.

I like to pack supplies in the pop-up several days before the big day to cut down on the chaos. My kids love to help pack for vacations. Make sure to double-check what the children have packed. Their definition of appropriate attire for camping might be rather different from your own. They may also be more concerned with packing Barbie dolls than underwear.

What to do on a Vacation © Katrena
Choosing an Itinerary

You may wish to plan a few outings where you can enjoy the sites near the campground. The area's Chamber of Commerce can be a great place to begin searching for ideas. Campground web sites may give links for nearby areas of interest, and the campground may offer a variety of fun and educational opportunities. I have found that state parks often do a great job with educational programs at and near campgrounds. Travel blogs and review sites may offer great ideas for the popular destinations and also those gems that may offer a pleasant surprise. Asking about areas via social media can also be a great way to learn from those who know the area best – just be careful not to announce to the world when you plan to be away from home!

It can be just as important to leave lots of opportunities in the plan to simply relax and enjoy spur-of-the-moment times together. We like to pack bikes and enjoy cruising through the campground or might simply go for several walks together each day. We will typically meet a few other campers and may even see a deer, butterflies, or an awesome sunset. Making wonderful memories together is not always a planned event. You may wish to plan to hike, bike, swim, kayak, go tubing, or find other ways to enjoy the natural beauty of the area from various vantage points.

Working Around the Weather While Camping © Katrena
Weather conditions may dictate what one does on vacation while camping. Check weather reports for the area and plan accordingly. If the campground site is prone to flooding, it is helpful to have a back-up plan, especially if you are tent camping. Packing extra clothing and warm blankets can be a great help if temperatures take a nosedive.

Wild animals are often abundant while camping. Ensure that all food is stored appropriately. Raccoons, for example, are often quite adept at opening coolers and feasting on one's food while everyone is asleep. Mosquitoes are often prevalent during warmer months, and I have found mosquito repellent to be very helpful on all of my camping trips. If your kids have sensitive skin and/or allergies, it is a good idea to check ingredients and give any lotions or spray a test drive before the big date.

Wild Animals Near Campground © Katrena
Camping With Children

I have found camping with my kids to be an amazing opportunity to unwind, unplug, and create something special for all of us to remember. I love to pack my camera and try to capture just a few of those wonderful memories to share with my family and hope that by sharing some of my tips that you too will find camping to be a great way to vacation with your family!

Find additional articles, tips, and free printables and scavenger hunts at the Wildflower Bouquets site map. Visit my Travel NC With Kids blog for great kid-friendly things to do in North Carolina.

How to Enjoy a Family-friendly Vacation © Katrena


  1. I am so excited to take my children along for camping trips this summer! We even got the Tailgater from my employer, Dish. So we can even watch TV in the wilderness. I am making a list on what food items we need because I still like to bring some pretty tasty food along.

  2. How nice of you to read my article about camping with kids and to take the time to post a comment! I am excited for you and hope that your vacation experience is wonderful. On our last trip, we actually saw a campsite where they had set up a large screen TV beyond the campfire and had a group over there watching a movie. We were really surprised to see that.

  3. Oh, if you are interested in grilling foods (some campgrounds do have grills and some people pack their own), my sister has an awesome web site with tips and recipes. She has tested over 50 grills and has written about grilling for some large magazines as well:


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