Camping with toddlers? I hear you ask. Are you crazy?
Well, no. Okay, maybe kind of crazy, but bear with me here.
Steve and I have been camping for years, and we were keen to keep up this tradition when Abbey was born. So keen, in fact, that her first camping trip was at six weeks of age - which is actually the easiest age to take a child away, before they can move around.
To be honest, the hardest time to camp with her was last year when she was a year old. It can be difficult while a child is crawling or walking unsteadily, and too young to understand a lot of instruction - although it is doable and can still be enjoyable.
I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but our most recent camping trip showed me that a two-year-old is an absolute pleasure to take camping. Old enough to understand some dangers and listen to instruction, but too young to attempt to explore too far. Perfect.
And kids love camping. They love it.
Here are some tips to help you make camping with a toddler a safe and enjoyable experience...
- Pack appropriately. Now is the time to visit your nearest op-shop or cheap clothing store and grab a couple of t-shirts and shorts, gumboots and thongs; not beautiful dresses and expensive sandals. Think comfort and things you don't care about if they're torn or stained.
- Put together a first-aid kit. Include things for a variety of possibilities: cuts, stings, temperatures, and so on, and make sure there are things for both adults and children.
- Know the dangers. It's a fact of camping that there are dangers around for kids - campfires, a river or the ocean, cooking facilities, cars, animals - and you need to know what they are and how to either avoid them or reduce the risk.
- Give specific boundaries. Rather than saying 'don't go too close to the fire', make a clear boundary that your child is not to cross. This takes away any room for doubt, and makes things safer and easier to monitor.
- Always make sure your child is supervised. Especially if you're in a group, it can be easy to assume that 'someone' is watching out for your child. But don't assume. If you're doing something else or leaving the campsite, specifically ask one person to watch your child.
- Forget the dirt. It's inevitable that your child will get dirty when camping. Give them a wash at the end of the day, before bed, but until then just ignore it. It'll make your life easier, and your days more relaxing.
- Don't underestimate a child's ability to entertain themselves. Take a few small toys as a backup or for some quiet play in the evenings, but for the most part let your child explore. It's amazing how much fun a child can have with dirt, sticks, water and space to run. I'm yet to hear a child say they're bored while camping.
- Stick to some routine. Using the same bedtime routine (for example bath, teeth, story, bed) will help make your toddler feel more comfortable about their new surroundings. If your toddler still naps during the day, factor this time into your plans (and don't be surprised if a non-nap-taker changes their tune - all that activity and fresh air can tire them out pretty quickly!).
- Think about facilities. If your toddler is toilet trained, or being toilet trained, you might like to consider taking either a potty or a special toilet seat for them. Where we go camping, there are only drop toilets... and I'm not putting my two-year-old on one of those!
- Use it as a fun way of learning. Camping is an opportunity to see new things, whether it's wildlife, a different environment or new experiences, and toddlers will be amazed by them all. Point things out, talk about them and watch those little faces light up in awe.
Have fun, relax and revel in these moments with your toddler.