It's sounds so idyllic, right? Traipsing through the wilderness with your little explorers, seeing their precious faces light up with wonder at the size of the redwood trees and delight over the magic of a perfectly roasted marshmallow. It's true — there are few better ways to encourage kids to appreciate the value of turning off the TV and the video games than offering them the chance to immerse themselves in nature on a camping trip. Camping with small children comes with its own set of challenges, though. It's not all starry-eyed wonder and "thanks so much for planning this trip, Mom!" It can be tiring, dirty, and uncomfortable sometimes. It doesn't have to be, though!
The following 10 hacks will help keep you sane and your kids happy on your next family camping trip, even if it's just pitching a tent in the backyard (hey, you gotta start somewhere!).
- Glow sticks! Buy a cheap pack of 100 and give every kid at the campsite a couple each night. Not only will you be their hero, but you'll be able to tell where your kid is in the dark. If you trust them not to break the glow sticks open, let them take them to bed as a personal "lightsaber lantern." It will be mostly dim by your bedtime, so everyone wins.
- RV rugs. I don't camp in an RV, but I do camp with an RV rug. It's basically a giant outdoor rug made out of woven plastic that folds up for easy transport. No one item will transform camping with kids as much as this bad boy. It will keep your crawler safer and cleaner, it will give your toddler a boundary to play within when necessary, it will lessen the amount of dirt tracked into your tent, and it will give you a small sense of home.
- Hard-boiled eggs. I know, it's a weird hack. The last morning of a camping trip is brutal, though, with everyone dirty and tired and ready to leave. My permanent last breakfast of every camping trip has become hard-boiled eggs and muffins. I hard boil the eggs and freeze the muffins at home, put it all in a single one gallon Ziploc bag in the cooler and have zero cooking and zero dishes while we pack up camp that last morning.
- Shoes over footy pajamas. I hate to break it to you, but your kids are going to wake up early — make that reality a little less painful for everyone by dressing them in cozy footy pajamas and packing shoes one size up (or Teva-type sandals) so you can ease into the morning without doing the full costume change.
- Premaking dinners at home is not cheating. Nearly any slow-cooker recipe can be easily reheated in a pot on your camp stove. Pulled pork, chili, risotto variations — you get it. Do the messy work in the comfort of your own kitchen (hello, dishwasher), Ziploc it, and reheat.
- Become a camp dermatologist. I have a first-aid kit that permanently lives with our camp stuff — and it's 75 percent skin stuff because camping is a contact sport. Besides the usual bug spray and SPF, I pack hydrocortisone cream, Lanacane or aloe, Bactine spray with individually wrapped gauze pads, Band-Aids and Polysporin, oral Benadryl, and unscented body lotion. Take that, sunburns and bug bites!
- Raid your own Goodwill pile. I have a friend who packs for camping trips directly from her "purge" bin, the clothes that are on their way to be donated to the thrift store. Sure, they may be a little bit too small or have a stain or hole somewhere, but this is exactly why she packs these clothes instead of the new stuff for camp trips. The best part? She typically throws most of the items away at the end of the camping trip, making her postcamp laundry task that much more manageable.
- Earplugs! For yourself, of course. If you're not used to sharing tight quarters with your whole family (and/or a gaggle of bullfrogs and crickets), campsite sleeping can feel . . . loud. Earplugs will help take the edge off, but being in tight quarters means you'll still hear the stuff that actually needs to be heard.
- Solar shower. Even if your campground has showers (and I really hope it does), having warm water easily on hand right in your own campsite can come in handy for a number of reasons. Fill up a solar shower bag from the nearest spigot in the morning and set the bag somewhere sunny like the roof of your car. Later in the day when feet need rinsing and babies need bathing and faces need washing, you're set.
- Put a clothespin on it. Whether things get wet on purpose (bathing suits, towels) or by accident (you thought your kids would leave you out of their water-gun fight?), you've packed a finite number of items, and some of them are bound to get wet. A camp clothesline can easily be strung between trees so you have plenty of room to let things dry, thus avoiding the dreaded camp mildew smell.
Have your own hacks for making camping with kids fun for the whole family? Leave a comment and let us know!