I've noticed lately that a LOT of my friends are camping. YAY! And a lot of them have toddlers... also yay? Doing anything with a toddler is always the easiest, right? But just in case you've got that rare "difficult" toddler, here are some my of my best ideas to make it a great camping trip for everyone.
Make sure you have the mindset of "everything that can go wrong probably will" so that you're prepared when it does. And if, for some awesome reason it doesn't, then the trip is that much better. I'm 100% serious on this.
2) Plan. Communicate.
Make a plan with your camping partner. Brock and I always have one of us set up camp, and the other hangs with Ruby, and we alternate. We don't BOTH set up together, because we travel with a tiny human who can't stop exploring and needs constant supervision. If we set up together, we get frustrated with Ruby, which isn't fair, since she's doing what comes naturally. Alternating set up/tear down duties gives one of us a break, too, from the extra parenting that comes from camping with your toddler. One of us cooks, and takes a parenting break, the other cleans. We also talk, on the way home, how to make the unpacking of camp stuff easiest for all parties. Camping is HARD, because you lose your own adult time. Your kid shouldn't be left alone, like you can probably do in your home, so the only "adult" time you get is any sleep time. We often have the biggest parent battles when we come home, b/c I'm ready for a break, but Brock has 8 million things to do with the camper. So make a plan for the arrival home, and stick to it. We've been much happier since doing that!
3) Check out your surroundings. Be smart about stuff.
Poison. Snakes. Water. Insects (because while some are just pesky, others are dangerous). Rocks. You know: all the stuff you do at home to smart parent: do it double while in nature, far away from help and comforts of getting clean and medicine. On that note...
4) Pack a first aid kit.
Whatever makes you feel secure. You're an adult, and a parent: I don't need to tell you how to pack it, just tell you that its a good idea to have some stuff along. Just in case everything goes wrong. This is closely related to tip number 1.
Toddlers thrive on routine, in case you didn't notice. So do as much as you can to continue your routine camping.
For example.... try to stick with their "normal" foods. Ruby always eats a veggie and a meat for breakfast, so we do that camping also. We don't introduce any new or unusual foods camping, or go overboard with treats either. A second example: sleep routines. Ruby gets a bath every night before bed, and before bed and naps, always 4-5 books. So... we take books with us, and 99.9% of the time, choose campgrounds with showers. We use her same soap as we do at home too. We also bring her choice of blanket, pillow, and stuffed animal (or two). If we don't have access to a shower, we give her a quick sponge bath in the camper sink or wash tub or something, to signal to her that it is time to wind down for the day, just like at home.
BUT... that being said...
6) MAKE THIS FUN! Give them choices! Do stuff they don't get to normally do!
*I've started letting Ruby pack her clothes for camping, and I add in whatever she needs. That gives her excitement about the upcoming trip, and ownership of her stuff. And that is why she's usually in dresses for any photos.
*Let them choose stuff to bring: books, toys, etc.
*When we get to campgrounds, one fun treat is to let Ruby ride on my lap while we drive to our campsite. Speeds are super slow, and she LOVES to look around, and feel like a big kid. We explain that it ONLY gets to happen when we are close to our campsite, and obviously reinforce this. (Note: we are 100% safe about this, and Ruby NEVER does this over speeds of 5mph or on any "real" roads... please don't be concerned! We use a car seat and follow all the laws!)
*We let Ruby roast marshmallows. She actually only takes a bite, and then is done, but playing with fire is super cool, and she is always very supervised. She feels like a big kid, and important, and it makes camping that much more fun for her.
*We make sure Ruby has special camp things. Her own chair, a hammock, games and toys to play with, and choose campgrounds that have beaches, creeks, playgrounds, etc.
*We let Ruby go barefoot at campsites. She LOVES it, and its a special, fun, exciting thing. Why not? Less laundry and cleaning for me.
7) SLEEP. Wow, thats a tough one.
If you co-sleep, this one may be easier, but we never have. Ruby has her own special tent and she knows it is HER camp tent, where she gets to sleep. Its exciting, and we talk it up, and she loves her tent. Having her own space is good for her (and her parents) also, because she needs time some nights to unwind, on her own. If your kid is like ours, they'll need some sort of sound machine for sleeping, too. A portable one works fine, BUT bring extra back up batteries. We use an old cell phone with a white noise app, and you can bring a portable charger.
Ruby is potty trained, and while diapers feel like a million years ago, they were only 4 months ago. Potty trained toddlers are WAY easier to camp with, I think, but if you're still doing diapers, hang in there! Find a place to do diaper changes, and plan a place to put dirty ones. Dog poop bags work great. We bring Ruby's potty with us: it folds up for convenient travel, works as a stand alone or on a big toilet seat. We love it, and couldn't go with out it. Also, we just let her pee on the ground (no bag in her potty), because... dogs do it. Why not? And... usually we try to get to the bathroom if she needs to poo, but sometimes we just aren't fast enough, so we end up picking up toddler poo like dog poo. Again: socially acceptable for a dog, so in my mind, socially acceptable for my 2 year old. She'll out grow it, eventually. Maybe even by next year. We do bring the potty liners with us, for use in camper. (Would work great for a tent too).
9) Tick check.
Every night. And be prepared if you have to remove one. Bug spray isn't a bad idea either, and I love this organic, chemical free one.
You have to do this a lot to get good at it.
And the more you go, the more your toddler will want to go, and the better it will get.
Seriously. I promise.
Bug bites heal, poison ivy goes away, scraped knees are a part of life, and dirt is good. Enjoy spending time watching your toddler learn and grow. Know that by camping you're providing experiences that are valuable, developmentally ideal, and making so many memories along the way!
11) TAKE A TON OF PHOTOS.
Your toddler won't necessarily remember the trip, but in 5 years will LOVE looking back and hearing the stories about how leeches were all over us, or how we spilled water all over the camper, or how she learned how to balance on a log, or her first roasted marshmallow.
Thats it! Now you'll go camping and have the easiest, best, safest time, because you have a toddler, and now you're prepared!
Kidding. Didn't you read my first tip??