5 top tips to keep your sanity while camping with a toddler
Jason and I have been travelling together for years, we lived in caravan parks in a caravan or camper trailer for over 4 years. Setting up camp became a finely oiled machine - we didn't even need to talk to each other, it just got done! Fast forward a few years and add in a very energetic toddler, and we've had to learn all over again just how to have a stress free camping trip (well, as stress free as is possible with kids!)
With all that being said, here are a few of the things we've learned along the way that I wish I'd known in the beginning.
I know when you're packing you are going to have a toddler following you around saying that they need to bring EVERY toy and EVERY book because they are ALL special. Don't do it! Just dont! Although it may be tempting to bring a heap of toys with you to keep the kids entertained, they will take up way too much space and trust me, they just will not get used. We have a few set toys that always come, and anything extra has to fit in to a small basket (small enough he can carry it himself!) Here are the toys we take when we go on a holiday
- Tonka Truck
- Books (usually 4-5 books, depending on the length of the holiday! More if it's a few weeks and less if it's only one night)
- Bucket & Spade: even if you're not going to the beach, these will almost always come in handy for collecting dirt, rocks, leaves and other treasures found when camping!)
- Scooter/bike - Only bring these if you know you will be going somewhere they can be used. If you're camping on the beach in the sand, leave them at home, or they will be the source of lots of tantrums and frustration!
- Duncan's Choice - this is his little basket of toys. Usually he will choose things like matchbox cars and schleich animals.
- TEDDY - Duncan has a special teddy who comes everywhere. Teddy is not allowed out of the car or camper once we are set up, he's only allowed teddy for car trips and nap/bed time!
Just remember, apart from any very special toys (like Duncan's teddy) don't bring anything that you're too precious about getting dirty or potentially lost. You are camping! There will always be dirt and there's always a good chance things will go missing. So this might not be the right trip to bring the precious fluffy white bunny nanna bought when they were a baby, unless you feel like having to soak it for a week to get the dirt out. Which brings me to my next point...
With camping comes dirt. Whether it be mud, dust or salty sand, every type of camping comes with dirt! And I'll say it right now, it doesn't matter how careful you are or how much of a clean freak, there comes a point at which you're going to have to just embrace the dirt.
And I don't say this lightly!! Although I'm not the tidiest person in general, when it comes to bed time I can get a little fanatic about cleanliness (especially feet - don't come near my bed with dirty feet, or you'll be frog marched to the nearest source of water... or baby wipes)
But I digress. Dirt is a part of camping and although it's almost impossible to avoid, here are a few ways you can keep at least some parts of your camp clean(ish)
- No shoes inside. Whether you are in a tent, camper or caravan, having a no shoes rule inside will make a huge difference to keeping your camp clean. We usually have a floor mat just inside the door of our camper so we can stand on it and take our shoes off, then leave them there. Then we can just take the mat outside and shake most of the dirt off when need be. I wouldn't recommend leaving shoes outside, except for thongs, unless you want some critters to make a home in them over night. You can also use a small plastic crate or tub with a lid on just outside the door to keep shoes in overnight (spider/snake free!)
- Flooring. We have a special piece of rubber matting which is designed to let the dirt fall through, but it can't get back up. If you don't have something like this, a piece of shade cloth pegged down or even an outdoor rug can make a huge difference to the amount of dirt that gets carried inside (and will make your "living" area a lot more enjoyable too!) We don't generally bother if we are camping on grass or soft sand, but any other time we will always have the mat down.
- Shower/bath right before bedtime. This one especially applies for younger kids because for most toddlers, dirt is absolutely irresistible. If you get them clean too early on, they're just going to end up filthy again (along with their nice clean pjs!) so best to wait until they are just about ready for bed, get them washed and straight into the tent for bed. One exception to this - if you're camping in winter or somewhere really cold, get them bathed and in pjs/warm clothes and ugg boots before the sun goes down! Being warm is more important that being clean, and once that sun is gone the temparature is likely to drop very quickly! Sometimes you just have to sacrifice the clean sheets. Layers are good in this situation, put pjs at the bottom and trackies/jumper/ugg boots over the top. That way come bed time you can just strip off the dirty outer clothes and have clean(ish) pjs underneath.
- On the topic of shower/bath time! We are lucky enough to have a camper that includes a shower on one side, but even if you don't have this, it's a great idea to have a big tub/bucket that your kidlets can fit into. Makes a great bath, and doubles as toy storage when you're travelling! We also use ours to stand in while we are showering to keep our feet clean - works much better than those foam mats you can get, and it keeps all the puddles away from your camp, win-win!
- Baby wipes. Carrying a lot of water isn't always an option, and especially if you're travelling self sufficiently it's a pretty precious resource. This is where baby wipes are an absolute god send! Hands, faces, feet, tables... if there's no water - baby wipes are my go to!
- Sheets. Despite my best efforts to make sure everyone is always clean at bed time, lets just face the fact that there is going to be dirt in bed, no matter how careful you are. White sheets are not your friend, leave them at home and get a set of dark colored sheets that are just for camping. This is also the best way I've found to not have a nervous breakdown about the bed being dirty - if I can't see it, it's not there.... right?
Now I'm all for kids learning to entertain themselves in the car - colouring, reading and small toys are all great ways to keep them entertained. BUT. If you're planning on doing long stretches of driving, bring and ipad or dvd player. We have a headrest holder to hold the ipad, and once we've been driving for a while and Duncan has absolutely had enough - that's when we crank out the ipad (or tiny tv, as he calls it!) Before we leave we usually download some shows off netflix - this means we don't need to use up all our data or worry about there being no reception as they are saved on the ipad. Once it goes on, we know we will usually get about another hour of driving in before he has well and truly had enough and it's time to stop for a break (or even better - arrive at our destination!)
This tactic can also come in super handy when we are packing up camp. Trying to keep an eye on a toddler while packing everything up ready to leave - especially in a busy caravan park - can be more than a little stressful! When we're worried about cars or Dunc running away, we will pop him in the car to watch tv so we can focus on getting packed up quickly and on the road, without chasing him around or worrying he's going to get run over.
We also use the ipad in the event of bad weather, when you're sick of mud and jumping in puddles and reading books - sometimes you just need a break that you can only get from TV. I know - controversial! But trust me, when you're stuck in a small tent in the rain with a bored toddler, you will thank me!
Bringing the right clothes, and enough of them, will make your camping trip a lot easier and less stressful!
I will admit, I am a bit of a serial over-packer when it comes to clothes. While this has always been a pain in the past, it's actually been a god-send now that we have a toddler in the mix! While packing 3 pairs of pants, 4 jumpers and 6 pairs of undies for an overnight trip for myself is more than a little unnecessary, it turns out that over-packing clothes for a toddler is ALWAYS a good plan, especially while camping. In addition to always taking way more than I think we will need, I always make sure to chuck clothes for the opposite weather to what is predicted. Because you can almost guarantee that if it's the middle of a heatwave in the middle of summer and you don't bring any warm clothes, there will be a sudden dip in the temperature and you'll be left without the appropriate clothes. Same goes for the opposite! When it comes to toddler clothes, always take double what you think you'll need. Between dirt, food, water and bodily fluids (yes, sh*t happens, among other things!) you will use way more clothes (and socks!) than usual. And if you don't - no stress! Just unpack them and put them away when you get home, no harm done! Better have and not need them, than need them and not have.
Shoes are also super important and if you don't bring any others, at least make sure you have gum boots, ugg boots and some sandals or thongs that you don't mind getting wet (especially if you're staying in a caravan park and intend on using the communal showers!!!) On top of these, I'd also recommend sneakers you don't mind getting dirty and if you're thinking you might go somewhere nice, something a little dressier - but don't ever let these even leave the car at the camp site! They are strictly for going nice places, don't even put them on your kidlets feet until they are safely strapped in the car and can't escape back in to the dirt.
And one last thing on the topic of clothes - make sure you bring either an extra large wet bag (or two! we use these ones from Baby Beehinds which are massive and ridiculously handy) or a few spare plastic bags. You'll want somewhere to put your extra dirty/wet/soiled clothes to keep them separate until you can wash them.
No-one is pleasant on an empty stomach, and this applies most to toddlers (seriously guys, don't mess with a hangry toddler!!!)
When it comes to camp food - keep it simple! You want meals that are quick and easy to prepare (think hotdogs or kebabs on the bbq!) or even better - prep your meals ahead, that way all you need to do is reheat in a pot and you're done! How much food and what kind will obviously depend on how long you are going and what you're using to store your food. In a good eski, you should get at least 2 days of cool out of your ice (more if it's cold weather, less if it's hot or your eski is in the sun) and make sure the beers are in a separate eski, or the ice will be melted in half a day with all the opening and closing! If you're lucky enough to have a car fridge (engel, waeco etc.) then your food will last just as long as it would in the fridge at home! Just be careful to store delicate things like salad up the top, and drinks, meat etc at the bottom (or you might find yourself with a frozen cucumber!)
The other important food item to remember - SNACKS! If you've ever gone anyway for a day trip with your toddler and suddenly realised you've forgotten to bring snacks, you'll know that sinking feeling when you realise. Our favorite snacks for on the go are rice crackers, sultanas, apple, carrot sticks, mini cucumbers and as a treat we have some naturally sweetened biscuits. For in the car, we only give him things that are small like sultanas, so that I'm not constantly stressing about choking. And if you're one of those super clean people who wont let their child eat in the car, I take my hat off to you (and good luck on those long drives ;) you may have to stop a little more often!)
So that's it! My top 5 tips for making camping with a toddler just a little easier. And lets face it - wine helps too, so don't forget to stop at the bottle shop on your way out!!