Pic: This looks nothing like my experience!
I have been camping in tents and camper vans since I was literally fresh off the plane at five months old (I was adopted in case you’re reading that and wondering what the hell that means)! My parents started these amazing family traditions that have carried all the way into my adulthood and I always knew that when I had a child/children of my own, I would like to continue it with a new generation! In fact, the idea has always made me feel quite sentimental! I’ve had my own tent/s and ‘camping kits’ (full of the basics everyone should have for a quick trip) since I was a tween and I’m usually pretty well prepared!
The idea of taking the Little Mister on his first ever camping trip at the age of 14/15 months, however, scared the crap out of me and I lived up to the title of this blog: Awesomely Unprepared!
This wasn’t going to be as easy as throwing a tent, crappy mattress, my camping ‘kit’ (which stays completely assembled in a sealed plastic crate in the shed all year round) and some clothes (thrown hastily into a bag at the last minute) in the back of our spacious car! This was going to be serious! We were moving HOUSE for a week (as you do – even for a day – when you have a toddler or baby)!! We’d need a port-a-cot, sippy cups, baby cutlery, baby bowls, bottles, steriliser (we went for a powered tent site), dummies (pacifiers), extra towels, wipes galore, nappies (a week’s worth), etc etc etc!!!
We had to plan ahead like never before! None of this procrastination sh*t!! We even had ‘family meetings’ with my parents to prepare. We had to decide on when to go – the best time being when school goes back after the summer holidays (quieter) and who would take what. We also had discussions about which caravan/camping parks would be best for having a toddler around and we concluded that the same park we’d stayed in annually for most of my own childhood was best suited to us. It had open spaces for a little one to run around, we had been there for MANY years since I was about one year old myself, so we were familiar with what challenges and facilities there would be. We knew the activities we would be able to undertake at only walking distance from the park, as well as the good places to take a drive, have a nice walk or hang out.
Now that I’ve mentioned that we went with my parents, it’s a good time to give some advice! If possible, take your first camping trip with someone who’s been there before or is a very helpful person/couple. It made our trip possible! I was too daunted to do this with only my husband and I! I needed someone around who had done this before (for moral support and good advice) and who would be able to offer the extra few hands when needed!
Because time would be limited when I would be free to pack properly, with my husband working Monday to Friday (like a “normal” person) these days, I decided to be as prepared as I could and the packing/organising process started very early. Gone are the days of ridiculous procrastination!!! A week out, I planned our afternoons (the period between my husband getting home from work and the start of the Little Mister’s night time routine) so that if we worked flat out, we could relax in the evenings once the Little Mister was in bed. I simply do not have the energy to bother with all that crap late into the night like I used to! I found that this would work best because trying to do everything on my own with the Little Mister (who was teething like CRAY CRAY) just wasn’t going to happen.
My husband looked at me funny, when he accidentally caught a glimpse of my day planner, but bless his Explorer socks from Woolies, he just let me do my thing!
PS? It worked! It resulted in less stress all round and when we fell into bed (at like 8:30pm because we were knackered) we felt relaxed, instead of annoyed, anxious or (I speak just for myself here) making mental lists of things to do/pack all through the wee hours of the night!
There was practical stuff to think of on our day of departure too. Like making sure that the supplies the Little Mister would need for the drive (approx 3 hours including stops), such as food, wipes, nappies, etc were packed right next to his car seat and easy to grab. We had some roof space (some new racks and a great cargo basket), so we put the things we’d need to set up straight away – tent, tables, etc on top. That way, we’d save time when we arrived – something that’s important when you’re trying to juggle tent poles and toddlers at the same time!
Something that was just as important as the practical stuff, was the mental preparation. We went into this experience with realistic hopes and expectations. Would this be relaxing? Probably not! Would it be hard work? Most certainly. Would it feel like the camping holidays we had before children? HELL NO! Once we let go of the old expectations of a summer camping holiday (memories of sitting for hours in a camp chair reading magazines and novels, long spontaneous walks on the beach with only your romantic partner, packing and unpacking with both hands, eating nibblies in peace etc), we were ready to take on the trip. You think I’m not selling this experience very well? Well, it was amazing. It was just that. An experience! Seeing the Little Mister running about in the dirt, acclimatising to all these new sights and sounds, spending quality time with us (no TVs, limited phone use, no housework, boring daily errands – nothing to take us away from him) was priceless.
With the right headspace and the right mental preparation, we were able to enjoy the holiday so much more.
So, in summary, here is my unsolicited advice on first-time camping with a toddler:
- Plan where and when ahead of time. It takes away the risk of finding a place is too busy, booked out or not the safest/nicest environment for your little dude or lady.
- Go with someone who has had kids (grandparents are ideal) and camping experience or who can provide an extra bunch of hands. They’re great for moral support and for making the experience more pleasurable. Many hands can make light(er) work.
- Start packing early. Don’t procrastinate. The experience leading up will contain less arguments, more mental space and everyone will be on the same page. Work out a packing/checking of gear/shopping for supplies schedule that works around your work hours/life schedule/toddler routines and you’ll be breathing easy by the time the big day of departure arrives (rather than being exhausted and grumpy as hell – not the best way to start a holiday)! I worked from the heavy, big stuff (tent, camp stove etc) and the stuff that didn’t need to be used until the last minute, working towards the things like phone chargers, baby stuff and toiletries which are harder to pack early.
- Plan the packing of your vehicle for convenience. Stuff you’ll need first when you arrive should be easy to find/pull out of your car. Things like a day bag for your toddler’s journey there need to be really handy for quick nappy changes or snack times.
- Get mentally prepared. Be realistic. It won’t be ALL sunshine, laughter and easygoing fun. There will be challenges along the way. You’ll have to be extra vigilant. You will have a dirtier, more tired, extra curious toddler to run around after! If you have a positive mindset, you will realise this is more for them than for you and the joy you will find (despite being exhausted) will be priceless. An amazing memory of a great ‘first’ for your family.
Read the next post about the during and after of our holiday here x