Camping can be one of the best, most memorable vacations for a family. Kids connect to the outdoors and enjoy immersing themselves in a world where their imagination can run wild and they can be awed by the beauty and abundance of the natural world. However, for parents, bringing your children into the wild can be an overwhelming and stressful endeavor. We worry—what if they do not like the food? What if they wander off? We cannot set up the tent properly? Someone gets hurt? They get bored? Do not get enough sleep? The list is endless. Fortunately, there are ways to make a camping trip easier for you, and a positive experience for the whole family.
First of all, do not let your kids see if you are anything less than absolutely ecstatic about your camping trip. Your enthusiasm is contagious and the more excitement your children have, the better their experience will be. Plan some activities for your family, but do not get frustrated if things do not go according to plan. Kids can have the time of their lives looking under rocks and playing pretend and may prefer kicking up some leaves or playing in the sand than watch birds through binoculars.
Second, for your own peace of mind, use a checklist to pack. What you need will depend on where you are camping and the ages of your children, but a list will keep you from forgetting the all-important teddy bear or marshmallow sticks. When you are packing for your children, include extra clothes. They love to get dirty and will not be thinking about the state of their pants when they are crawling through the dirt—just having fun! Whether it is a toddler playing in the mud or a teen on a hike, clothes will be dirtied, and extras needed.
As much fun as kids have wandering off and exploring, be sure to set ground rules when you first arrive. Set boundaries for where your children are allowed to go, visible by easily identifiable landmarks. Teach them basic safety principles (do not play with fire, do not pick up snakes, stay where Mom can see you) when you first arrive, while you still have their attention. Bring a first-aid kit and supervise your children at the playground or in the lake.
Save yourself some stress by planning your meals beforehand. Some campsites have better access to local convenience or grocery stores than others, so do as much grocery shopping and meal preparation as possible in advance. Figure out what you want to eat at each meal and figure out how much you need. Bring snacks and treats and involve your kids in the meal making process! They love to help out with food preparation and cooking around a campfire provides a perfect activity for family bonding. Also, keep some kind of routine throughout your trip. Having a bedtime helps maintain order and stability and ensures that your kids will be rested for the following day.
Lastly, take some time to relax with your spouse, whether this is while children are in bed or otherwise occupied. You are on vacation and you need a break too! But most importantly, enjoy your time with your family and just have fun. The natural world has plenty to offer and your camping trip is the perfect time to make lifelong memories. Remember, what children want the most from your vacation is spending quality time with YOU. Happy camping!