Peet and I love to travel, and camping has always been one of our favourite ways of exploring our beautiful country and continent. We have been camping for twenty years. When searching for the ideal camping spot our criteria has always been secluded and basic. Amélie’s birth changed that completely. Determined to keep camping, we found ourselves searching for camping sites that were baby and toddler friendly. Unfortunately we had no idea what made a camping site a good choice for parents with a baby, nor did know what we needed to take along. Thank goodness for great friends that have been camping with little ones for quite some time. With their advice in mind, we booked a camping site that was baby friendly, packed our trailer, and undertook our maiden camping trip as parents of a four-month-old baby. In the days and hours leading up to our trip my apprehension grew. By the time we stopped at our camping spot I was sure we had made a mistake. But the next few days were surprisingly wonderful. We quickly discovered that camping with a baby is much easier than we expected.
As the lockdown alert levels are making travel a little easier and there are a few long weekends in sight it is time to start planning a trip or two, and autumn is the perfect time to go camping. Here are a few tips that make camping with a little one a lot easier.
If, like my husband and I, you have been camping for many years (but only been parenting for a short while) and you have always chosen more distant, less crowded parks in the past, I am here to convince you to change your ways. For a year or three you might want to change that criteria. While Amélie is still young we have decided to stick to parks closer to home so the trip does not start on a sour note, stuck in traffic or on the road for hours with an unhappy camper in the back seat.
Camping with little ones is all about location, location. Most parents, that offered us advice, all agreed that when booking a camping site enough shade and grass is non-negotiable. If your little one is still a baby, a safe and well-maintained play area might not seem important, but it sure is a godsend when camping with a toddler. Everyone agreed that a heated swimming pool is a definite plus when deciding where to camp with little ones. Many parents mentioned that they loved the peace of mind camping sites with fenced pool areas afforded them.
- A camping cot and chair is a must!
- A bath or large plastic container is important, as some camping sites do not have baths (a plastic crate also works well).
- First aid kit
- Sunblock and hat
- Insect/mosquito repellent (make sure you get a baby-friendly product)
- Picnic blanket for those lazy afternoons in the shade of a tree
- Snacks (this one is especially important if you have a toddler, and you are visiting an area where you will be doing a lot of driving around, like a game reserve)
- Only a few toys (most parents that helped Peet and I plan our first trip said the biggest mistake they made was taking to many toys along)
- Your little one’s pram, especially if he has trouble falling asleep.
- Having the right equipment can smooth your passage. It does not have to be expensive or fancy gear. A baby carrier is a great piece of gear to have, especially if you enjoy going for a hike. Another piece of gear we will always make space for is our plastic fold away highchair. It has saved many meals.
- For babies that are not yet crawling an empty, inflatable pool creates a wonderful and safe space for them to play in. We popped Amélie and a few of her toys in an inflatable pool while we set up camp or cooked meals.
- And marshmallows and sticks off course.
- Choose a camping spot near an ablution as you probably will be visiting it quite often, especially if you have a toddler.
- No one wants to be the parent whose baby wakes up the whole campsite at 2am crying. If you are in a crowded campsite, it might be a good idea to introduce yourself (and your little one) to the neighbours before dark so they can understand you are doing your best. Remember a campsite is not the place to practice sleep training or ‘leave her to cry it out’. You will be doing yourself, your baby, and your neighbours a favour by doing what works the best and fastest to comfort baby in the night.
- If your little one is used to a routine, especially in terms of naps, try keeping to it as much as possible to prevent an overtired baby and a horrific suicide hour.
- Many adults complain of sleepy badly when sleeping in a strange place, I think the same applies to babies and toddlers. If your baby is not used to sleeping in a camping cot at home, let her sleep in the cot for a few evenings before you go camping. This will give her the opportunity to at least get used one of the new spaces you are going to introduce her to.
- Before you start pitching the tent, set up the camping cot and pop your baby in there with a few toys. A few well-chosen snacks can keep your toddler occupied while mom and dad set up camp.
Happy camping mom and dad!