What does camping with your toddler mean to you? A way of exploring with no ties? Or taking a step back to enjoy a more simple existence? Whatever your motivation there is no doubt that there is something magical about throwing the rules out of the window and following a different rhythm together, even if only for one night.
When you embrace camping as a family a whole world of adventure opens up to you, and the better you prepare the more free you will become. Details like what to pack and whether to invest in a family tent will vary, but whether you are glamping in a yurt or heading to the hills some advice remains constant.
You may be a seasoned camper but until your little adventurer spends their first night under canvas you have no idea what they are going to throw at you. Being on the receiving end of a 2am meltdown because “there are no doors” or “the owl is going to get me” is no fun for anyone. If you have your own tent, practice pitching it as a family beforehand and let them explore their temporary home. Have a practice night under the stars together before you launch into the hill walking holiday/festival/week in France that you really want to go smoothly.
2. Pick your moment
The British summer is the prefect opportunity to test out camping with young children as there is at least a sporting chance of it being mild and dry. Dealing with a cold, wet child in an enclosed space is likely to dampen the enthusiasm of even the most intrepid family. European campsites are another great bet and incredibly well set up for young children. Until your toddler is a convert to life under canvas and you are old hands at camping together, its probably best to avoid extremes of climate and location.
Your hard-won routine is likely to go out of the window. The chances are your toddler is going to be far too excited to go to bed at the usual time. Throw in a light summer evening, some unfamiliar noises and you should be prepared to all go to sleep together once it gets dark, wake up with the dawn chorus and grab naps during the day. You can buy lightweight travel cots with black out blinds if your child is still very young and your tent is large enough, but make sure you give it a test run first.
The universal law of camping with toddlers is that anything you try and cook on a stove will take precisely twice as long as it does at home which is also 99% longer than your toddler is prepared to wait. Anticipate meals at least an hour out and have more muesli bars, bananas, bagels etc to hand than you ever imagined you could possibly need. If you do have the time for cooking up a one-pot storm there are some great camping recipes about. If not, don’t beat yourself up - your toddler is unlikely to get bored of sausages, even if you do!
5. Pack smart
Kit lists will depend on what kind of camping you are doing but lots and lots of layers are always essential. Whilst it might be glorious during the day, once the sun drops the temperature in a tent rapidly does too! Little people (and a good few grown ups!) will get grumpy very quickly if they are not snug overnight. Take lots of loose cotton vests, leggings and t-shirts that can double up as day or night wear, plenty of blankets and a set of mittens and a hat - even in summer. Lightweight waterproofs and wellies are a must; even in dry weather morning dew will soak little feet. Other essentials are a first aid kit, insect repellent and plenty of child-friendly sunscreen. Lots of wipes or cloths will come in handy too, and you can’t have too much hand sanitiser. If you are used to travelling very light you may feel like you are taking everything but the kitchen sink (in fact pack a washing up bowl - they will love having strip washes by the camp fire and much easier than traipsing them to a shower block!). As you find your own groove you will soon get your individual packing list nailed down.
Most important of all is to dive in to your first camping experience together with enthusiasm, relax and enjoy it. You and your little explorer will relish the freedom that comes from ditching the rules and routine for a few precious nights and it might just be the first step towards a love of adventure that lasts a lifetime…
Anything to add? We’d love you to share your dos and don’ts for camping with babies and young children with us!