How to Prepare for a Camping Trip with the Kids (or grandkids)

Camping with Kids

While camping with kids is always great fun, it pays to prepare. Little hiccups can put a dampener on parts of your trip, and forgetting important things can turn an activity that was meant to be a fun way to create family memories into a struggle. But by following a few simple tips, you can make sure your camping trip with the kids, or for us, these days the grandkids (who tell us its called ‘gramping’), goes as smoothly as possible.

Of course the unexpected happens, that’s half the fun…

Plan and Prepare

Select your campsite carefully

While the idea of jumping in the car and laying our heads in the most beautiful place we found was very appealing when we were young and travelling alone, this is not realistic when camping with kids.

When you are camping with kids you should know where you are going and how long it will take to get there. Not only will this let you can answer the inevitable ‘are we there yet’ question, but you can ensure that you arrive with enough light to set up camp. Making camp is not something you want to be doing in the dark while keeping an eye on excited and tired children who have been trapped in the car for a few hours.

Also, make sure you choose a child-friendly campsite. Unlike adults escaping the office, kids are unlikely to be satisfied sitting back and enjoying the sounds and smells of nature for a few hours. Pick somewhere that has lots of things for them to do, for example, easy access to safe locations for hiking, fishing and swimming.

Also, depending on your age and fitness levels, and the age of the kids you are travelling with, don’t think that you need to do it all alone. While camping usually means that you are seeking an authentic connection with nature, if you think you’ll struggle to spend 10 hours hiking and swimming followed by 5 hours at the campsite cooking, eating and chatting, pick somewhere that has organised activities nearby. While you probably don’t want the kids to spend the entire camping trip at Go Ape, there’s nothing wrong with taking them somewhere like this for a few hours.

Pack with Precision

As adults, if we arrive at our chosen destination and realise we’ve forgotten something important like our swimsuits or the coffee, we can usually muddle on through (usually). It is not the same with kids. Arriving at a campsite with kids and realising we have forgotten to pack the drinking water, spare socks, or a favourite toy that one of the kids can’t sleep without, while rarely an insurmountable disaster, can lead to a lot of unnecessary pain and grief.

Make a thorough list of things you need and pack everything carefully and in such a way that you know where everything is and you can get your hands on what you need in case of an ‘emergency’.

One thing I always recommend when camping with kids is packing a fully charged head torch for each camper, such as this Luxolite LED Headlamp. It just makes life easier if everyone has hands-free access to light after dark. Sometimes we also give the kids glow stick bracelets – they are fun and help us keep track of everyone. Sunscreen and insect repellent are another obvious must have, but if you haven’t already started using insect repellent bracelets, try them! Our favorites are these natural non-toxic option from SelfHBalance.

First time? Practice

If it is the first time the kids will go camping, consider a practice run in the backyard. Have the kids sleep in the tent and sleeping bags for a few nights, letting them get used to the environment and reduce any fears they might have about sleeping outside. This will help things go more smoothly when it’s time for the real thing.

On the Road

Sometimes travelling to and from your campsite can be the most harrowing part of the holiday. The kids are excited to get to their destination, so the drive can feel like an eternity. While you are probably planning a technology-free vacation, do bring things for the kids to do in the car. These can also be a lifesaver if the weather changes and they end up stuck in the tent for a few days.

Of course, smartphones and tablets aren’t the only way to keep kids entertained in the car. Teach them some of the games you played as a kid such as Eye Spy and Number Plate Hangman.

It is also a great idea to plan fun pit stops during your car journey to break up the trip, for them and you!

At the Campsite

So you’ve arrived at your campsite with plenty of time to set up, which has been made easier by your careful and organised packing. Now what?

Chances are you’d like the kids to unplug from the online world and enjoy an exciting couple of days connecting with nature. If you want the kids to unplug, you will need to do so as well, not only to set an example but to give yourself the opportunity to be present and show the kids that what they are doing is interesting and important. Don’t forget, enthusiasm is contagious.

Involve the kids in decision-making processes (fishing or biking today?) and in the work of the campsite, giving them the chance to take ownership of the experience. Remember always show kids the task that you would like them to complete, rather than just tell them. Kids often stop listening when adults explain things to them, but they are excellent mimics, so show them how to collect sticks for the campfire or tie that perfect knot. This is also a great opportunity to teach them about camp ethics and things like why it is important to take away all your rubbish and clear your campfire fully.

And finally remember this is your holiday as well, so make time and space for your own fun!

About the Author: Jessica Elan

Jessica Elan

When I was a kid our family did a lot of camping, packing everything we needed into the boot of dad’s car and driving off to find new places to explore. These early experiences instilled in me a love for the great outdoors and exploring the country, something I continued to do with my partner in our 20s and 30s. Over the years we’ve made regular trips with the kids, who love hiking, biking and kayaking, and now their kids.