We used to go camping a lot when my daughter was young. It was cheap and it was fun. For the price of one week of a non-camping vacation, we could camp for 3 weeks or more! We all loved the fresh air and the time spent outside too. I have to say though, there were sometimes pitfalls involved that could turn a fun camping trip into a bit of a nightmare.
One of the things that helped avoid any of those pitfalls was preparation. The girl guides had it right. Be prepared. Anticipating any of those things that could go wrong (or maybe have gone wrong in previous trips) and planning ahead for them will save you so many headaches and make camping easier and more fun for everyone!
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Think of your comfort.
Let’s start with the elephant in the tent. When I was a kid, my mom always said there was no way she’d go camping in a tent because it was just too uncomfortable. We convinced her to come along with us on some of our camping trips by ensuring that we made things as comfortable as possible.
Some people love to just unroll their sleeping bags and sleep right on the ground. If you are one of those people, I salute your strength! We are not those people. We always bring along good quality air mattresses. Because several of us tend to be the “tossing and turning” types, we go for the large size mattresses – usually double for each of the adults and twin for the kids and just pretty much fill the tent with wall to wall comfort.
I’ve never found a sleeping bag that I was comfortable in – see above message about tossing and turning. So, I always pack regular bed sheets and blankets for myself and anyone else who prefers those. The kids always get a kick out of using a sleeping bag!
We bring our pillows and in case of anything unforeseen, including changes in weather, we bring a bin of extra sheets, pillowcases, and blankets. I just keep it stored in the trunk unless needed.
I also pack plenty of tarps. Tarps can be a lifesaver for a variety of reasons at camp! When it comes to our sleeping comfort, we cover the floor of the tent with them (we have had our bedding get damp from the morning dew before and found that tarps under our beds solved that issue.
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Choose your campsite wisely.
You may have figured out by now that while we are tent campers, we are not the “roughing it” types. There are just some amenities that we like to have on hand that allow us that outdoor experience without making us feel deprived.
So, we look for campsites with electricity. This can really come in handy! We bring along electric air pumps for the air mattresses (nothing like watching 3 asthmatics try to blow up air mattresses without pumps!).
The electricity is also great for other items you might want to use as well – phone and tablet chargers (I know, I know but I do like to have the ability to connect with the outside world in case of emergency AND in a rainstorm, those tablets can sure come in handy!), a plug-in cooler, and so on.
We also like to consider proximity to the bathrooms and showers. On the one hand, with little kids, you want to be fairly close to them. On the other hand, the time we camped directly across from the bathrooms was not so pleasant. There was constant noise and constant traffic going back and forth in front of our tent.
Finally, look at the landscape around your prospective campsite. We had a super fun (insert sarcasm sign here) camping trip one time because of the location of our campsite. We had chosen a site that was right across a footpath from the lake. The views in the morning and evening were stunning!
Two things we didn’t know: 1) the dragon boat crew were out every morning at 6 am to practice and they were really loud. It was fun to watch them but I really wanted to sleep in! 2) this is the big one! When a thunderstorm rolled in, we found out that this campsite was in a bit of a “valley” with several other sites slightly uphill from it. You could barely tell until all the rain started running right through our site like a waterfall.
Ask the people working at the booking desk for recommendations. They generally know all the ins and outs of the various sites and can help you pick out one that suits all of your needs.
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Choose your campground carefully.
Along with things like electricity and bathrooms/showers, look at the other amenities that the campground offers. Does it have a pool? Pools are a surefire boredom buster (and a great way to get some exercise!) for most families.
Do they have other things to do like shuffleboard, basketball, badminton, or croquet? We’ve been to some with TONS of game equipment that can be signed out as well as some with train rides through the park, miniature golf, and more.
When I was a kid, we went to a park that had planned activities every morning for all ages. One campground we went to on a regular basis holds seasonal events too like Christmas in July and Trick or Treating in August. Consider how important such activities are to your family.
Finally, is there an on-site camp store where you can pick up items in an emergency? Or perhaps it’s close to a town with a few stores you could use if needed. It’s always best to bring everything with you if possible (camp stores are notoriously expensive!), but depending on how long you’re camping, you might need more ice, firewood, or replacement snacks for the ones those pesky raccoons carried off. (Been there. Done that.)
Think through your day.
In the morning, you’ll need to head over to the showers to get cleaned up. Think about how you’ll carry your toiletries and towels there. I used to take a nylon bag with all of my stuff in it but then, there would often be no place dry to put it down once I got to the bathroom. Instead, I like to bring along a plastic tote with a handle. I could sit it down anywhere without fear of it getting everything wet.
What about doing dishes? We like to bring two dishpans with us – one for washing and one for rinsing. We bring a collapsible dish rack for drying the dishes and one of those hanging things that open up like an umbrella and have clothespins all over it. These are great for our dish cloths, tea towels, and other small items.
For larger items like our bathing suits and towels, we bring along a clothesline and some clothespins. This is easily strung up between a couple of trees. When it comes to food, we do as much prep as we can at home – putting meat into marinades, chopping up vegetables, measuring out things like pancake mix so we don’t have to bring the whole box, that sort of thing.
We aren’t great at building fires, so we always bring along some fire starters to make it easier. Oh and I recommend that you bring an ax. Even if you are buying precut firewood, you almost always find that you need to break up some of the pieces and an ax really comes in handy!
I think camping is a time for treats so we always ask each person what kinds of special treats and snacks they would like. After years of trying to roast marshmallows on sticks or old coat hangers, we finally invested in a set of tools specifically meant for this purpose and it is SO much easier!
If you’re thinking about doing some hiking or day trips, bring small day packs or fanny packs along to make it easy to carry small necessary items with you. Don’t forget the insect repellent, sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses!
Finally, think about nighttime. We bring along plenty of flashlights and lanterns with handles to make it easy to get to and from the bathrooms. We like to use solar lights around our campsite, especially by the tent pegs so no one trips over them.
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Last, but not least, bring along some things to do.
Bring some simple items that don’t take up too much room but will get the family playing together. Outdoor items like balls (beach balls can be deflated to take up less space), Frisbees, pails and shovels are all good choices. If you have the space or have a rack on your car, bringing along the kids’ bikes (yours too!) is always a good idea.
Don’t forget to pack some things for rainy days or after dark – decks of cards, dominoes, a favorite board game or two (travel games are easier to pack).
If your kids have loveys that they sleep with, you’re going to want to remember those and if you’re like me and my family, we all bring along some books to read and some simple craft supplies. We also pack a family journal/scrapbook and encourage everyone to add to it during the trip.
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Some final items:
To help keep our tent as clean as possible, we pack a small whisk broom and dustpan. We also bring small welcome mats with us – one for inside the tent door and one for outside. These really cut down on the dirt inside the tent.
Of course, we hope the weather is going to be perfect while we’re camping but we prepare for rain just in case. Some simple dollar store rain ponchos and a couple of umbrellas are great to have on hand.
It sounds like a lot but it’s as simple as thinking ahead and planning for the pitfalls that may come along. What would you add to this list?
You might also like these posts:
The Ultimate List of Camping Essentials (with free printable checklist)
How to Find Free or Cheap Camping Spots