Camping with Toddlers: A Survival Guide

So if you are a friend on Facebook or an Instagram follower you are probably aware that our family is obsessed with camping. Exactly a year ago we bought a small travel trailer and I’m being totally serious when I say it’s one of the best purchases we’ve ever made. It isn’t  anything fancy but it’s perfect for us and the memories we’ve invested in it are priceless.


Admittedly, these weekend endeavors are not always easy with two toddlers.

Okay. Let’s get serious. It’s really freaking hard.

If you’re a parent then you’re already well aware that taking small children out of their natural habitat is a struggle. They don’t want to sleep or oddly, this past weekend, Isla didn’t want to stop sleeping. They’re abnormally fussy, hungry, poopy or all of the above the entire time and usually some other issue has snuck it’s way in just for the weekend such as a sudden two year molar or ear infection.

(I’m literally laughing out loud as I type this. It’s so damn true.)

So here is my humorous attempt at a survival guide to camping with little monsters adorable children . Feel free to apply these to any getaway.

Bed time? What bed time?

Kiss “the rules” goodbye. Kiss “the schedule” goodbye. You may even want to kiss it goodbye the night before your trip because surely at some point during the 8.5 hours it took to pack your entire family your kids have caught on that you’re doing something exciting. This means they will not go to sleep on time as they are too busy asking where you’re going, why you’re going and why you can’t leave “riiiiiiiight NOW”So then they’re nice and tired the very first morning of your trip from staying up too late the night before and right there the fun begins. (Still laughing.)

I’ve learned to pay more attention to their cues than the clock while we are camping. My 4 year old who hasn’t napped in a year may very likely nap at 10:00 am and my 2 year old who naps religiously may go all day long without a nap as a result of sugar fuel which reminds me…

Give them the sugar. Buy the s’mores. Pass that stuff out like your life depends on it because if you want any relaxation at all you’re going to have to be a little flexible. I buy a lot of snacks for our trips that I don’t buy at home and they know that. They know they can weasel their way into a $5 Minion from the sketchy ice cream van but come Monday back at home you can bet your butt they aren’t asking me for ice cream.

On a serious note, it truly is fun for all of us to “bend the rules” a little for a weekend. Why not?!

Prep! Prep! Prep!

The more you can do ahead of time the better.

We only have 25 gallons of fresh water in our camper so beach weekends require us to limit our water usage as we obviously aren’t getting a fresh water hookup. Cooking ahead of time reduces washing dishes and general time in the kitchen. It’s a small space and not entirely comfortable to prep meals which is part of the fun, I am not complaining. Also though it’s really hard to prepare, cook and parent two kids in such a tiny area without losing your mind.

This past week I made our breakfast sausage gravy, homemade salsa, a baked pasta dish that is excellent re-heated (we have a microwave in the camper) and I prepped my favorite healthy camping dinner Make-Ahead Kabobs. We did very little in the kitchen and it worked out well for us.

Two words: baby pool


You can’t go wrong. We desperately bought this plastic pool at WalMart a few weeks ago on a camping trip without any kind of pool or swimming area available. Since then we’ve been hauling it around everywhere with us, even the couples’ Memorial Day camping trip the kids didn’t go on!! A small inflatable pool would be much better for saving space but we’re going to use this thing until we get our $7 worth, ok? We take it down to the water at the beach and Isla has a lot of fun tossing sand and shells in. At one point I used it as a playpen by plopping it in front of the camper door and demanding neither of them step out of it. They filled it to the brim with sand, beer, beach trash and who knows what else but seriously who cares? It works! Oh and aside from babysitting it can be especially useful for actual swimming and, you know, cooling down.

Relax. Embrace the humor. Don’t hold too high of expectations.

My husband loves to fish off of the beach which is what initiated this hobby of ours. We decided camping was a great way for our entire family to enjoy something centered around what he loved. I know the entire week leading up to our trips he dreams of days of endless fishing. The reality though is that he spends about a quarter of his time out there fishing. It bugged him on our first few trips but now he embraces the family time. I do still try to give him as much uninterrupted fishing time as possible but between the kids, generator, setup, meals and more it’s difficult.

My point is to appreciate the time simply for what it is–a special memory that your family will reflect on for a lifetime. Not every vacation is going to be a winner. Our second camping trip ever was such a disaster that we seriously considered selling the camper. We laugh about it now but at the time everything was going wrong. Craig’s brand new pole got damaged, the generator was not working properly, Isla was a fresh walker and rolled out of the camper door at least twice and the icing on the cake was Craig getting called into work for an emergency job which was, in hindsight, probably a blessing in disguise. Who knows what else would have gone down had we stayed out there.

Now that we’re more experienced we know how to keep things light and laugh at the inevitable mishaps of our little adventures. One of the best parts of the day is finally getting the kids to bed and sitting out by a campfire, having a little much to drink and laughing about every thing that happened that day.

Here’s some of my favorite pictures from our camping adventures: