The only thing better than taking a camping trip with the kids is actually being prepared for a camping trip with the kids.
Depending on their age, children require a lot of stuff – and space can be limited in a camper or RV. Most parents agree on some basic items. For Sierra Baker, an avid camper who works at Greenwood Acres Campground in Jackson, those items include bug spray, sunblock and snacks – lots and lots of snacks.
Many parents like to involve their children in the planning and packing process. Sarah Lemp, a camping mother of five who shares her experiences on her blog at AllThingsWithPurpose.com, said she and her husband have their kids pack their own clothes and a bag of things to do in the car. They also do some of the grocery shopping with her and she lets them pick out special snacks.
At the campground, there are many opportunities for outdoor exploration. From hiking, swimming and fishing to biking, kayaking and star gazing, parents may think they don’t have to plan many activities beyond making s’mores, but it’s a good idea to bring along some card games, books and art supplies, said Lemp.
“We always try to encourage our older kids to unplug from electronics once we settle into a camping spot. We do a lot of hiking together as a family and other active outdoor activities,” she said in an email. “We also love to encourage independent exploration for our older kids. It’s rare these days to be in a community where you feel safe enough to give your kids extra room to spread their wings. We like to give our kids the freedom to ride their bikes, walk to the camp store and even make friends – on their own.”
Baker suggested looking at the amenities of the campground you are considering staying at so that all the age groups can find something enjoyable to do.
Camper Cheri Maitland agreed, saying parents need to research where they’re going as much as they need to know what they’re going to do when they get there. She said to check into programs for kids, places to swim, paths to ride a bike and whether or not skateboards or rollerblades or allowed. She also suggested researching things in the area that kids would find interesting, like a beach, amusement park, museums — something the whole family can do together.
Maitland’s family is made up of enthusiastic campers and travelers. The Parkbound Maitlands (Jim, Cheri, Jameson and Gerald Maitland) as the family is known, spoke at the MARVAC RV & Camping Show earlier this year and are planning to return at the 30th Annual Fall Detroit RV & Camping Show, Oct. 2-6 at Suburban Collection Showplace.
Erin Schmotzer, a mom of three from Armada, cautioned against overscheduling.
“Allow time for kids to just play at the playground or campsite. Take part in planned activities happening at the campground or RV resort. It’s a great way to meet other kids and parents. You may learn of a great local attraction or family-friendly restaurant,” she said.
Schmotzer also said to make sure each child has an opportunity to do an activity of his or her choice.
Babies adapt to camping pretty well. Before leaving the driveway, make sure you create a list of must-haves for the baby. This should include a place for the infant to sleep, play and eat as well as all of his or her favorite toys and soothing items.
If you camp often, you may want to invest in a few space-saving baby items. Lemp said her family has always found that less is more so they pack gear that is multipurpose and collapsible.
“We use a small, travel crib that folds into a backpack for sleeping and can be used for a play pen outside,” she said. “We always pack a small umbrella stroller and a baby carrier for hiking. We also have a small high chair that folds into a little bag.”
Maitland also suggested a collapsible wagon that allows you to have something to transport them in as well as a good space for a nap that’s up off the ground. And you can easily place a bug net over the top of it, she said.
Toddlers are a bit more challenging because they have so much energy and safety is a top priority.
“I suggest finding a campground with a nice park to take them to,” said Baker in an email. “This turns into quality family time.”
The Lemp family likes to bring a playpen or a collapsible play yard for younger children. They’ve also packed a small water table that can be used for play time or for an eating space.
“I always bring special outdoor toys that are new to them to hold their attention,” she said.
Also, keep to a schedule as much as possible, said Schmotzer. Toddlers thrive on structure, so keeping mealtimes, naptimes and bedtimes the same as they are at home can make things easier. Also, she suggested sticking with age-appropriate activities for toddlers.
Maitland’s advice was simple:
“Try not to go too far or do too much, they won’t enjoy it and you won’t either. Always make time for a nap for both the parents and children,” she said.
Teens love camping, but a big concern for parents is getting them to unplug. According to the 2019 North American Camping Report, sponsored by Kampgrounds of America (KOA), since 2017, the importance of Wi-Fi or internet access while camping has declined among teen campers from 37 percent to 29 percent. When further questioned, 80 percent of teens indicate going online one or more times per day while camping and nearly half go online more than four times.
However, the study did indicate that two-thirds of teens claim that they would still want to go camping even if they could not stay in touch via a smartphone or computer. According to the study, about 96 percent of teens say they enjoy camping with their family and friends.
“To ensure you’re going to have an amazing trip with your family, just remember to leave the worries and technology behind and live in the moment of camping with your family,” said Baker. “Camping with my son is always a blast and he can’t wait to go again every time, nor can I.”
One last thing:
Your attitude is contagious, says Sarah Lemp, a mother of five who travels extensively with her family.
No matter what happens when on the road, try to stay flexible as possible, she advises.
“Be prepared for things to go wrong and don’t let it ruin your mood,” said Lemp in an email. “Think of a camping trip as a team building exercise for your family. There will be good and bad, but your kids will forget the bad and remember the good if you rally together and have fun exploring new places and trying new things.”
Lemp shares her experiences on her blog at AllThingsWithPurpose.com.