Love of nature is one of the most precious things my parents passed on to me. When I am out in a green space, even if it’s just a park, I instantly feel better. The smells of grass, soil and flowers brings good memories. Some of the ways my parents introduced my siblings and myself to nature were hiking trips, summers spent in the countryside, gardening and camping holidays and weekends.
I want my son to find peace in nature, just like I do – I know it sounds grand, but I can’t feel better words for it. Being in nature, being able to cast my eye far and seeing the calming shades of greens and blues with colourful flowers dotted around helps me bring back the balance to my life. Nature is my happy place.
After this grand opening it’s time to go back to more pragmatic matters. We want Little F to love nature, so we took him camping. And he loved it! As with any holidays with a toddler in tow it’s best to be prepared. Here’s what you need to know/take when planning a camping holiday with a toddler. Who doesn’t like a list?
BEFORE YOU GO
If this is to be your first camping trip with your toddler consider glamping first (here’s some advice on glamping). You don’t want to go to the trouble traveling and setting up, only to have to evacuate the very next day after a bad night’s sleep because your toddler is finding it hard to sleep in a tent. It is a big change after all. If there are any issues it will be easier on you, as you won’t have to put up or put down the tent – which can take a while with a family sized one.
And of course, before you even ponder glamping or camping, make sure your toddler can be reasonably expected to sleep through the night. You don’t want to wake the whole campsite.
WHAT TO ASK WHEN BOOKING
It pays to do your research and find a family friendly campsite. If your toddler is having a good time, there’s a good chance you will too. If he is miserable you definitely won’t be enjoying yourself. So here’s a few things it’s worth paying attention to when looking for a family friendly campsite:
Is there a play ground or other means of entertaining kids? – don’t over do it here. If you choose a big campsite with lots of facilities and playroom you will take away charm from camping. Think outside of the box. We loved Ashurst campsite in the New Forest, because it has free range ponies wandering the grounds. That was enough to keep Little F entertained.
What is the attitude to larger groups and parties? You don’t want to be kept up by a rowdy stag party. A lot of campsite have a no tolerance policy and will ask persistent noise makers to leave.
What are the facilities like? A nice shower block may not be so important on a weekend trip, especially if it means a smaller more remote campsite in a beautiful spot. It will however become an issue if you are away for a week and skipping a wash is not an option.
Is there a shop on the campsite grounds on nearby? If you don’t have a cooler it’s great to be able to buy some basics locally. Some campsites, like Welsummer, offer their own organic produce like eggs and home grown fruit and veg.
What are the local attractions and walks? Some walks are good for buggies – your toddler won’t want to walk all day – but a lot of paths have stiles, which are hard to tackle even with a baby carrier. It’s also good to have a plan B in case the weather turns. You don’t want to be stuck in the tent when it’s pouring outside.
WHAT NOT TO TAKE
Don’t take too many gadgets! Camping market is very profitable and sells all sorts of products, which aren’t really necessary. They will only take up space in your car and take extra time to set up. I’ve seen families arriving on Saturday morning and spending hours pilings things out of the car and setting up their big tent. Only to repeat the process in reverse order the next day. It cuts into your enjoyment time.
We’ve been camping for years and we never got round to buying table and chairs… It seems such a basic camping equipment, but we always managed somehow. Often we would find a tree trunk to sit on and prepare food with the chopping board on our laps. This is a bit of an extreme example, but I hope it will get you thinking what you really need and what you don’t.
WHAT TO TAKE
Once you’ve cured your temptation to buy any additional unnecessary equipment, here’s a list of things you will need.
A tent – this of course goes without saying. If you are buying one, don’t buy the biggest just for the sake of it. It will take longer to setup. We’ve learn this the hard way. We used to have a small three man ‘igloo’ tent. It took about 20 minutes to set up. Now we have a two ‘bedroom’ one with a ‘living room’ and an ‘entrance hall’. It takes two hours to erect, by the time we’ve dealt with all the pins and guide ropes.
Rubber mallet – it’s not essential, as you can always borrow one from a neighbour, but if you arrive in a busy time no one may have a spare one. With the small tent we did not bother buying a mullet, as even if we could borrow one, there were such few pins to insert into ground we could use something else to hammer them in. With a big tent it’s good to have one.
Cooking equipment – it doesn’t have to be a two burners stove on a table with a handy shelf. This does take space. You may not have space to spare in the car or in your shed/attic to store it when you’re not camping. We’ve only ever had a basic one burner stove – like this one – and it’s worked fine.
Cooler – you only really need one if the weather is particularly hot, there are no nearby stores or you are on a specific free from diet. We’ve camped for years without one. The only reason we decided to buy one now, was a trip to a music festival. We needed to have milk for Little F first things in the morning and there was no local store to buy ice to keep it fresh overnight. Festivals by default don’t offer the same facilities as regular campsites, as they are campsites only temporarily. They excel in entertainment, not comfort.
Do consider whether you need a cooler box before you buy one. They are bulky and not so cheap. It may be more economical to buy ice and fresh products everyday in the campsite store.
Map and/or guide book of local walks and attraction – you may be able to buy these at the campsite store or local tourist information point, but it’s best to bring your own. It will save you time and possible disappointment.
Torch and small lamp – it’s good to have a torch when you need to go to the loo at night, or are coming back late from your walk and have to walk along the road. A torch will make you more visible to the cars. Most tents have a little hook in each ‘chamber’ to hang a light lamp. It allows you to have your hands free. Solar battery lamps are very good. They charge well, even on cloudy days, and some of them have a port to charge your phone (important for bloggers!).
Something to sleep on – there is a wide choice of mats and mattress out there. Which one you will chose depends largely on your budget and how often you plan to go camping. If you camp a lot it’s worth investing into comfortable mattress. Since our blow up mattress refused to get inflated we’ve decided to buy something new. After some research I came across camping cots. Yes, they are for adults. They are quite pricy, but very compact and light and incredibly comfortable (a little less so when your toddler moves in in the middle of the night…). Of course you’ll need a travel cot for your toddler as well.
Something to sleep in – warm pyjamas a good sleeping bag are a must. Nights can get cold even during summer months. Out of a city temperature drops as soon as the sun is down as there is no concrete and stone to hold the sun’s heat. As with any other holiday make sure to take your toddler’s favourite toy, comforter or blanket.
Waterproofs, wellis, suncream and hats – you never know what the weather will bring!
Off the ground BBQ or a low burner – most campsites won’t let you use disposable BBQs, as they char the grass underneath. A low BBQ bowl is a better idea when camping, as it will also keep your legs warm in the evening. Don’t forget to take tongues and other BBQ equipment, otherwise you’ll be burning your fingers while turning sausages with a normal fork.
A couple of favourite toys – don’t take too many. They are only likely to get lost. If your toddler is out in nature he is likely to be more interested in sticks, stones and mud anyway!
‘Housekeeping’ basics – apart from obvious things (camping pots set, plastic cups, bowls, cutlery etc) you’ll need a washing up bowl, clothes pegs to hang wet tea towels on guide ropes, line (you may need to hang some wet clothes), bottle and can opener!, foil or cling film, flask (it’s great to have hot tea during a walk). And don’t forget dustpan and brush to clean the tent before taking it down.
Big bottles for water – better than cheap foldable containers, which make the water taste like plastic.
Plastic bags – however much I try to avoid them (I go shopping with a basket and cloth bags) they always seem to find their way into my kitchen cupboard. Either from occasional shopping delivery, or daddy doing impromptu shopping. The cupboard is always full! Camping is a good opportunity to use them up, so take lots. You’ll need them for rubbish bags, packing muddy boots, securing a leaking bottle, taking extra dirty dishes to the washing up area, separating dirty from clean clothes, putting sandwiches into… The list goes on.
Here’s a few more things worth mentioning.
Have a camping box ready – if you camp often this will save you lots of time when packing. We use a large plastic storage box. I’ve packed it with things we need when camping, but don’t use at home. Things like camping stove, kitchen bits (including a couple of tea towels, washing up liquid in a small bottle and sponge), washing up bowl, map cover, spare gas canisters. All your other camping equipment is best stored in the same place, so you can quickly grab it and put into the car. The box also doubles up as an extra seat or a table, and keeps all the wildlife out of our food.
Consider pre-cooking meals – it will save you time. If you freeze them it will also help to keep your cool box cool.
Lots of good quality snacks – when traveling with young children it’s best to be well prepared on the snack front. We don’t give chocolate or crisps to Little F, but there is lots o good quality, nutritious and organic options (like nakd bars or Organix products).
It has grown to be quite a long post, but I hope you’ll find it helpful. Is there anything you would suggest is worth taking/thinking about when taking your toddler camping?
PS. Any links and brands are included for your convenience only. I am not being compensated in any way for including certain products.