If you asked me about car camping 10 years ago I would say no way. Why would I go into the forest to sleep next to my car? Why go into the woods so I have to be quiet and not disturb other campers? The reason is these two little faces.
Now as a mom with two little kids car camping is the only way to do it if you want to have a good vacation and actually look forward to it year after year. I might go back to backpacking and minimalism one day but for now, I am 100% on-board with kid glamping and every year I look forward to our camping trips.
If you live in the PNW you need to book your spot at least 6 months ahead. Yes, that is right, if you want that sweet spot, the one group site near the bathrooms, the one with a water faucet, the one that has an outlet, the one that you to go every year then you need to book it on the first day you can so you don’t have to worry about getting something that is going to stress you out. We have that site, the one we go to every year with a water faucet, outlet, and picnic tables with a shelter. It’s a group site with good access and it’s been our 4th of July home for a few years now.
I love planning and taking notes. So last year after doing this a few times we really honed in on our pregame. It made a huge difference making the time to get some stuff organized and starting our trip on the right foot that I felt so ready I even got in an AM run before we hit the road.
Make a few premade dishes. We made some food ahead of time like couscous salad and chocolate-chip cookies. If you don’t have anything made I would at least consider having a lunch bag of food for each person so you have a quick meal ready when you get there. It takes time to set up camp and no one wants to be hangry. This is also a great way to keep the kids occupied while the adults set up camp.
In the morning your kids are going to get up at the crack of dawn. Be ready to roll out of that tent and have your lounge area set up. This is the area with the rug or large blanket. We have a few inflatable chairs and toys to entertain the kids. If they are really little you’ll have a playpen for them to chill in while you warm up the water for your instant coffee.
There will be bugs so make sure to bring net tabletop covers to keep them off your food. I also like to keep a basket out with utensils, napkins, and maybe a citronella candle to keep the tablecloth from blowing away. I keep this under the net tabletop cover to keep things clean while we are away from the site and all the critters get up on our table.
For our picnic tables, we use the table cloths that are reusable and have a cleanable surface top and a cotton fabric bottom. They hold better to wood picnic tables and they are easy to wipe off and sanitize each time since at our location there was always chipmunk poop when we return to the campsite.
If you haven’t camped while and want to get one thing to make this camping trip a success get a new air mattress. Sleep is going to be hard in a new place, with new sounds, and you all might be in the same bed for the first time. To help get some sleep make sure you have a good bed and lots of pillows. If it is cold make sure to bring more blankets then you think you’ll actually need. Sometimes with kids, things get wet or dirty and better to have extra and not need them. I would also recommend having larger than needed blankets. So if you have a queen mattress bring king size blankets so everyone is covered.
Some things I do at our campsite and in our tent to make it feel more like home:
- Large rug (or blanket) for the getting ready and play area in the tent.
- Basket for shoes in the tent near the door.
- “Doormat” outside the tent so there is a clean place to step or sit to put on shoes.
- Solar lights to help see important areas.
- Bathroom bag with a headlamp and all the stuff your kids want or need when you go no matter the time of day.
- Air pump and a long extension cord. If you have kids they are going to jump on that air mattress and you are going to want to touch it up and fill it up a little more without getting it out of the tent. Trust me, bring an extension cord.
- Furniture, and the cozier and more comfortable the better. We have found our favorite are the inflatables chairs and such. I bring some extra blankets and pillows to make it extra cozy.
- I also like to bring some fun seasonal decorations.
Breakfast for the kids is that boxed cereal they never get to eat and while they are busy someone can make the adults some real breakfast. We do easy lunches and make sandwiches and let the kids snack all day. Then for dinner, we go big and make sure to sit at the table and eat family style like we do at home.
There are a ton of tips online about what to make while camping but it is really up to your style. My hubby loves to cook fun stuff but he is also nostalgic about things and wants to have special types of classic dishes, especially for the 4th of July camping we do every year.
Here are a few of my tips around food:
- Freeze large bottles of water for ice packs. This way you have water once it melts and when it does melt it won’t get everything soggy.
- Bring a few reusable containers. They can hold lunch stuff to the beach or on a hike, they can be in the cooler for that half-eaten apple or the dinner someone didn’t eat.
- If you can get dry ice that stuff is the best to keep everything cold.
- Have a snack bag or box. This is all the dry snack items you have so you can have your kids help themselves. You can even have one in the cooler for perishables.
- We use a travel bottle cleaner container that has a small dry area and comes with a brush. It is perfect for washing dishes.
- Bring something ready to eat like muffins, wraps, or comfort food.
- Water bottles for the kids with their name on it. One trip… one cup!!!
- We love making nachos. You can warm up the cheese over a campfire and then add all the sides to bowls so people and kids can build their own. Always a big hit with the groups and super easy to make.
- This year the smores got an uplift with chocolate cookies.
The Clean and Dirty
We camp near the beach and by the end of the day, the kids need a bath, especially if we are there several days. We bring a large bucket/bin that holds our camping gear and use that as a bathtub. We warm up water with our sunshower and our immersion circulator if we need a little extra.
Once our kids are ready to go to bed we have them put their shoes inside the tent in a basket near the door. My kids are already used to taking off shoes in the house so this was easy for them to adopt. By keeping shoes inside we didn’t have to worry about bugs crawling in overnight outside the tent. This really helps limit the amount of dirt in our tent.
A few more things I add to my checklist:
- Small dustpan and little broom to clean up dirt in the tent.
- Disinfectant wipes (trust me you will need them).
- Collapsible sink bucket to wash pots or dishes.
- Paper plates for easy clean ups when you don’t want to wash dishes.
- Large hand sanitizer for the table and a small one to take with you in your backpack for day adventures.
- Bathroom bag or shower caddy with everything you need for the bathroom including a flashlight to get there.
- Yoga matt for the inside of the tent to put shoes on or step inside the tent with shoes.
- Large ziplock bag for the inside trash.
Bedtime for little kids is hard, even at home sometimes so we go the super easy route. I put my kid in our bed and give them their tablets with headphones. They watch a movie while I sit at the campfire only a few feet away and they pass out before the movie ends. I then transfer them when I go to bed. The great thing about the headphones is they don’t hear us talking and they get to stay up a little later than normal so hopefully, they sleep in a little.
I also suggest lots of blankets, extra pillows, stuffies, and kid lanterns.
Odds and Ends
We love camping and want to make the most of it for our kids. They thrive being outside and having everyone so close to them for days. It is a great family experience we get to share with close friends and do my best to make it fun and enjoyable for everyone.
Here are a few more odds and ends to make camping and exploring fun:
- Scavenger hunt and exploring tools for the kids.
- Smore’s caddy or station and stuff ready to go, including sticks with handles.
- Glow in the dark toys and glow sticks for everything!!!
- Toys like sidewalk chalk, buckets, shovels, and binoculars.
- Stuff to do inside if it is bad weather like coloring books, crafts, and movies on tablets.
- Warm robe for the kids. They are perfect for putting over PJs and keeping them warm all night long.
- Backpack for day trips out and about to hold all the snacks.
Hope this list and suggestions help to make your next family camping trip that much more enjoyable for everyone.
Of course, all this said, camping with kids is just like being at home with kids. It is crazy and you never know what could happen. You can plan for the worst and hope for the best and if you keep your bar low you will be happy with your vacation.
Happy Kid Glamping * L