I felt mud splashing up onto the back of my calves as I slopped through the soggy field. I was trekking back from the pit toilet, making a mental note of the distance between it and our tents, should I feel myself needing to be sick, and having to make an emergency dash. I was seven weeks pregnant with our fourth child. Our three young boys played not-so-quietly in the tents, retreating from the constant rain. Storm clouds stretched as far as the eye could see, and the rain canopy we had purchased for our trip had proven itself not-so-water-proof.
This was not exactly the hammock-swaying, book-reading, iced-tea-sipping camping trip I had envisioned.
However, after three days of rain, mud, and grilled cheese over the camp stove, hearing our six-year-old’s description of the trip over the phone with his grandma made all of the work worth it. “Grandma, it rained a lot. But it was so, SO beautiful!”
That trip could have done us in. So could our two other not-so-perfect camping trips that spring. From the time our two-year-old bombed a hill on his tricycle and hit his head on a rock, to the time a bear wandered through our campsite in the middle of the night, it would have been easy to determine our family Not-Campers. But that would have been a shame. Because among the mishaps and messes, we have created some incredible memories around the campfire and under the stars. And we’ve also learned a thing or two about how to make camping with kids not only manageable, but enjoyable!
Set up camp next to another family
One of the first things we do as we pull into a campground is scout out tents with kids’ bikes or mini camp chairs next to them. Setting up camp next to another family with young kids is a surefire way to have built-in playmates for your kids! I have plenty of memories from my own childhood of new friendships forged over campfire s’mores and bike rides around the campground.
Stay more than one day
We learned this one on our very first camping trip with kids. The first night of camping is always a wash. By the time we get the car packed, travel to our destination, unload everything, stake out our tents, string the hammock, set up the camp kitchen, untie the bikes from the car rack, and cook some semblance of dinner (are you exhausted yet?), everyone is cranky. All of the work is not worth it until the second day, when we settle in and find ourselves in a blissful state of boredom. We always aim to camp for at least two nights to ensure that all the work is rewarded with some sweet camping memories.
Take a nature safety course
If your family plans on doing a good bit of camping, it’s a good idea to have one or both parents take a nature safety or first-aid course. On our trip when our toddler hit his head on a rock, I was very thankful that my husband was a certified wilderness first responder (a bit overkill, perhaps), and could determine that our son did not need stiches. You may save yourself a trip to the ER, and some not-so-pleasant camping memories, by packing in some first-aid knowledge.
Lower your expectations
The only reason that I did not huff and puff my way home after our rainy weekend in the mountains was that I decided to readjust my expectations. Or rather, I completely tossed them out the window! If I head into the woods with fanciful thoughts of afternoons swaying in the hammock, or hours spent digging into a good book, I am bound to leave frustrated. We’re parents, after all, and we are always on call. When I go instead with a flexible mindset as to what the trip can look like, and focus on engaging with the hearts of my family, we all win.
Those first few trips with our kids could very well have left an unpleasant taste in our mouths for camping, but they didn’t. In fact, the month after our rainy camping trip, we packed up and set off on a two-month-long camping trip in the Pacific Northwest! Now for that trip, we did invest in a (very small!) travel trailer. But that’s another story.For now, we’ll keep setting our eyes to the woods, packing in bear spray and adjustable expectations, and packing out lasting memories.
Raising kids stirs something deep in our souls — an innate knowing that our time is finite. Taking my kids outside in creation, I’m discovering how to stretch our time and pack it to the brim with meaning. God’s creativity provides the riches of resources for teaching the next generation who He is and how He loves us. Join our adventure and discover inspiration and resources for refusing rush, creating habits of rest, living intentionally, and making the most of this beautiful life!
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