Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Guest blog: Camping with Children

If you've ever wondered how you'd survive camping with a baby or young children, read the experience of one mum, Corinne, who shares her top tips for stress-free camping here:

I have been on camping holidays since I was a baby, when we were kids my parents would pack up our small caravan and head off to places like the New Forest for a week at a time. Often we would team up with another family for a holiday, which as children we loved as we had ready made friends with us.

Looking back I remember these holidays with great fondness and most of my strongest childhood memories are from these times. It can’t have always been easy for my parents, there are 4 of us plus there were often young foster children added to the mix so they must have been busy trips for my Mum and Dad. Despite this I remember my parents being at their most relaxed on holiday.

As an adult I continued to camp, on holiday or at festivals and have always been happy in a 2 man tent with a roll mat and a sleeping bag. As I’ve got older and sleep has become more of a necessity I like a bit more comfort on my camping trips, but am always happy to rough it in terms of site facilities. I like a basic campsite and tend to avoid ones with ‘facilities’, a toilet block will do me.

This year we have really embraced camping again and purchased a beautiful bell tent in the hopes it will provide us with a lovely camping space for the next 20 years or so. We have just returned from a camping and baby naming weekend we organised for our youngest, we found that even friends who don’t do camping loved it. These are my top tips for camping with children:

1. If you are going to be a regular camping family invest in a decent sized tent. It does not need to be HUGE or posh or canvas but you should be able to stand up in it. On a wet day when you are stuck inside for longer than usual you will be so glad of this. Modern 4 man tents often have a porch or central area which are tall enough to stand in (the bedrooms do not need to be tall), these are ideal for a family of 4. The central area is also useful for storing stuff that doesn’t fit in the bedrooms.

2. Buy airbeds or camp beds. Do not think you’ll be warm and comfortable on the floor, you really won’t be. We had some friends staying at the campsite this weekend who decided they would leave theirs behind as their car was rather full, but then they got no sleep. It gets very cold at night and an airbed helps with warmth and comfort. If you have lots of room in your vehicle consider a memory foam mattress topper for the airbed, I’ve just got one and it is utter bliss, better than my bed at home! I always use duvet and pillows when camping, sleeping bags are fine if there’s less room but make sure they’re warm ones, even in the summer it gets cold at night. Take extra blankets if you can, they’re also useful for wrapping up in if anyone gets cold or wet.

3. Camping stoves are great but think about what and how much you’ll be cooking. I used to use a small stove but only ever heated up tins of beans and sausages. When I wanted to cook better meals I bought a single ring stove which the bottles slide into, it’s fine but the gas quickly runs out. We might upgrade to a bigger stove with separate gas bottle. The gas bottle is initially expensive but is worth it in the long run for us as we’ll get lots of use out of it. Boiling water uses lots of energy so consider getting a Kelly/Storm kettle if you drink lots of tea (like I do). It’s also ideal to get the water boiling for pasta/rice/vegetables. They are easy to use and rely on twigs for fuel so reduce costs long term. If you will eat out most of the time a basic stove will do. We like sites that allow camp fires, these are perfect to cook over but you will need to educate children on safe behaviour around campfires and barbeques.

4. Get ready for getting cold and wet. Layers are the best thing for adults and children as they can be easily added to or taken off. Even at night I wear pyjamas, socks and a jumper. All in one waterproof suits and wellies are perfect for toddlers, our toddler wears his most of the time, even if it’s dry as his favourite game is pouring water from pots. Once you get wet and cold camping it is hard to warm up again, something we struggle to get our 12 year old to understand!

5. Be prepared for late nights and early mornings. Especially at the beginning of a trip children will be excited. Forget the usual bedtime but do keep a routine (teeth brushing, story, bed, type of thing). We generally keep the children up until its dark on the first night or they don’t settle, generally they go to bed earlier as the week goes on as they’re tired out. They still get up with the sun, but again this settles down. If they are small try and plan a walk or a drive at some point during the day so they can get a nap in their buggy or car seat, it makes the evenings less stressful! When we put our toddler to bed he would get upset if we went outside the tent so we stayed inside until he went to sleep, however, this did mean pretending to be asleep for 10 minutes while he went off to sleep and ignoring his attempts to get our attention.

6. If you are bottle feeding a baby, a bowl and some sterilising tablets is the easiest way to sterilise bottles while away, they can be purchased at the chemist or supermarket. Other baby essentials (while trying not to take too much were folding changing mat, disposable nappies, baby wipes, nappy cream and a sling or buggy.

7. At night we put the baby and toddler in lots of layers. They wore a vest, babygrow, baby sleeping bag and a hooded cardigan. I also had blankets close by for really cold nights. This seemed to be enough to keep them cosy, they are less likely to wake up if they are warm. Our toddler slept in a travel cot and the baby either in the pram or with me, but on top of the covers.

8. Have a canvas bag with wash stuff in. It’s a small annoyance but morning and evening I would get asked where the toothbrushes were and there’d be a big search as they’d never go back where they started. This time I put everyone’s things in a canvas bag (possibly separate for boys and girls if using separate loos) and it was by the door of the tent and ready to go. On cleanliness, we are scruffy/smelly campers and the most we manage is teeth brushing, hair brushing and a strip wash. Our ‘wash bag’ contains toothbrushes, toothpaste, hairbrush, small quick drying towel and a toilet roll. I sometimes take more things but they never get used!

9. Plan for points of stress. These would typically be the journey at either end of the trip, trying to put the tent up and cooking. Make sure there is entertainment for the journey, especially if it's a long one, even if it's being ready to play I Spy with them for 5 solid hours. When putting up the tent give the children 'jobs' to do, it could be collecting kindling for the campfire later on or getting sleeping bags ready. Our toddler loved banging the tent pegs in even though they were already in place. We were a little worried about our toddler getting burnt while we were cooking or using the Kelly Kettle, so ended up strapping him into his buggy while we did those jobs, it wasn't ideal but it was the safest option.

10. Go prepared with activities. It could be a football and a pack of cards but think ahead of what you might need to entertain your children and what is or isn’t on site. We have a wonderful book called Nature's Playground: Activities, Crafts and Games to Encourage Children to get Outdoors. It’s full of great ideas and can really help when trying to entertain children outdoors.

So those are my top tips, I hope they are useful. Most of all enjoy being in the outdoors, go with friends if you can and make the most of creating those special memories.

Find out more about Corinne and her family on her blog Motherhood Journeys or follower her on Twitter @MotherScuffer

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