Seven Tips for Camping with a Toddler

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Often times, family travel means having to be flexible with your travel plans. A few weekends ago, I had my first camping with a toddler experience with my two year old son. Originally, this was supposed to be a mother-daughter camping trip (my daughter’s request), but the travel gods had other plans for us, it seemed.

My daughter and I had spent months planning out this trip. She loves the outdoors. And when I had mentioned to her that I wanted to do a mother-daughter trip with her, she immediately requested a camping trip. I researched nearby state parks that we could camp at, and chose a site on one of the islands in the Puget Sound. As the weekend approached, we were full of excitement and anticipation for our girls-only getaway.

And then drama happened.

My daughter decided that her friend’s birthday party, which was planned for the same day that we were to depart for camping, was THE event of the season, and she insisted that she attend the party. Needless to say, I was not a happy mother, and quite honestly, a bit hurt that a birthday party was far more important to my daughter than spending time with her mother.

A change of plans

After much lecturing (on my part) and crying (on my daughter’s part), I decided to take my son camping in my daughter’s place. The morning of our camping trip arrived, and my son and I set off on our trip. I had rented a car through Turo, which is one of my favorite ways to get a cheap rental car (you can read more about it here), and I packed it with all our usual camping gear.

Our campsite was at Manchester State Park, which is near Port Orchard, WA. Although it’s a relatively small park, the campgrounds are nice. It provided just the right amount of hiking for my little one. Our camping with a toddler experience was off to a good start!

Camping with a toddler at Manchester State Park
Exploring the area at Manchester State Park (July 2016)

My experience camping with a toddler

I was a bit worried about what it would be like to go camping with a toddler. Will he run off somewhere? Is he going to get bored? What am I going to do if he gets hurt? But thankfully, everything went smoothly, and my son and I had a great time.

If you have a toddler of your own, and are worried about camping with him or her, there’s no need to worry. Here are some tips for camping with a toddler that I picked up from this trip.

Add an element of adventure

Manchester State Park is located on an island just west of Seattle. This means we had to ride on a ferry to get there. My kids, especially my son, are still young enough to think ferries are cool, so ferry rides are always an adventure for them. If you’re camping with your toddler, try and throw in some element of adventure into the trip. Take an out of the ordinary method of transportation, or make up a story about the place where you’ll be camping. They’ll enjoy the imaginative aspect of it all, and it makes an already adventurous experience even more so.

Our Turo rental for the weekend (July 2016)

Bring toys that can get dirty

Toys are mainly to keep your toddler occupied on the ride to and from the campsite. More often than not, once your kids get to the campsite, there will be more than enough things out in nature to keep them busy. When you’re picking out the toys to bring, take ones that you don’t mind getting dirty or possibly getting lost. For this trip, I took along my son’s wooden helicopter toy and also some board books, which we mainly kept in the car and tent.

Hiking at the state park (July 2016)

Pack extra clothes

My son is currently potty training, so this is a no-brainer for me. But even if your kid is fully potty-trained, or still in diapers, it helps to pack along several extra changes of clothing. Kids, especially toddlers, like to get dirty. And if it rains at your campsite, which happens quite often in the Pacific Northwest, you’re going to want to have some dry clothes to change your kids into.

Chowing down on hot dogs! (July 2016)

Time your bathroom breaks

Traveling solo with a kid means you’ll need to accompany them everywhere. So if one of you needs to use the bathroom, make sure the other one also uses it at the same time. That way, you won’t have to drag your kid to the campground bathroom more times than you need to. Also, make sure you have your toddler use the bathroom before he or she goes to sleep, so you won’t have to do a middle of the night bathroom break.

The trail to the bathrooms (July 2016)

Remind them about safety

My son is at that stage where he likes to be helpful. He’s also at the stage where he likes to do everything that I am doing. This means, helping out with carrying water, helping with setting up the tent, and helping with the fire (which he was quite disappointed about when I refused to let him do). While having your kids help out around the campsite is great, make sure you remind them about being safe. Toddlers are old enough to start understanding what’s safe and not safe, as long as you take some time to explain it to them. Of course, the main focus should be on fire safety, but also remember to keep your kids safe from the road, and around tools like knives and hatchets.

Cooking hot dogs by campfire (July 2016)

Give them downtime

All that outdoor fun can get exhausting! One of the things I made sure to do was to give my son some downtime. I set up his toys in the tent, and as I was preparing dinner, he was keeping himself occupied in the tent, rolling around on the sleeping bags and playing with the toys and flashlights. Just like at home, kids need some calm quiet time to decompress after a long day.

Camping with a toddler
Hanging out by the water (July 2016)

Keep it simple

I have friends who are avid backpackers, and they often do back-country camping trips with their one year old son. This is not me! I am not by nature an outdoorsy person, so the most rustic I’ll get is car camping. But quite honestly, this is perfect for toddlers. Unless you’re already an avid outdoorsman, try and keep your camping excursion as simple as possible. This will make it less stressful both for you and your kid.

Helping out at the camp site (July 2016)

My son and I had an awesome time camping at Manchester State Park. We got to eat hot dogs, roast marshmallows, play by the water, and we even saw a deer on one of our hikes! These are the types of experiences that will leave lasting impressions on your kids. If you’re nervous about going on a camping trip with a toddler, I’m certain these tips will assure you that it’s not as challenging as it may seem. Happy camping!

Have you gone camping with your toddler? What’s your advice for your fellow parents?

Seven Tips for Camping With a Toddler | The Wandering Daughter

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I'm a travel-loving mom of three from Seattle. Join our adventures as we explore the Pacific Northwest and the world!

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