Monday, August 3, 2015

How We Simplify Camping with a Large Family

Camping can be a lot of work - there’s not really any way around that, especially with lots of little
kids. But there are ways to simplify and make it easier. We’ve been camping a number of times now with our kids, starting when we had a toddler and baby, and now with five kids (including a baby) - here are my tips for making it all work:

1. My biggest tip is to really limit the amount of stuff you bring. With several years of camping under our belt, we know what we use and what we don’t and we only bring the things that we have found to be really necessary.

- We bring a few books for the kids and let them each bring a friend to sleep with. That’s it for toys - with camping there is so much to do exploring and playing outside that they don’t need toys.

- We bring the bare minimum on clothes. I used to bring quite a bit, just in case. Everything gets dirty camping, but kids tend to rewear stuff anyway, so now we just don’t bring many clothes. We bring a warm outfit for evenings, warm jammies, socks and underwear, a bathing suit if necessary, and one other outfit. With what they’re already wearing, that is plenty, even for several days. This is the amount that we’ll be bringing for our week-long trip this fall, although we do plan to do laundry once in the middle of the trip.

2. I usually like to keep the majority of our food healthy and homemade, but quick and easy is the name of the game when we’re camping. Bacon and eggs smell awesome at the campground, but that is way too much work for me, and even if you have room for a cooler (we don’t, really), it can be a pain to make sure food stays cold.

- We eat instant oatmeal or cereal for breakfast (I bring shelf-stable milk), and canned or boxed food for lunch and dinner (mac & cheese, ramen, and the like). I do bring hot dogs for the first night.

- Lots of snacks are also a must to keep everyone happy!

- I bring some ready-to-eat fruits and veggies, like carrot sticks, snap peas, grapes, apples, etc.

- I don’t put a lot of thought into trying to find different foods to bring. I have found what works for us, and I pretty much bring the same foods every time we go.

- We bring the bare minimum for dishes, too. Disposable dishes are the easiest, but I don’t like to generate alot of waste, even when we’re camping, so I bring a bowl and small cup for everyone. Bowls are more versatile than plates, and I bring small mason jars (which is what we use at home) for cups so they can hold hot or cold drinks. I bring a fork and spoon for everyone, and a knife and a mixing spoon. I bring one pot for cooking food or heating water, and that’s usually it for dishes. I plan on improvising, and it all works out!

3. Pack your car so that the tent can come out first thing. I’ve always packed our tent on the bottom of the trunk - because it’s the biggest thing and then I could pack the smaller things around it and so I wouldn’t have it falling out of the trunk. But that’s always been a problem, because, really, it’s the first thing we need when setting up, and it’s the last thing to go away when tearing down. So we’ve always had to unload the car then pile our stuff somewhere while we wait for the tent to get set up, and then take everything out of the tent and pile it somewhere while we wait for it to get taken down and put in the car. Finally, this summer, I realized that I could put the tent on the floor of the van between seats. We can access it and get it set up and take everything straight from the car to the tent. This has made a big difference in how long it takes us to set up and take down camp! 

4. Have kids help as much as possible. I made a picture packing list, so the older kids all pack their own bags, then I double check them. They help unload the car, taking things into the tent, setting up chairs, etc. I bring a water jug that has a spigot on it, so they can get drinks themselves. 

5. Have reasonable expectations. Camping trips are fun, but with small kids, they’re not always relaxing. There is still all the basic stuff to do; changing diapers, making food, etc., and sometimes it can be even more difficult to keep an eye on kids, with new things to explore. It helps to have that expectation already there, so you’re not disappointed when it turns out different than you thought.

6. Try to keep some routines in place. I always bring the baby’s familiar bed, whether that is the moses basket or the pack’n’play, because that helps them sleep better, which makes for a better trip! And although we’re not strict about this on vacation, having our regular rest time can make for happier moods all around.

7. Use soft tote bags for clothes. To make it easy for the kids to pack and handle their own items, and to make it easier to find things, we have a separate bag for everyone. Structured bags take up precious cargo space, so I like to use squishy bags that can be stuffed into small spaces.

8. I don’t worry about separate dirty laundry bags. They just take up more space and take more mental energy trying to figure out what is dirty and what is clean. Pretty much everything gets dirty anyway, so I just wash everything when I get home.

9. Having a few camping “tools” can be helpful. We’re not really big fans when it comes to having special stuff that only gets used a few times a year, but we’ve made an exception for a few camping things. Most campgrounds have picnic tables, so we could forgo camping chairs, but we find them more comfortable and fun, so we have one for everyone. Smaller ones for the kids take up less space in storage and in the car. We also now have a sleeping bag for everyone. In the past we’ve made do with a few sleeping bags and lots of blankets, but it became too time consuming to have to fold and pack so many different pieces. Sleeping bags take up less space (again, we have smaller ones for the kids), and it is now much quicker to pack up.  Sleeping bags we keep in closets, but the rest of our camping gear goes in a cupboard in the garage.

10. Bring your own potty chair. If you’re even a little hesitant to let your kids use public restrooms, it helps so much to bring your own potty chair. We keep a kids potty in our car at all times, so we bring that along when camping. It keeps us from having to always take someone to the bathroom, which would get old quickly, even without our germaphobe tendencies! Then we use baby wipes to wash hands.

11. Make a master camping list to keep from year to year, adjusting as necessary. It’s too hard to remember what to bring each time you go camping. This keeps us from forgetting things, and saves a lot of mental energy trying to remember what to pack every time we go camping!

Whew...that was long, but these are the things that we do that make camping (even with lots of little kids!) relatively headache free for us.  See, we're all smiling!  =)


PUPPPsMom said...

That was awesome! Thank you! Good tips for trips with kiddos, camping or not.

Annaleah said...

Lots of these things apply to our life in general! :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah for lists, and you know I love lists!