I absolutely love camping. It has been a huge sanity saver as a mom, wife, friend and woman. It gives my family something meaningful to do together that we all enjoy. It gives my husband and I a common focus that we can work on as a team. It gives me a mental, emotional and literal breath of fresh air when life feels stressful, overwhelming, or boring. It is fun to do as a family or with extended family or friends. It is easily adaptable, can be done on any budget, and can help you recover your sense of balance and purpose in the midst of a hectic, busy world full of opportunities, expectations and information.
My friends often marvel at the fact that my husband and I take our young kids camping. I’m excited to share my step by step guide on how to start camping as a beginning with young kids, but first I wanted to share seven reasons that you should consider camping as a mom and family with young kids.
Here are my seven reasons you need camping in your life:
Reason #1 – You need this
Having small children is an intense, long season full of a lot of beautiful, precious moments and what feels like a never-ending lifestyle of sacrifice. You need a mental break, you need to get refreshed, and while nights out or trips without the kids are fun and worth the effort, finding a babysitter or family member to watch the kids can be problematic, especially with really young children.
One of the most wonderful things about camping is that you can get a refreshing change of scenery and take the kids with you. Yes, it will be easier in a few years, but this is about continuing to live your life, and not putting your life on hold while you raise your kids. It’s so easy to feel like you can either have adventure or start a family. While that is true for some types of activities, camping is a uniquely family-friendly activity. It is truly an amazing way for parents to get out of the house, get a change of scenery and have an adventure, all while taking their kids along, even babies and toddlers.
Reason #2 – Your marriage needs this
All of the moms and dads that I talk to who have young kids tell me that they’re surviving but they need more time for “us”. You should still work toward date nights and weekends away, but family camping trips are an awesome way for finding time to spend time with your husband.
For one thing, my number one tip for improving a marriage is to find ways to be a team, find a common project to work on. Camping is perfect for this! When you have time at breakfast, cooking dinner, after the kids go to bed, or whenever you get it short conversations with your spouse, you can talk about where to go. One of you can look up possible locations and then you can discuss distance, cost, possible activities. Then you make a packing list and divide up responsibilities. My husband always packs the tent, camp stove, chairs, tarps, stuff to make a fire, etc. and I pack clothing, food, cooking supplies, diapers, etc. We also coordinate, brainstorm and make suggestions about what each other is packing or something new we might bring for a specific location or activity.
Camping is honestly my favorite personal strategy for when life seems too hectic and I need it to slow down a bit so I can just have a meaningful conversation with my husband. Sometimes I don’t want to go out to dinner and leave the kids home with a sitter, I want to get away, really relax and have a real conversation with my husband somewhere that we can actually decompress, be at peace with our surroundings, get some perspective, and have one of those great conversations you have with a best friend when all of your interruptions are left behind in the city and your phones are charging back in the car.
Not every camping trip has a life-changing conversation but they all have that feeling of my husband and I successfully accomplishing a project together, and many have a varied number of relaxed conversations about life – most often either during the car ride home when the kids are happily exhausted and more subdued, or sitting by the campfire after the kids go to sleep.
Reason #3 – Your kids need this
Kids love to be outside. Babies, toddlers, elementary age kids, middle school, high school, college. Heck, sometimes my husband and I just feel like big kids that want to collect the right tools and get out of the house on an adventure, anywhere away from parking lots, street lights, and buildings. And hey kids you’re coming too, because we said so! That’s how we feel, but my boys love camping, they eagerly look forward to every trip. When it’s the morning we’re leaving, I have to think of strategic ways to keep them out of the van until it’s time to leave or they’ll get in their seats and sit and play for half an hour before we even leave.
You can take babies and toddlers camping and they will love it. I’m serious, babies love being outside, and can do very well on camping trips. For really young kids (under 2) you will just want to do some extra planning, you need to set realistic expectations, and you’ll need to do different activities than you can do with older kids.
Have you noticed how your kids can play outside for a long time even though they have fewer toys than inside? Camping is like that but longer, and prettier, and you can plan activites and down time to manage everyone’s energy. My kids complain of boredom more at home than when they are camping. And my baby and toddler even cry less.
Kids love being outside, they love the quality time with their parents, they love the change of scenery and routine, and they also love being part of an adventure.
Reason #4 – It’s affordable
You can go camping on any budget. I’ll get more into detail, but a great place to start is with cheap, basic essentials and figure out what works well for your family. You can often save enough money by being gone from home to pay for the cost of going. And then you can add equipment as you go. We often eat more expensive food on the weekends to feel like we get a break. But camping makes cooking fun, so you can save money on food, and use that on the gas and campsite fee. If you start by going nearby, and watching the weather to decide when to camp, you can get started with minimal equipment. Campsites can typically be found for $20-30 a night, a small fraction of the cost of a hotel or a fancy cabin. Once you start looking you’ll find many places in the budget where you can make adjustments and find money for the few necessary costs involved in camping: campsite, gas for the car, basic equipment, and food to eat.
Additionally, as your family gets into it and your kids get on board, camping equipment can actually make great gifts. We have a tradition in our family and extended family of giving the kids items like sleeping bags, flashlights and headlamps either of their choosing or in their favorite color for birthdays or as surprise gifts. Using money budgeted for gifts, birthday, and entertainment to buy camping/adventure equipment is one of the big ways that we make camping affordable, and get our kids excited about the next trip.
Reason #5 – It will help you live your values
Camping is conducive to a simpler, value-driven lifestyle, something that is difficult to achieve in today’s culture. Getting out into nature with those you care about most is amazing in so many ways. It is therapeutic, joyful, and relaxing. I find that it is still challenge as long as you bring the kids, but it is more of a physical challenge than a mental challenge. I always come back from trips with sore muscles but feeling mentally refreshed.
I think that’s because camping helps us to break free and remember ourselves. It breaks the pull of addictive technology. It breaks the allure of fast food and ultra-convenient processed food. It breaks up everyone’s schedule and brings you together. When you’re camping you experience nature, you focus on the people you are physically present with, you cook and eat together and on the same schedule. We bring books, card games, stuffed animals and toy cars. They mostly get used on the car ride. During some down time our boys will play a game of Uno, and the toddler might drive a car around the wooden border of the campsite. Mostly they love finding sticks for the fire, exploring, looking for cool rocks, playing in the hammock or just wandering around the campsite playing the same make believe games that entertain them for hours in our backyard in the summer.
Reason #6 – It’s multi-age and multi-generational
When you’re trying to find an activity that kids at different ages will enjoy and that parents can also participate in, camping is the answer! I love theme parks for memorable events at certain ages, but they are expensive, less enjoyable for young families and can be very difficult to actually execute when you have kids at multiple age stages.
Theme parks and water parks are still worthwhile when you can get the stars to align, and camping is an excellent activity to do as a family in the meantime. This is why my family goes to a theme or water park once every other year, but goes camping 3-4 times each year.
Reason #7 – You can do it while nursing or pregnant
My boys are 7, 5, 3, and 1. Everyone of them has been camping before their first birthday. I have been camping while 8 months pregnant, and 6 weeks after having my fourth son via c-section. I’ve found that everything you would normally do to take care of your family for a couple of days can be moved two hours away to a picturesque campsite if the people who were helping you are up for the trip. My husband and I have found we can handle 2, 3 or 4 kids camping by ourselves, but the more kids there are, the more fun it is to have additional adults along to help. His parents often come with us, and I have only gone camping while pregnant when at least one other adult was available to come with us. So make sure you have enough adults, and let everyone know you can’t pick up anything heavy if that is the case.
I have both family and friends that have been willing and eager to join our adventures and help us wrangle our kids. So don’t discount camping if you are nursing or pregnant, just make sure you plan to have enough help and set expectations about what you can and can’t help with. Fortunately nursing covers and an accepting culture make it easy to nurse a baby camping.
If you are a mom with young children, happily married to your husband but with both of you feeling like life is hectic and it’s hard to get a moment to breath. If you feel overwhelmed too much of the time yet also feel bored too often as well, then you need camping in your life!
Watch for an upcoming post about how to start taking camping trips with a young family when you’re new to camping and not sure you have the time, money, energy, know-how or all of the above.