This post has been contributed by a lovely reader of the blog as part of an ongoing series “What other families do”. You can find more posts in this series here.
Many readers have asked questions about camping tips via email and in the surveys over the years. We have done a very small amount of camping in our family’s life time, but not enough for me to be able to offer useful advice to readers. A gorgeous friend of mine Aasha on the other hand, is what I would consider a camping pro with her family of four and she has kindly put together some tips for camping with kids – thanks so much Aasha!
My now husband and I have been happy campers since our first holiday together 21 years ago when we took our two man tent and new camp oven to the Flinders Ranges, South Australia. One thing I know is that the more organised you are and the more you camp the better it is – unless of course the only stars you sleep under are 5.
If you can, I highly recommend that you go camping with a family who already regularly camp. This way you can learn form them, they are usually well set up so if you forget/ don’t have something they usually will and of course camping with friends is great fun!
The other key tip for families starting out with camping is to start small and build your camp set up as you go. Don’t rush out to your local major camping store and buy up. You really only need the basics to get going – especially if you camp at a well established camp ground when you are starting out.
You also need to amend your set up depending on where you are going and for how long. What we could carry travelling around South America on a motor bike with only 3 panniers 12 years ago, is very different to our family camper and 4WD today.
Before you plan your first camping trip, it is important to consider what type of camping you want to do. There are broadly speaking, three types of organised camping for the family which can be at:
- a high end caravan park with pools, jumping pillows and activities;
- a park camp grounds with facilities such as toilets and showers, running water, camp fires etc; or
- rough camping.
Not sure what type of camping might suit you and your family?
- If you know you’re the type of person that can’t survive without your hair straightener and a shower I would recommend staying at a large caravan park and camping on a powered site.
- If you think you can do without some mod cons, look at other camp groups with basic facilities with either powered or unpowered sites.
- If your up for it, rough camping can offer you access to some of the most spectacular places in Australia (and the world). However, you need to be comfortable not having access to showers, toilets, running water and being you do need to be super organised in your packing for the trip.
Once you have decided on what style of camping you want to do, then think about what kind of holiday you are looking for and go from there (eg near beach, forest, river etc).
Whether you are towing a van or packing a tent you are going to need a camp kitchen. For this I recommend a large plastic tub with a smaller container within it. This will have all the basics you need, washing detergent, sponges, tea towels, mozzie coils, mozie spray , laundry powder – which can be stored in the small container within the larger tub. Then have at least one sharp knife for cooking, a fry pan, pot/s, chopping board, plates, bowls, one or two large serving/ mixing bowls, cutlery, tongs (inc small serving tongs). We love coffee and not all places have a coffee shop so we always pack an Italian coffee maker so we can make our own on the gas cooker or in the camp fire.
The other must have for our family is a ‘camp bathroom’ this is a communal toiletries bag that has all your essential bathroom items – soap (we find liquid soap works best), shampoo/ conditioner, moisturiser (especially handy if out in the sun/ swimming) hair brush/ bands, sunblock, nail clippers and file, toothpaste and toothbrushes and a mirror. I also keep a bath matt with the camp bathroom, this means that you can always have a dry spot to stand when you use the public showers.
Special tip: we make a list at the end of camping of what’s run out in the camp kitchen and bathroom and restock it straight away when we get home, that way it is ready for when we go camping next time!
I have attached a comprehensive packing list that we use below that you can refer to and but the following I would consider essential items for family camping trips:
- Camp chairs for everyone
- Folding table
- BBQ – some campsite will have BBQ’s but not all do, so you check ahead of time and work out what you will need to take with you. We use a Webber Q – these are great as you can cook pizza, bake as well as BBQ
- A small gas burner
- Water – many camp sites have fresh water available. If they do, don’t bother buying any just use the water onsite. However, if you think water might be hard to access, buy in bulk and cart with you. I also recommend water bottles for each family member.
Are you going to be using an esky with ice or do you have access to camping fridges? Chances are if your starting out you will be using an esky to keep food fresh and drinks cold. Some campsites have fridges in the camp kitchen that you can use to store food. If this is the case make sure you bag and label what you put in a communal fridge. If you think you are going to do a lot of camping, I would strongly recommend a portable fridge – we have two and it makes life significantly easier.
If your using ice, it’s really important to think about how you manage items that are being kept. Meat quickly turns to a floating mess as the ice melts, as does any fresh fruit and veg. I would highly recommend buying cryovaced meat – much of the meat in the supermarket is now vacuumed sealed and many butchers will do this for you for a small charge. This means the meat is water tight so being stored in melted ice doesn’t ruin the meat, it also makes it last longer.
I recommend storing fresh food in containers, that way you can stack the fridge/ esky more easily and access what you need with little fuss and it wont get squashed in transit. On the food front consider, taking long life milk so you don’t need to waste fridge/ esky space, and wraps instead of bread as it travels better and keeps fresher longer. If you are close to a shop/ bakery you can buy these items as you need.
I have attached a Food and Drink list that we use to give you an idea of the type of food and drink to take on your camping trip.
Camping with kids
If your taking your little ones, if they are crawlers this can be a tricky time for camping. Think about taking a play pen or a portable cot so they have somewhere that is safe and contained. Campsites are busy places and having a place where you know they are safe, means you can relax and they wont get frustrated by not being able to be left on their own.
When it comes to bigger kids – walkie talkies, bikes, cricket sets, footy etc are always handy to have. Chances are they will quickly make friends with other kids in the camp ground and will be out playing somewhere. We have a couple of standard rules:
- no going into other peoples tents/ vans etc
- always report in so we know where you are (the walkie talkies are good for keeping tabs on the, too!)
However you start out camping is a fantastic holiday for kids and adults alike!