A bit of a random blog post but something I am asked a lot about because its a big part of our life, is how to camp with kids! I feel semi-qualified to write about this, because we have been camping with kids since we have had kids! We first started in a tent, then upgraded to an amazing fully off-road van with all the gear for a lap of Australia (New Age Road Owl), and then when we came home we have ‘downgraded’ to a vintage Viscount van to fang about on weekends!
Our Current Set Up:
Viscount 78 Caravan (bought on Facebook marketplace)
1 x 12 volt 200 amp hr battery in caravan. Charged via solar panel.
Small 500 watt inverter – good for charging laptops, phones but won’t power things like blenders etc.
A small fridge in the van, runs off 12 volt battery, we have another fridge in the car (dometic fridge/freezer) which is handy especially for big items/drinks and we can keep stuff frozen if we need to.
We have a small 75 litre water tank under van, but no hot water. It runs off a pump so we can wash up etc when off grid, but we do not drink this water as we have no filters on it, instead we bring filtered water with us to drink.
We drive a LandCruiser 100 series (4WD) to tow the van.
Here are some pictures of our van – its VERY vintage and we have plans to renovate it but haven’t gotten to it yet.. but its fine and functions well I just would love to fix up the kitchen! As you can see, theres two bunk beds, and we have a rail on Florences as she is a wriggle worm! We also have a corner lounge that at the moment we put the cot in there, but when Will is out of a cot, we can covert that corner lounge into a third bed by sliding out some plywood under the lounge and adding another cushion!
So firstly – what ‘essentials’ do you need when camping with kids?
Something for them to sleep in/on.
We use a portacot for my youngest (I have had the Baby Bjorn Travel cot for 7 years and love it). When he was younger and couldn’t roll we just co-slept with him in the bed, I also used the Bubnest to let him sleep in the daytime. My older two sleep in bunk beds – we have a bed rail (just a basic one for a single bed) for my daughter so she doesn’t roll out! The older two use sleeping bags from Of the Sun because I find them easier than making bunk beds and easy to wash etc. I usually also pack a few different sleeping bags for my youngest and a blanket incase the temperature drops overnight!
When we travelled AUS in the van we actually put a baby gate on the bottom bunk bed and turned the bunk bed into a cot – it was amazing and worked really well! I got the idea from Trip in a Van you can see here.
I don’t personally use this, but I do hear a lot of good reviews about these if you’re concerned about your baby not being able to sleep in the van due to light/other children/seeing you etc. Would be handy if you’re in a tent where you can’t really block the light coming in – but to be honest I don’t really mind waking up with the sun when camping, makes the kids extra tired for night time 😉
I don’t really use white noise at home, but in the van I find it really helpful because we are all very confined! I use this machine from Eukybear which I can power with my inverter – but you can get white noise APPs on your phone/iPad to play (which are good when you don’t have cell-service and can leave your phone on aeroplane mode) or you can use Spotify.
Familiar things from home
Totally optional but I always bring a couple of ‘comforters’ from home – we have a Riff Raff toy my little one sleeps with, and my daughter always sleeps with this GIANT dog teddy (not very practical to travel with but she loves it to sleep with!)
If you use dummies etc make sure you bring these! You don’t want to be making big changes to sleep when camping the first time!
I find prams annoying when camping – they are bulky and many places aren’t very pram friendly – but carriers are great for adventuring and also helping them sleep if needed on the go! We have an Ergo that we love.
Note this will only work if you have power (unless theres a fancy 12V one I don’t know of! You don’t need a monitor but they can be handy especially when camping with others and if you might be nearer to their van than your own. They also display the temp which can help!
I love these big plastic tub buckets – we stack them up to travel and then they serve a multitude of uses – we have one outside for shoes, one for dirty laundry under our bed (makes it easy when you get home to just have all the dirty laundry together to chuck in the machine), one serves as a baby bath/splash pool/feet washer and also we can wash up in it or store dirty dishes outside in it! We also have one in our car boot to store wet towels/swimmers and beach towels after the beach. We also use smaller versions at the end of each kids bunk bed to store their clothes/toys in so they aren’t rifling through all the cupboards etc to find their stuff!
We use these to bath the kids in if needed – if you fill it up and leave in the sun it will go quite warm for a bath, or we have a little billy kettle that we can heat water and fill up to make the water warm for a quick bird bath.
Portable High-Chair/Camping Chairs
This is definitely not essential but I do find them helpful so that our little ones actually eat the food you serve and not just wander off! We just have one from K-Mart that works well! Our older children have a normal camping chair.
Some kind of mat to sit on
We always have a few mats – I like the Abilene the label mats as they are wipeable – the padded one is great for camping. These are good for playing/activities/tummy time/eating etc. You could also use these foam interlocking mats.
If camping with a little Bub, the bouncer can be really helpful to have a bit of hands free time! We used the Baby Bjorn one that folds down really compact.
Not really necessary in summer with daylight savings, but winter camping head torches for the kids are amazing so they can eat etc and be able to see!
Again not really a necessity but I find these SO helpful! We have a few different ones from the brand Muddlark – we have the fleece lined onesie and also the bib and brace. They are so handy to help keep little crawlers not too dirty and also the fleece one keeps them so warm! I find them great in the mornings when the grounds a bit dewy as well – these have saved me A LOT of washing!
My older kids wear their Blundstones all winter and they are great and survive a lot of mud and wet ground! And they wear Birkenstocks in the summer. Bring shoes with hard soles and that are easy to walk in for longer walks/hikes/bike riding etc. Bring a couple of pairs for when they inevitably get wet!
We don’t tend to bring many toys or games away with us, but we have a few that live in the van for those rainy days or when the kids need some rest time. They love games like this Bingo, UNO, monopoly for kids, PLUSPLUS, magnetic tiles, Duplo and for my youngest we just bring him one truck he can play outside with. We also bring lots of art stuff – water colour paints, paper etc. They also usually have their bikes/surfboards etc! I find if we leave them in the van they enjoy playing with the toys/games because we don’t have them at home for them to get bored with!
Spare bedding and towels
I don’t think you need to go overboard – just one spare set of bedding and towels is good to have incase someone wets the bed, gets gastro, mud etc etc! I really like having my Spewy mats in the van too (we got gastro in the van once and I wished I had it so now I have some that live in there!!)
Dustpan and Brush and/or Broom
Probably our most used item because kids drag in more dirt and sand than imaginable! When we lived in the van we had our Dyson but I don’t bring that for weekends away. I also like this beach brush for sandy feet before getting in the car etc.
Awning or Gazebo
Our current van doesn’t have an awning so we have a gazebo we have set up – but you need one of the other for some kind of shade/shelter especially for kids when outside all day.
We recently got these amazing lights that are magnetic and/or clip onto things. There are 4 in the pack and are USB chargeable, they have a bug-reducing orange light option which is a nice ambient light.
We have these fans set up at each bed, they are amazing and work really well and run off the 12V – they are quite loud which I like because it adds to the white noise!
When we camp in winter we bring the gas heater from the kids room (need powered site to run this though unless you have a 2000V inverter but even still it would suck a lot of power – you’re better off getting a diesel heater for off-grid heating). The gas heater is great as it just takes the chill out of the air for the kids.
These are fun for the kids, but also super handy when it gets dark – you can put them on them like a lanyard and see them if they are wandering around!
We try and use toilets of course or a good bush-wee, but sometimes the toilet is so far away or they need to use the toilet over night. We have a little potty in the van which is handy for those times!
This is a food blog so I thought I would go into this part in more detail!
We try and do most of the cooking and food prep outside, its more fun and keeps the van clean and not stinky!
We mainly use this for cooking and love it! We also have the Pizza Stone which is fun for homemade pizza.
We love cooking over or on the fire where we can, and these are great for that! You can suspend them over the fire with a contraption like this, or make one with sticks!
I use my Solidteknics pan when camping (and at home) because it can go on the fire as well as the gas!
We actually have a normal kettle (for when in power) and a Billy Kettle for when we don’t have power. We just use this simple one that can go on gas or the fire.
We have this gas burner that we use when outside, theres so many different brands and options you can buy though!
We use the aeropress for coffee and also have this little manual coffee grinder and I also have this milk frother which I can heat my milk up with and then froth it! Alternatively we just use these coffee compostable bags from Glee Coffee! I also never travel without my Yeti Keep Cup to keep my coffee hot, and I use it to keep drinks cold too etc!
Not necessary but its a nice luxury to have soda water when camping!
Other things in our kitchen:
Cutlery and sharp knives
Whatever cup/bottle your baby drinks from
Saucepan (you can use this to sterilise bottles etc if you need as well) – I use Solidteknics
One salad bowl
One Tupperware container
BBQ utensils – tongs/spatula/scraper etc.
Mugs and cups to drink from, and I always bring my Yeti cup.
Gas cylinders for the gas cooktop
A few chopping boards
Wooden Skewers (for kebabs etc)
Essentials we always keep in the van which I stock up after each trip:
ghee, olive oil, salt and pepper, a few spices, tea, coffee bags, baked beans, tinned tomatoes, tinned fish (tuna/mackerel/sardines), filtered water, tinned lentils/chickpeas/beans, rice, oats, pulse pasta/spaghetti, curry paste, apple cider vinegar, coconut milk/cream, coconut oil.
We then bring whatever fresh food we want for the trip – we have a fridge and another fridge in the car. But you can also use an esky obviously, and just eat the fresh food first and keep the tinned food for after the ice runs out! When on our big trip we used the freezer a lot (in the car) to stock up on meat or I would bulk cook and freeze leftovers.
FAVOURITE MEALS FOR CAMPING:
My Le Puree Bundle – This is so great as everything is frozen so will last atleast 3 days once defrosted in the fridge. Discount code is BOOBTOFOOD10 for all orders on their website.
Other things we like to make are curry (you can buy some great curry pastes as the base) – you can then use either meat or chickpeas for meal that doesn’t need refrigeration. Dahl, beef brisket (sometimes I make this at home and then bring it with me), slow cooked pork, Mexican (mince, burritos, nachos, tacos etc), fried rice, fresh fish and veggies/salad, meat and veg on the BBQ, homemade pizza on our Weber Pizza stone, bacon and eggs, spaghetti Bol, potato salad, dilly eggs, damper, chia puddings, overnight oats, porridge, lamb or chicken kebab skewers, lamb koftas, pesto pasta
Sometimes I will make food at home and bring, such as gelatin gummies, hummus, roasted root vegetables, cooked quinoa, homemade granola.
It can be really handy for your first night to have a meal already made that is easy to reheat, especially if you’re going to arrive close to dinner time so you don’t have hangry/tired kids when trying to set up!
If you have any meals you like when camping – I would love to hear in the comment section!!
Nappies and wipes – bring extra wipes for a ‘bath’ if needed or reusable wipes to use with water.
Toothpaste and toothbrushes
Hairbrush and hair ties
First-Aid kit – We have one of these Tiny Heart Kits and then just have a few extra things like ibuprofen, charcoal, tea tree oil, arnica, eucalyptus oil (I also have apple cider vinegar and coconut oil in the van which can be used for cuts/grazes and cleaning wounds etc). I also use this Mothers Love cream for everything from mozzie bites to cuts and scrapes to sunburn to nappy rash!
This question was asked a lot – how do you get all the children to bed in one space without them all waking each other etc..
This is what we do, but there will be so many ways to do this of course!
We are very relaxed with ‘routines’ but we do have ‘rhythms’ to our day. So when it comes time to go to sleep, we do a similar rhythm to what we would at home – eat dinner, wash the kids a bit, dress in pyjamas and then read books.
Then I put Will (my youngest) to sleep in the portacot, that usually entails me feeding him to sleep like I would normally at home – my husband will stay outside with the older two (aged 4 and 7) while I do this. Then we usually wait another 10-20 minutes so I know he is fully asleep, and I tell the kids to sneak into the van and no talking. They are quite compliant usually with this, and Will is usually in that first deep sleep so he doesn’t stir – and thats it!
Will still wakes in the night, but I find the kids are SO tired from big camping days, they don’t really stir to him crying, and I find im more hyper alert sleeping in the van that I wake quite easily to him when he murmors for a breastfeed. Touch wood we haven’t had any of those randomly bad nights where they are unsettled yet in the van… Occasionally he won’t go back into the cot without a fight so we just end up co-sleeping in our bed 🙂
In the morning one of them always wakes the others so theres not really any getting around that, but generally the sun is up so thats ok!
One tip if you can, is I would aim to arrive at your destination so that they can either have a nap there before their first night in the van/tent so its a bit more familiar for them before night time, or try and arrive with enough time for them to run around and burn energy before bed time if its been a long car trip.
Another little thing I want to encourage you with (or maybe discourage you!) is that the first night camping is generally not great.. try not to let that defeat you and turn you off of it! Its a new environment, often travel time that day, lots of setting up and new noises etc.. but you will find your groove the more you do it! We have a rule of thumb that one hour in the car should be one night stay – so a 4 hour drive we will try and stay around 3-4 nights! Because a 4 hour drive for a night or two with little ones can just be hectic and not relaxing..
WHAT DO YOU DO ALL DAY?
Depends where we are what we do – generally speaking we are parked up at the beach or river so theres plenty to do – usually going between the van and the beach or exploring the area. Our youngest is on one nap a day, so we try to still be back at the van for that more-so for my sanity so I can have a break!
Generally the afternoons we will chill near the van, older kids might do some craft/drawing/play UNO or kick a ball around, my eldest son has an electric bike that he basically doesn’t get off the entire time! Our youngest normally just wanders around, might play with a truck in the dirt or on his balance bike, plays with the ball, runs away… we don’t have anything to keep him contained, I know some people bring pet fences, personally though we go camping to get out and about and not be fenced in, so yes its a bit tiring sometimes having to follow him around, but they learn pretty quick where they can and can’t go and boundaries and road rules when it comes to camping!
What age would you wait to start camping?
I don’t think you need to wait for a certain age, Will’s first camping trip he was 2 weeks old and we went away for 5 days, which sounds crazy but I was way more relaxed than I would be at home when all you can see is all the housework that needs doing!
So after all that…
If you’re worried or scared about camping with kids my biggest encouragement is JUST DO IT! Sure some things can be very much trial and error, what works for you won’t work for everyone, and you’ll find your own groove and what flows and feels easy for you. But on the whole, camping with kids is the BEST kind of holiday and even though the getting-there can be sometimes stressful, once you are there, its relaxation-station and theres nowhere to be, nothing to do and its so nice!
If you have any hacks/tips/tricks or camping meals you would like to share with everyone please let me know in the comments – or if there is anything I may have missed that you want me to elaborate on!