I know what you’re thinking – camping, spontaneously?! With a toddler?! That’s got to be an adventure planned with plenty of notice, right? Not really! With these tips you can throw caution to the wind and go camping with a toddler when the opportunity arises.
Tip #1 – Be Prepared All the Time
Being prepared is key for being spontaneous when camping with a toddler. If your camping supplies are packed all the time you only have to grab food and clothes on the way out the door. We’ve camped a lot of different ways over the years, starting with tent camping, then in our truck camper, and now, as a family of three, in our vintage pull behind camping trailer.
We’ve evolved from keeping our camping gear primarily in plastic bins to keeping things in the camper year-round. For our first trip out this year you can see what we needed to throw in the camper – a sleeping bag for Bo, sheets for the beds in the laundry basket, and a duffle bag with clothes. Everything else was already packed!
Check out my Ultimate Camping Checklists.
Tip #2 – Have a List of Go-To Campsites
Living near one of the most popular National Parks in the country you quickly learn where the off-the-beaten-path campsites are. Camping sites in or near the park can be very difficult to find during the high tourist season and we usually don’t plan far enough ahead for reservations.
So do your research ahead of time! Search the web, check local guidebooks, ask your friends, and do a little scouting when you get the chance. When we’re out exploring, we’ll usually turn into the campgrounds that we see along the way even if we’re not planning on camping. I keep a note on my iPhone of campground details including the best spaces for our setup, if you can reserve them online, and cost. When you’re camping with a toddler you want to make sure you get to the campsite as soon as possible!
Tip #3 – Cook Simply
Mac likes to tell a story about one time when we went camping and he suggested we have hamburgers and hotdogs to keep things simple and I scoffed at him. My gourmet menu included grilled pizza and fire-roasted salmon. We were also in our mid-twenties and had all the time in the world.
I’ve relaxed my gourmet camping menus quite a bit since we added a kid to the mix. Camping with a toddler is not the time to test your kid’s stubbornness when it comes to new foods! We stick to crowd pleasers like – yup – hamburgers and hot dogs, fresh fruit and veggies, crackers and cheese and salami, and of course, treats!
We always have to run by the store before a camping trip, no matter how prepared I think I am. I do stockpile meats when they go on sale and throw them in the freezer until we’re ready to go – bonus, they help keep the cooler cold.
Check out my Weekend Camping Menu.
Tip #4 – Let the Adventure Be Your Fun
We camp to relax and spend time as a family. We don’t plan much in the way of activities. If there’s water, we’ll probably end up near or in or on it. If there’s a nearby trail, we’ll end up wandering down it to see what we can see.
Sometimes we’ll take bikes or inflatables for water play, but usually, we let the toddler lead the way. I do have a list of toddler distractors and prompts I always keep handy though, you can find it here.
Tip #5 – Be Open to the Opportunity
With Mac’s profession as a wildland firefighter, our opportunities to camp in the summer can be slim. Our first trip out this summer was completely spontaneous. Over breakfast on Saturday he mentioned a campground one of his crewmates had been telling him about. I looked at the clock – 9:30 am.
“Want to go … today?” I asked.
And we were out of the house by noon. We ended up not going to the coworker’s campground because we took a wrong turn – it was an Adventure, our favorite – and ended up at this fun little campground instead. We could have stayed home and mowed the lawn – it needed it – or organized our storage unit – it’s a disaster – but in our family Adventure will always take priority. That mindset means being open to the opportunity when it comes around.