On a Budget: Car Camping with Little Ones

Oona Baker
July 1, 2009

As more and more people stick closer to home this summer, car camping is becoming an attractive getaway. We’ve done plenty of camping at sites within an hour or two drive from home, and with a little preparation, you can be as comfortable in the woods as you can be at a hotel.

  • Ziploc bags are your friends! Utilize plastic bags (or cloth grocery totes) to store everything for your trip (and then reuse after your trip!) Package like supplies together for easy organization when you set-up or break down your campsite.
  • Green your camping trip by packing either compostable paper plates or washable melamine dishes. (If you need to wash dishes, make sure you bring dishpan, sponge, and scrubby with dish soap reserve). Bring along a clothesline and you can hang your damp clothes or dishtowels to dry in the sun while you’re out having fun.
  • Follow the cardinal rules of camping: Leave the campsite/campground as you found it. Enjoy nature while you’re there, but leave everything you come across for others to enjoy. Make sure your campsite is clean and ready for the next onslaught of campers. When it’s dark, you are quiet. Nothing ruins a camping trip like being stuck next to a campsite of screaming frat boys (or children). Same rules apply for the am hours; keep it down until at least 7:00am. Your neighbors will thank you for it.
  • Bring a broom and dustpan to sweep out your tent every morning/evening to cut down on the junk that winds up in your sleeping area. Keep a mat outside and institute a strict no shoes policy. Try to keep bedtime routines as close to home-style as possible. Bring a battery powered or wind up lantern for story time. (After a good session of charades and s’mores by the campfire, of course.) Bring your child’s favorite stuffed animal and books so they feel secure about sleeping in a strange place. (Sleeping on a camping trip, what’s that?)
  • Take advantage of the in-park talks or evening programs. We had so much fun around the campfire with fellow campers and the ranger who gave a talk on wildfires and really involved the kids in the safety discussion.) Research your campground before you make reservations, you may want to plan your trip around a site that has a playground or special wildlife talks. Or, you may want to find a different campground if you discover that road construction may disturb your stay (This happened to us!)
  • Your children will be easily entertained by the nature and wildlife around them so you probably won’t have to pack much to entertain them. (Especially when you camp with multiple families). I suggest bringing a bug box to capture specimens (release at the end of your stay) and a magnifying glass from the dollar store. (Finding eggs on the underside of a leaf can be captivating to even the littlest of children). If you’ll be staying at a campground with paved areas, consider bringing trikes or bicycles. Bring plastic binoculars for "bird watching" too.
  • Food can be as easy or as complicated as you make it. Pancake mix that you combine with water and shake, along with scrambled eggs makes an easy breakfast. You can pack standard fair like trail mix and sandwiches, or get fancy with baked potatoes, corn on the cob, and grilled meat.
  • Don’t forget to pack the first aid kit, lots of hand sanitizer or wipes, and plenty of energy. Then you’ll need a good day or two to recover from your days in the “wild” with your family.

From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    Great info... I am an experienced camper and enjoy spending time outside. Thought I would add to remember to bring lots of bug spray and sunscreen in that first aid kit or ziplock bag... in a pump spray or wipe form especially if you plan to enjoy a fire.

    over a year ago


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