Camping with young kids is hard. Seriously hard. I won’t sugarcoat it in any way, shape of form. The difference between camping as a couple (or solo), and camping with a young kid or more than one is chalk and cheese.
There are a lot of changes that take place, and I can personally guarantee its a bit of a shock. That said, you can take young kids camping, and you can have fun with the right attitude, expectations and gear!
If you are doing some research into what changes when you take young kids camping (and good on you, by the way), you’ve come to the right place!
If you are after some more tips and advice, check this out – Camping with a toddler; 35 ways to make it easier.
Can you enjoy yourself camping with young kids?
Yes, it is possible to enjoy yourself when camping with young kids, but it is a serious change of pace and its also much easier to become frustrated, tired or annoyed!
Things get harder when you are travelling with young kids. Much harder.The difference between travelling with just your partner, and then as a small family is substantial. It’s not impossible, but certainly nothing like it was.
There will be times when your trip is not enjoyable, and times when you wish you’d never left home. On the flip side, you’ll experience a few emotions that will make at least a portion of the trips worth it!
In 2015 Sarah and I spent 5 weeks travelling the Kimberley, and had an amazing time. It was just us, with no little souls to worry about. The whole trip went fluctuated from great to amazing, with only a few mechanical issues on our 80 series ever dropping the mood for us below that.
Fast forward to 2018, and we took our first son Oliver who was nearly 18 months at the time on 3 months up north trip through the Pilbara, Coral Coast, Kimberley and Northern Territory. I’ll admit that in the first few weeks there were times when I really thought we’d made a bad mistake, and regretted using the annual leave at that time.
In early 2019, we had a second son and we have been away a number of times with him. The first trip was two days away when he was 2.5 weeks old, and the second 3 nights away, when he was 7 weeks old, and a number after that (he’s nearly 1 now). Our other son, Oliver, is 3 years old, and he’s spent well over 100 nights under canvas.
EDIT March 2022: We are still travelling extensively with our 5 and 3 year old now (they grow so fast), and do it solo, or with our parents or friends. I have to say travel is much, much easier now and far more enjoyable. The kids are semi independent, enjoy the attractions we go to and we have a lot more fun travelling than we ever did. So much so, we might be doing a whole heap more of it!
So, what changes?
When you are travelling by yourself, its easy to decide to drive for another hour before pulling over, or to have dinner late because you want to relax as the sun goes down, or have a sleep at any time of the day you feel like it.
Young children require a lot of work and attention, and a large portion of your flexibility goes out the window. When they need a nappy changed, you need to do it. When they are hungry, you have to stop what you are doing and feed them. When they are tired, they need help to go to sleep.
With one child, its easy enough to get some sort of a break as one parent can take care while the other relaxes. With two young kids though, you are both busy!
You’ll miss out on amazing places and experiences
We had some truly amazing experiences on our trip up north with Oliver. However, there were times that we just didn’t get to do something because Oliver made it too hard, or too unsafe.
Things like spending the day at the top of Jim Jim Falls relaxing, or fishing from the Jetty at Lee and Jennies, or watching the sunset at Ubirr knowing you had to drive 80km back to camp, or tackling a challenging 4WD track in the middle of no where. Your kids come first, and that sometimes means you’ll get to an incredible place and not be able to experience it.
You need a lot more gear
If you are used to throwing a swag into the back of the Ute, filling the fridge and grabbing a bag of clothes, you’ve got a big change coming. Sure, young kids don’t need much to survive, but you’ll be bringing a lot more gear:
• Portable cot (unless you make a Caravan cot)
• Baby food
• Blankets, spew cloths, hats, etc etc
The nights can be long, tiring and frustrating
One of the reasons we prefer not staying in Caravan Parks is because of the distance to your neighbours. Young kids wake often, and can cry inconsolably for long durations. Its not nice being the one trying to console the child, but if you are a neighbour its not pleasant either.
There are other amazing moments you’ll experience
On the flip side of all this, is that science says children who spend time outdoors grow up to be healthier adults. There’s nothing like seeing your kids run around with sticks and stones, or being amazed at the beautiful animals and scenery that we know of in Australia.
Teaching your child to respect animals, to climb trees, entertain themselves with nothing more than some dirt, stones and sticks and to stay safe outdoors is nothing short of amazing.
You’ll have to put some activities on hold
When I wrote this, we were at Margaret River, and there are some amazing mountain bike tracks around the place. However, given Sarah’s got a bad back, there was zero chance of me ducking off to do a few. With a 7 week old she’s not going to be putting Cooper on her back and following either!
Camping with other people becomes much easier
The more people you camp with, the easier it is. Everyone chips in a few minutes a day of looking after the kids, or ensuring they aren’t running near a road or into danger and the stress and dependence on two people is dramatically reduced.
I can’t stress how much easier it is to camp with your grand parents, or brothers and sisters!
Having the right setup is paramount to enjoying yourself
Hearing stories of older generations camping with younger kids really generates a sense of respect. Washing cloth nappies in streams, and sleeping under nothing more than a tarp in the bush; they did it tough. I’ll tell you now; the right setup makes life so much easier.
Ever wondered why so many travelling families say its easy? Most of them do it in a van, and its practically the same as being at home in terms of comforts and amenities.
We moved to a soft floor camper trailer when we had Oliver primarily for more storage, and have recently gone to a hypercamper which has made everything SO much easier again.
Do you take young kids camping? How do you go? Do you have any tips to offer?!