Now that you’ve got the kids doing fun stuff and you’ve chased the “I’m Bored’s” away, let’s talk about the really fun stuff…vacation! Whether you’re going camping or taking a road trip, I’ve got some ideas for making it a whole lot easier on you.
Let’s start with the camping.
Enjoying the outdoors is a great family activity and it can be quite economical as well. The trick comes in the packing and meal planning, but with a little know how, it can be a snap as well.
#1 – Do Your Research
Whether you’re planning a long road trip or just a quick weekend getaway, it helps to do your research first. You can look for features like swimming, flush toilets, showers, hookups or if you prefer more of a roughing it experience, these things may not be important. If you’re taking small children, you may want to avoid being close to rivers and other potential dangers.
In more popular campgrounds, they can get quite busy, so you may need to consider making reservations. Reservations usually carry a processing fee of some type, but they reserve a specific campsite for you.
#2 – Make a List
Camping sounds so simple, but it requires more packing than most trips. Plus, when you have kids coming along, it makes things a bit more complex. I actually keep a master list of things to bring and adjust it as necessary, depending on the specific trip.
Then there’s the issue of limited space in the vehicle. We drive a fairly small Mazda 5. It seats 6, but has very little storage space outside the seating area. We have 2 adults, 3 kids and 2 dogs traveling, so it’s pretty tight to say the least. We have a car roof luggage bag that allows us to put a lot of our stuff on the roof, giving us just a little more leg room.
Check the weather before you go and bring appropriate clothing. If it’s going to rain, boots, rain coats and warmer clothing are in order.
# 3 – Meal Planning
Planning meals can be one of the most time intensive, but one of the best parts of the trip. Keeping meals simple and prepping whatever you can ahead of time, will make your life a whole lot easier. Precut vegetables, marinate meats and shred cheeses, for example.
Keep in mind the cooking apparatus you have available as well? If you’ll be cooking over the fire, invest in a cooking cage where you can place meats and vegetables. And don’t forget the cooking sticks for hot dogs, marshmallows and more. If you have a portable barbecue or stove, you have more options…but remember, it probably means there will be more dishes to do.
#4 – Educate the Kids on Animal Safety and Nature
It’s important that children understand and respect nature. This is not only for preservation and educational reasons, but for safety as well.
Find out what kind of animals will be in the area and discuss safety with the children. You don’t want to scare them, but you do want them to understand what they should do if they see a bear in the area. They should also understand that they shouldn’t leave garbage, food or drinks lying around and can pitch in with getting the garbage and recycling to the proper receptacles.
Also, nature should be disturbed as little as possible so it can be preserved. In fact, it’s the law in most places. Children shouldn’t pick flowers (I know, it’s so hard to resist) and if they find cool things like tadpoles, they can investigate them, but they should release them back into the water when they’re done.
#5 – Arrive Early and Get Organized
Always give yourself an arrival time several hours before it gets dark. Trying to put up a tent and organize everything is no fun in the dark, especially when you have little ones under foot. Setting up camp requires a lot of attention, so it’s possible small children might wander off. To prevent this, give each family member a task to pitch in to get camp ready. If you have older children with you, they can be in charge of watching younger children, so you can focus on the work that needs to be done.
While you’re camping, there are regular daily tasks to do like meal preparation, dish washing, garbage and recycling, gathering water and chopping firewood. Make sure each family member knows what their responsibilities are, to keep things running smoothly and shipshape.
#6 – Have Fun
Of course, the most important thing is to have fun. Don’t worry about bringing a bunch of toys and things to keep the kids occupied because the point is to be in nature. Sometimes, it can take kids a little while to get accustomed to finding fun in the woods, but once they get a handle on it, the fun comes naturally.
Check the campground schedule to see if they have any scheduled activities for the family or for the kids. There are often educational programs, nature walks and even opportunities to learn how to fish. The kids always love these, so definitely take advantage.
Family camping takes some planning and preparation, but the memories are so worth it. And after you’ve been a few times, it gets to be second nature. My kids ask me all year round, “When are we going camping?” so I know the effort has been worthwhile.