Thursday, July 21, 2011

Camping with a Toddler: The easiest thing I've ever worried needlessly about

Ollie, Chris and I have just returned from our first family camping trip, and it was a big success! I've always been a camper (raised by a serious out tripper, most of my memories of family vacations involve camping), but my husband's family were cottagers and he's not so keen on heading into the wilderness with just a tent and a propane stove to sustain you. As a couple, we've tried camping a few times, and although there have never been any disasters, it really just wasn't his thing and I was OK with letting it be, and getting my nature fix on trips with friends and family. But once Oliver came along it was really important to me to be able to share my favorite type of getaway with my son.

With Chris off all summer, no rain in sight and our good friends available for a few weekdays, the timing this week was perfect to head to Awenda Provincial Park for some quality time outside. I did some reading about how to camp with a toddler because although i'm confident in my camping abilities, I was a little worried about adding a little one to the mix, but I felt pretty positive, and my instincts were right!

As it turns out, a campsite is like a giant playpen, naturally fenced in by trees and full of fascinating things to explore - dirt, bugs, sticks, rocks, dirt, leaves.. did I mention dirt? Dangers are minimal, depending on your comfort level when it comes to trips and falls, and ingested creatures.

And we are very lucky: Ollie is such an easygoing, positive and curious little guy that he thrives in novel situations. It is the humdrum, routine stuff where we run into problems (forget trying to stay at home for a whole 24 hours.. it can not happen). So I've been asked for tips on how to making camping easier with a brand new camper, but I have to say that really, I didn't need many special tricks or techniques, Ollie was a natural.

If I had to come up with a few tips for future family camping trips, these would be them:

Consider a two room tent
Our tent was the perfect size for a pack and play and an air mattress (luxury camping here.. no thermarests on this trip!), and Ollie slept like a champ on the first night. On the second night however, he woke up around four a.m., which wouldn't usually be a problem, as he generally goes right back down after nursing but when he was able to just look to his right and see us lying beside him, going back to sleep didn't appeal to him. After struggling to figure out a way to get a little more sleep, poor Chris ended up having to get up with (a very excited and wide awake) Oliver at five a.m. If you aren't co-sleeping, you might want a separate space for your little one, to maintain the illusion of their own quiet bedroom.

Snacks, snacks and more snacks 
The trickiest part of the experience was keeping Ollie entertained while we set up/prepared meals/cleaned up, etc. We brought a few favorite toys (soccer ball, crayons), and were very lucky to have our friends and their dog with us (that dog and Ollie are BFFs after this trip) but of course, there were still some lags in entertainment and the next best option after all other more creative techniques were exhausted was to just hand over a snack. I brought crackers, raisins, berries, and cheese - all the healthy standbys, but I'm not (too) ashamed to admit that Ollie was also handed chips and chocolate. What you eat when you're camping doesn't count, everyone knows that.

Find a few good products
Basically, you need sun protection and bug protection. I've already shared my love for Badger Sunscreen, as well as Ollie's super practical sun suit. In addition to those two essentials, I sought out a bug repellant that was free of Deet and other nasties, but was also actually effective. Lo and behold, my first attempt was a successful attempt. The cryptically named eco.kid Aussie Outdoor Spray turned out to be an excellent pest deterrent (and I would know, I of course tested it on myself before releasing Ollie to the mercy of the mosquitos). It's a little pricey, at $14 a bottle, but worth it to keep the bugs and chemicals off.

A few novel items never hurt

To be sure that the experience was a success, a few extra distractions came in very handy. That adorable little mini camping chair, picked up from the local "Bargainators" or something similar. $8 very well spent as Ollie sat with a self satisfied look in the little fold out chair for any of the times he wasn't running at top speed around the site.

A first colouring book also proved to be a hit, although I'll admit that a fair number of crayons made their way into his mouth (and fascinatingly, all the way through his digestive system).

And of course, the puppy! Coach was an endless source of delight as they shared kisses, walks, and snacks (both ways - Ollie's a kibble fan).

Honestly, the trip was practically perfect in every way. So good, in fact, that I'm now fixated on the idea of taking a second trip at the end of the summer and dragging along Nanny Jayne, her husband and her yet-to-be-born newborn! 

What do you think, any other tips for camping with littles? Will you be heading into the wilderness this summer? 

1 comment:

  1. I'm so happy to hear that it went so well. I'm really looking forward to our camping trip, but am also a little worried about how Kale will handle it. Seeing Ollie chill in his little chair and peek out the tent has assured me that camping with a toddler is going to be so much fun! Thanks for sharing all your tips - I will take your advice on pretty much all of them!


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