The first time our family went camping with a toddler, we took this little guy with us. He had just turned two years old and was in the midst of potty training. Later, we took our third son camping when he was 17 months old, still in diapers, nursing, and taking a pacifier.
Camping with a toddler is definitely different from camping with older kids – but it can be just as fun with a few tips and advance preparation.
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6 Tips for Camping with a Toddler
1. Know your child’s routine, and don’t stray too far from it. Remember what happens when your toddler misses her nap time? She gets cranky & fussy, cries, and takes even longer to fall asleep. The same thing is probably going to happen if she misses her nap when you’re camping – only instead of messing up your day a little bit, it’s going to ruin the fun of your camping trip.
Instead, plan your activities so that your toddler’s naps and bedtime can still happen at about the same time they usually do. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sit around your campsite for 2-3 hours while she naps. Most toddlers can nap comfortably in the stroller or in a carrier worn by Mom or Dad. Do what works best for your family while letting your little one get the rest she needs.
2. Relax a little. What do you do when your toddler picks grass at home and puts it in his mouth? Or eats dirt? Or touches a bug? Don’t get mad at me for saying this, but when you take him camping, lighten up a little. While I won’t suggest that you let your kids eat worms or insects, I don’t think it’ll hurt anything to let them put a little grass, dirt, or sand in their mouths. If you spend your whole camping trip pulling things out of your youngster’s grasp, you’ll either run yourself ragged or keep him confined to a playpen all the time – and then you’ll both be missing out on everything camping has to offer.
3. Allow lots of downtime. Camping trips are for doing things, experiencing the great outdoors and taking part in activities that you can’t do at home. News flash: Your toddler doesn’t care about that stuff. She’s going to have fun picking grass, looking at flowers, and watching the birds . . . but she does not want to be on the go from sunup to sundown, exploring everything that the area has to offer.
Remember her needs & plan for plenty of time to just hang out at the campsite, playground, or sandy beach. Give her time to explore her own little space without rushing around to find the next great thing.
4. Bring a potty seat and/or plenty of diapers. One thing about toddlers is that they need to go more often than older kids & adults. You’re probably not going to want to trek to the bathhouse as often as your youngster needs to tinkle. Depending on the stage your toddler is at, bring along a self-contained potty seat so all that tinkling can happen right there at the campsite. (Shhh, we emptied ours at the edge of the woods near our campsite, but I do recommend catching #2 at the bathhouse instead of the potty seat. If you can’t or would rather not empty urine on the ground, pour it into an empty gallon jug, which you can later pour out at the bathhouse. Or check out this travel potty that uses gallon-sized zipper bags.)
For younger toddlers who are still in diapers, bring plenty! Think about how many you use in a typical day and add 3-5 more per day. It’s far better to carry home unused diapers than it is to run out in the middle of your trip. We’ve used both cloth and disposable diapers during camping trips and feel that both are equally manageable.
For cloth diapers, we took along our usual plastic diaper pail, which we kept in the tent. (Admittedly, the tent was in the cool shade and we only camped for two days. A longer and/or hotter camping trip may make it impossible to keep a diaper pail in the tent.) For disposables, we simply threw them away in the site’s trash can, which was emptied daily by campground staff. Some campgrounds may prefer you to put dirty diapers in a trashcan at the bathhouse, so you may want to ask.
5. Find an alternative to the tent for nap time and diaper changes. If your tent is set up in the sun or if the weather is particularly hot, be aware that the inside of the tent will be stifling. Just stepping inside for a moment will set your pores to dripping sweat. Spend 5-10 minutes in there changing a diaper, and you and your toddler both will be miserable. I highly recommend finding somewhere else to change diapers and for your toddler to take a nap. A few possibilities:
- • a stroller and/or playpen outside in the shade
- • the car (which will still allow more crosswind than your tent)
- • a blanket on the grass
- • the bathhouse (for diaper changes, not napping)
6. Don’t forget your little one’s “lovey.” Any vacation is a bad time to forget your toddler’s favorite blanket or stuffed animal. Make sure you bring it along to help keep your little guy comfortable with the new and different surroundings. Even if your toddler doesn’t usually sleep with a stuffed animal or blanket, it can be helpful to bring along something familiar and cuddly.
How do you make sure camping with your toddler is loads is fun?