Tips For Camping With Kids

Recently, my parents and I returned from camping with three small children, ages 6, 4, and 1. My 9-year-old was at an actual fancy christian camp for the week. DSC05663We figured if we were going to drive her that far, we might as well find someplace beautiful to camp for the week.

Once the excitement of an impending camping trip wore off, I found myself wallowing in a feeling of dread due to unpreparedness. The only way to fix it was to make a plan and be prepared way ahead of time for the trip.

Thus began my research on Pinterest and asking friends with kids for advice on camping.


Many of the tips and ideas worked, many did not. One thing was for sure, I spent too much time and money getting prepared. Better safe than sorry!

After multiple trips to Dollar Tree, we had a major Busy Bag making day.

The best part for me was using my label maker. I love it, it makes me feel like I am actually in control of my life. When in a panic LABEL IT! I promise, labeling something will make you feel better!


For some reason, I imagined we would need to eat….. like really eat a ton of food. Don’t ask me why I thought we would need to eat three times as much as we normally do at home. We are all relatively light eaters. And because it was a special trip, I included candy and crackers!


I suppose in my mind, a week from home meant packing a mountain of snacks and meal supplies. Both my mom and I went way overboard.

Three weeks out from the trip, I had plastic totes loaded and stacked in my Camping Queue.

Four days before the trip I had my van’s oil changed, fluids checked, and tires aired up.

Two days before the trip the van and car seats were thoroughly cleaned, vacuumed, and my husband took out the back seats.


If we had to go camping with all six of us in one car, we would have to purify lake water, scavenge for food, and wear one outfit each the entire week. The van was LOADED! My parents took their truck which was also loaded and they carried one child in their back seat.

The trip was a blast! Surprisingly, I’m ready to do it again. I want to share with you the ideas for camping with young kids that worked and the ones that did not.

Great Ideas in the Car

  1. Busy Bags – Buy small zipper bags at Dollar Tree. Fill each one with a different activity. The favorite by far for my kids was the one filled with pipe cleaners. They left none for the ride home.

    I had a lot of help making busy bags!
  2. One large bag filled with just a few toys and books instead of letting each child pack their own entertainment bag. I put this in with all of the busy bags, which were all clasped together with one ring.
  3. Stories on audio cd. MAGIC!! Stock up if you have a long drive. We listened to Mother Goose, Farmyard Tales, and a whole series of stories written and read by Roald Dahl.
  4. A cooler of ice cold drinks. I should have put more in for the trip there.
  5. Soft vinyl lap desk. This actually worked brilliantly for only one of my children. My 4 year old loved having the side pockets for her drinks and small toys and books and used the desk part to play with pipe cleaners.

    The baby did not end up liking it and I never got a photo of my 4 year old with hers. I was driving!
    The baby did not end up liking it and I never got a photo of my 4 year old with hers. I was driving!
  6. Packing using a plastic dresser and many totes. I brought one huge and two small totes and one plastic dresser. I packed all of our clothes in the little dresser. It fit perfectly into the van and on the nights we stayed at motels, I was able to access it simply by opening the back of my van!

Bad Ideas in the Car

  1. Snacks. They get everywhere and it was up to me to drive and try to hand out snacks. Nope. Food should be reserved for stops when kids can get out of the car and eat which is what we ended up doing.
  2. Car pillows. My friend gave us her retired pillows. They are an amazing design, but in order for them to work for my young ones, I’d have to stop and put it on for them, which they would then take off a few moments later. They ended up on the floor of the van getting stepped on. I will probably save them for when the kids are older.
  3. DVD player. Only my son watched dvds and he was in the truck with my parents. It tends to make my girls carsick and they were much happier with songs and stories.
  4. Coloring. Crayons everywhere. I also brought a dry erase board and markers. No, not a good idea, even for my 6 year old who does not like to keep things in the car organized. I figured they would play with them at the campsite.
  5. Behavior Clips for the visor. This did not work for little kids. I might reinstate it for when they are older. They liked making them though! Mostly, my kids were great in the car, which was a first.DSCN1841

Brilliant Ideas for the Campground

  1. We stayed in a yurt so we did not have to worry about bringing and pitching tents and mattresses.DSC05658
  2. After emptying the big black tote, we put it by the water source and filled it 1/4 full with water. With the lid on, it became our washing station counter. With the lid off, it was a bath for the little girls at the end of the day! BRILLIANT!!!!!!!
  3. Small plastic tubs. We used one as our sink for washing dishes and another for holding stuff.
  4. Small plastic caddies we bought at Dollar Tree. The idea on Pinterest was to use them to hold fast food while going down the road. We used them as bathroom caddies. I used one for me and the three kids. It was a long hike to and from the bathroom. With the caddy, it was so easy to get all of our soaps, toothbrushes, etc. to and from the bathroom.
  5. Easy Meal Ideas. I created a board on Pinterest for camping meals. Between me and my parents we came up with some great meals for dinnertime and breakfasts.
  6. Snacks. It was a good idea to bring snacks, but we really didn’t snack much. I should have only brought Pringles and some Cliff bars and called it good.
  7. Bottled water. While we had fresh water at the camp site and filled a big jug each day, it was wonderful having cold drinks in the cooler to take on hikes and to the playground. It also saved me from more cup washing at the end of the day.
  8. A baggie full of my homemade laundry detergent. I underestimated how dirty the kids would get and ended up using one of the handy totes to wash laundry. So happy I brought the detergent!13511607_10155030839976110_1221266180_n
  9. Mini DVD player. While the yurt was VERY hot and relatively primitive, it did have electrical outlets. Twice during the week when we adults simply needed a break to sit down, we let the kids have downtime in the yurt with a movie.

Not-S0-Great Ideas for the Campground

  1. Food. We brought too much food. Had it been Fall or Winter, we may have sat around eating more. But we were hot and busy and mostly thirsty. Our coolers were too full and I had an entire tote full of dry snacks like raisins, granola, crackers, and chips. We were usually too full from the last meal to eat and that entire tote ended up wasting space in the van and in the yurt. I ended up losing a little weight despite being off my normal diet and with drinking a LOT of beer due to being so hot.DSC05638
  2. Those macaroni and cheese in a cup. NO, those are HORRIBLE. My kids tried a tiny taste and threw it out. Nasty stuff. So bad. I’ll never buy those again.
  3. Coloring and entertainment box. Not only did it take up space, but we only used the play-doh and bubbles. The kids were perfectly entertained just being with us outside and with everything camping. Again, wasted prep energy and space in the car! OY VEY!
  4. A small inflatable bed for the baby. It took up space AND I had to spend $$ on a pump on the way to the camp site to blow it up. She just hated it. After a bad night, my parents ended up putting their bunk bed mattresses side by side on the floor and the baby slept between them.
  5. Tackle boxes filled with snacks aka Snackle Boxes. I chose poorly on snacks. They could have been a good thing with different choices of snacks. Maybe just some crackers, nuts, seeds, and raisins. The chocolates melted into globs and the kids were never hungry for the snacks or only thought of them RIGHT before a meal. The kids really loved the idea and loved looking at the boxes, but no one ate the snacks. *I remember taking photos of them as they were so cute, but can’t find the docs! Sorry.

To sum it up, we had a stellar time camping. My son spent most of his time in the canoe play fishing. DSC05585 When he wasn’t doing that he was running around introducing himself to other campers and hitching rides in sweet cars.

The little girls were dirty by lunchtime each day.13536225_10155030840441110_314777890_nDirt is ok, it’s healthy and good for the immune system so I never let it bother me. At the end of the day they both got in the big black bathtub and loved it. Win win!


I enjoyed hiking, hanging out with my wonderful parents and my BFF Jamie, who joined us for two nights. I canoed with my kids, swam, ate great food, drank a lot of beer, and for the most part, slept well in the yurt.DSC05642 DSC05651

We went to almost every daily chat or hike with Park Interpreter Heather Hula whom my son adored. She was an expert on birds, fishing, and all things camping.

Camping makes me tired! I think I’ll just schlump over and sleep right here.

It was probably the most fun I’ve had on a camping trip since I was a kid.

Next time, I’ll pack less food/entertainment and bring extra socks and laundry detergent.


Crying Therapy

Crying can be a good thing, a cathartic release. Sometimes a girl just has to cry. Two days ago, I had one of those good strong cries, laying on a bed, knowing full well it seemed immature but also because I knew it would make me feel a little bit better.

Let me tell you the story leading up to my Big Cry.

My three-year old was diagnosed and our lives changed overnight. Scribbles and Crumbs wrote a fabulous blog post on what that feels like.

Just in case you are wondering, #3 is strong, healthy, amazing, and delightful! We are so blessed. Nonetheless, we have to see doctors at regular intervals. Here is what I learned on our trip to Kansas City to see the wonderful staff at Children’s’ Mercy. There is NO sugar-coating trips to see doctors! At least not for the very young children.

We built it up. We told our little dear that there would be a princess party and other little girls to play with. She’d get to stay in a hotel with a swimming pool and the next day we we’d go do Kaleidoscope and afterwards eat hamburgers for lunch.

This was our first clinic in Kansas City. My husband took the Bigs to Lego Land after dropping me, my mom, and Littles off at the hospital. Since it was our very first clinic experience, we waited and talked to people with a deer in the headlights look on our faces, my mom choking back tears. I held it together, determined not to become overly emotional. I plastered a grin on my face and kept it there. Then, we waited. Now we know to arrive in that room right at appointment/s time.

Finally, with one appointment done, we were able to take our sweetie to the Pink Princess Party. I just want to say that the ladies who put that on out of the goodness of their hearts are AMAZING! Everyone was loving and attentive. Shadow Buddies Foundation had an a woman there giving out buddies and charm bracelets.

It was a big room with a lot going on and nearly all the families and girls there knew what they were doing. I felt lost at sea. Noises, people talking to me, things handed to me to put in a bag, baby on my hip, a frantic lunch, more information….

My daughter did so well all day, as she always does! But she lost her spark and I got frustrated with her when she refused to use the toilets there, saying she’d wait until we got home.

Her spark briefly returned after her princess make-over. The Sporting Wives of KC did her hair, nails, and make-up. She decorated a purple crown and received a goodie box full of things she just loves, like a pen and some lip balm.

So why did I feel like total………… you fill in the blank! I felt like a jerk and a fraud. “Hey sweetie, we are taking you somewhere FUN!!! MOHAHAHAHAHA!!!! But really, you are going to see a doctor and then go have blood taken in a lab!”  I’m sure that when she’s older and understands all of this better, she will look forward to seeing friends and getting her make-over and will put up with the appointments.

It nearly kills my husband to watch his little girl go through these things. He was better off where he was, at Lego Land.

My daughter takes everything in stride although I’ve never seen her more happy to come home. I’m sure it was not actually as bad for her as it was for me.

It got even worse for me.

We chose a hotel that has shuttle service to and from local hospitals. I’d had a frustrating time arranging the pick-up time with Sandra the day before. But she did say it would be there for us at 1:45. At 1, we were next in line for the lab and we were WEARY! My girls were tired, I was tired, my mom was tired. I called and Sandra not only claimed that she had not ever talked to me about the shuttle, but also said there was no shuttle service on Thursdays!

I can take a lot, I really can, but not that day! I said someone had better come and get us because we were stranded and in NO MOOD to navigate the streets of KC with two babies in strollers! She hung up and did not call back. I called again. This time she asked me if we were staying in their hotel!? DUH!!! No, we just randomly picked that hotel and asked for a free ride. Before you say she was having a bad day, stop. This was the third day in a row I was on the phone with her. Day one I asked about the shuttle, day two I called twice about it, day 3 you are hearing about now.

Long story(and many more conversations with Santra) short, Sandra screwed up over and over and over without ever apologizing. I went to security at CM and they called and talked to the cab company and to Sandra. Then, we waited and finally heard that the cab went to the hotel instead of the hospital and that Sandra said the job was done. I am now on a first name basis with a Yellow Cab dispatcher named Bruce. He was very nice and got another cab to us quickly.

By that time I figured maybe my husband was at the hotel. I called Sandra, again. She said he had checked in and I said “please find him and put him on the phone.” Housekeeping answered and I never talked to my husband.

I arrived at the hotel a bundle of nerves, with an infant in tow who had not napped ALL DAY and a toddler who had been poked and prodded and needed to relax. As tempting as it was to demand our money back and flee, we stayed and we swam, with no towels because Sandra would not restock the pool towels.

Three things made me feel better.

1. A LONG hard cry, with a bit of wailing added in for effect.

2. Dinner at Taqueria Mexico # 4. Two beers and the best Mexican dish I have ever tasted in MY LIFE! Molcajete with chicken, steak, and cactus. I will eat there every time I go to KC. My kids ate and loved their food. #1 ordered spicy camarones. That’s my girl! molcajete

3. The next morning a nice man was at the front desk of the hotel and called the general manager up to talk to me. Sandra would not give me the name or number of the GM the day before. Debra and I had a nice chat. I’m not sure if we’ll actually get any kind of refund, but she was appalled and said she would have driven to get us herself had she known. I felt better after that.

Mommies, do not feel badly about breaking down and having a good cry! We carry a lot. Our load can be heavy so when the need arises, let it out! It can make for really great therapy, especially when followed by a tasty meal with family, a couple of beers, and some hugs from the kiddos.