We’ve been on many camping trips over the years and even spent four months or so living in our bell tent. So far, we have only managed to go on two camping trips with bub: one when he was 12 weeks old and the most recent at 12 months (more are in the pipeline!). Both stages presented different challenges but as long as you’re organised, relaxed and prepared to ‘go with the flow’, you’ll have a great time and make some wonderful memories.
We’ve been told how brave we are camping with a baby and people have asked us how we manage it. So, having reflected on some of our previous trips – with and without bub -here are some nuggets of wisdom…
Planning your trip
It is really good idea to research the area you’ll be visiting. Are there supermarkets nearby where you can buy nappies and other baby essentials? Are there plenty of things to do and places to visit or will you have to do a lot of driving from base camp? What rainy day activities are available? On that note, check the forecast; rainy days don’t stop us camping but continuous downpours and thunderstorms might!
Check what facilities are available at the site. Do they have electrical hookups? Is a fridge available for general use? Do they have showers? Is the water drinkable? Is there a shop and, if so, have some change with you -there may be a limit on the amount you can spend without being charged…really frustrating if all you’really after is a pint of milk!
Setting up camp
Make sure you have plenty of time to set up camp in daylight. You really don’t want to be trying to put up a tent in the dark…with a baby whose nearing the witching hour!
Choose your pitch wisely. However, be aware that you may just be allocated a spot -check beforehand, if this concerns you. Pick an area with plenty of shade and, if you’re like me and prefer darkness when you sleep, pitch up away from any campsite lighting. This will also help baby sleep well.
Ensure your abode is set up to your liking before bub is asleep. Don’t go shifting the bed at 11pm here, there and everywhere, turning yourselves around because you find you’re on a slope and all the blood is running to your head. Try it out beforehand!
Bring a tarpaulin or big waterproof blanket for outside – really useful if you’re on a sandy pitch; I recommend the latter because it’s less crackly and therefore less likely to wake baby.
Chat with your neighbours
It is obviously nice to have your own little spot but, when camping, it is likely you’ll be in close proximity to others. If you are worried about baby disturbing them go and have a chat -we’ve found that people are extremely understanding, if not exited about baby’s outdoor adventure. If for some reason they are not so understanding…oh well, babies cry, that’s life!
If you have no neighbours then leave a few baby toys outside the tent when you’re out. It’s likely people will see these and search for a pitch elsewhere!
Napping and sleeping
Tents are usually too light and hot for babies to nap in during the day. We tend to plan our activities around naptime, as bub will sleep in the pram (on a walk!) or in the car whilst travelling. As for bed time, keep to the same routine and timings as at home because this will help them get to sleep more easily – even if it means you have to sit with them for an hour waiting for sun down so they drift off. Don’t try and keep them up -that may lead to one hyper overtired baby.
What to pack
I try to limit amount we take after realising I’m prone to overpacking. It does gets harder with a baby, as there are so many items that make life easier! Here are some suggestions:
Bedding – If you have to nurse or feed baby in the night you may prefer to have an air bed with normal bedding rather than a sleeping bag. We’ve only used sleeping bags when we’ve been hardcore camping (which isn’t very often!). We always take our duvet just to feel more homely and it will make sure you all stay toasty. No space in the car? You could vacpac it though this may be trickier on the return journey…
As for baby, a travel cot will do or you can co-sleep if you are happy to. We’ve always used a Koo-di cot because it is light, comes with a padded mattress and has a zip around mosquito net. It also folds down neatly into its own carry case so is easy to pack into the car. We’ve found it handy because the cot sits on the floor so when baby wakes at night we can calm him without having to get out of bed!
Playtime – You could take a playpen so you can put baby down when you need to be hands free. Again, we are conscious of car space so we tend to tag-team or put bub in the pram with some toys.
Clothing – Pack according to the activities you’ll be doing but ensure you take something warm for the evenings. Don’t forget wet weather gear including raincoats! As for baby, their clothes take so little space that I tend to bung everything in. If you have a crawler or a walker of your hands then pack clothes that you don’t mind getting rough and dirty!
Also, camping means progressively dropping temperatures at night; even in summer the night and mornings can be chilly. It is really important to keep baby warm, as they find it difficult to relate their body temperature. You might find that baby needs layering throughout the night. On our first trip bub had blanket and wore gloves and a hat (babies lose heat through their heads). Their faces may feel cold but they’ll be fine as long as their torso feels toasty warm. By our second trip, we’d discovered gro-bags so now bub wears a body suit or sleep suit under his gro-bag.
Finally, always take spare sleepwear for baby and make sure it stays by your bedside (along with nappies) for any accidents in the night. I can tell you it is not fun to be dealing with a crying wet baby at 3am and having to rummage through the car to find spare clothes.
Food – When we first went camping with bub he was exclusively breastfed. Second time round, however, he usually eats the same food as us though I make sure there’s plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables available for snacks. We also find the organic food pouches invaluable for on-the-go snacks.
As for drink, our little one can have cooled boiled water, as well as milk. For day trips we carried 200ml cartons of UHT full fat milk, which is just as nutritious as refrigeratorated milk.
Meal times – If you want to take a highchair then I’d suggest one that deconstructs easily like the cheapest Ikea one. However , our little one either sits on the blanket with a silicone bib on to catch any mess or he sits in the pram.
Sterilising kit – I’ve never had to worry about this whilst camping because bub was either breastfeeding or drinking milk. When he was on formula for a short time I put the bottles in a big tupperware and popped a milton tablet in. Alternatively, you could bring a big pot to boil water in for sterilising bottles. You could also see if your formula brand sell travel size bottles so you can have a break from cleaning!
Keeping the cool box cold
If you don’t have access to electricity and there’s no fridge on the site don’t panic! A few days before you leave buy some small water bottles and put them in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer them into the cool box and leave for a few hours before returning them to the freezer. Repeat this process 3-4 times then pack your box with the frozen bottles as well as any food and drink you want to take. Obviously try to limit the amount of time the box is left open. This kept our food chilled for four days.
Last few tips
Prepare everything for your morning routine the night before. Make sure you have the milk, food and changing kit to hand -it makes for a more relaxing wake up.
Don’t spend time worrying about the state you are all in. Just enjoy the holiday -you can bung everything in the washing machine and hop in the shower on your return.
At some point your baby will scream the campsite down. Maybe this will happen at 2am – it did for us on one occasion! It’ll pass. Don’t stress. However, if you’re really worried, the car acts as a great muffler of sound!
Don’t load the car up with lots of plastic toys -be inspired by the great outdoors. Introduce your baby to rocks, leaves, sand, sticks and water. There are plenty of games to be played and much mess to be made!
Finally, babies are resilient and adapt well to new environments; there are so many new sights, sounds and smells for them to experience when camping. Enjoy the time with your little one!