Camping with Toddlers

Summertime meant camping when I was a kid.

Camping was always fun: sleeping outside, getting as dirty as can be, and eating all the sugary food my parents packed but normally never ate at home. I met so many different people when I camped and was introduced to new things. When I was a toddler I wasn’t into soda (“too peppery” was my response according to my mom), but a kid named Chris from a campsite over reintroduced it to me and I became a fan into adulthood.

I learned how to play pool from another set of kids on a different trip and made friends with some raccoons that invaded our campsite on yet another. One trip saw us sleeping in the car one night because it rained so hard our campsite flooded.

Camping was such a fun part of my childhood that right after Ash proposed I added a bunch of camping supplies to our wedding registry. He was never a big fan of camping, but he’s such a good sport that he went along with my interest to get back into camping once we were married.

We went once.

It was an ordeal, something to discuss in a future post, but it took us six years before we’d attempt it again. The takeaway from the trip: it was fun but extremely eventful. Fuel for family stories for years to come.

Jai’s First Trip

Once I got pregnant I knew I wanted to take my child camping as soon as they were old enough. I know we could have taken Jai right after he was born if we were super dedicated campers, but we’re not. We’re extremely casual, but not to the point of an RV or camper.

I decided that once Jai was able to walk it would be a good time to go. Unfortunately, his birthday is at the end of the casual camping season here and he didn’t start walking until he was 13 months. So we’d have to wait until spring/early summer to try our first trip.

We planned a trip for early-June at a campground not far from where we lived. Ash, Jai, and I went with my parents which helped the trip go smoothly because Jai had some adult available at all times to take him for a walk or follow him around the campsite to make sure he was safe.

Overall, the trip was a huge success with Jai in love with the outdoors (more than before). Able to spend 48 hours outside, including sleeping out there? All the dirt I can play with? All the walks I can take? We have a fan. He was slightly grumpy for a few days after we returned that I suspect it had to do with the fun ending and no longer having 24-hour Grampy access.

Admittedly, it was an easy-going trip because we only got a few sprinkles, four adults to watch him, and a relatively private campsite for the few crying sessions. I know not all of our trips will go so smoothly, but it was a fantastic way to jump back into the yearly trips with our little one.

Planning Ahead & Quick Tips

What helped the trip go smoothly was all the planning ahead we did.

I looked for camping lists and cobbled together my own list to bring everything we could possibly need. I also tried to keep the list to the bare minimum so we didn’t overstuff the car. I remember having to squeeze in next to coolers and tents in a much smaller vehicle as a child. It was fun, but as I got older it was hard to stretch out on the longer trips to campsites.

While we didn’t know what the site was going to look like ahead of time, we were able to confirm water & power hook-up and there would be bathroom facilities close by. We wouldn’t need to lug water for cleaning back to the site and we also didn’t need to stress over making our own bathroom.

We also made sure to check for activities at the location. Where we camped was near the Appalachian Trail, so there were easy hikes, falls, playgrounds and other activities to keep Jai occupied if there was a need.

Other things that helped the trip go smoothly:

  • Making use of plastic totes to hold camping supplies and food. Allowed me to move the food back into the vehicle with ease at night to prevent bears and other pests from getting into the food.
  • Air mattresses. We’re causal campers, so lying on the ground isn’t appealing, and we wanted to make sure Jai was comfortable. As he gets older we can let him have the pleasure of sleeping directly on the ground for a night.
  • Bring “special” toys, but keep the toys to a minimum. I have a child backpack filled with trip toys and activities that are only there for trips like this. By keeping them set aside, they are always “new” and exciting to play with, though he never once cracked into that backpack during the trip. Why? Because he wanted to play with all the dirt, sand, and twigs he could find.
  • Accept the dirt and settle for wipes. We kept the trip short (which was equally helpful) so the need for a bath or shower was minimal. Jai loves his nightly baths, but because there was so much to do during the day, he didn’t miss it when it was bedtime due to exhaustion. Camping is such a wonderful opportunity for them to get dirty without repercussion. A quick wipe before bedtime was enough to make me feel better about his cleanliness.

I created a packing list to share from our trip. Download your copy below.

Camping with Toddlers Packing List

Possible issues or concerns:

  • Sleeping at night. He slept just fine at night, which was good, but the major concern we had was him being in the tent alone (we stayed close by at all times with the door in sight). It was harder for him to fall asleep at night because there was no way to dim the tent and he could easily hear us just outside. Keeping him up later wasn’t a real possibility for us because he was already hitting his threshold and I didn’t want him to be overtired and unable to sleep.
  • What to do in case of rain or stormy weather? We didn’t have bad weather during the entire trip, but I suspect if it got really bad, I would have sent Ash home with Jai while I held down the site until it was time to strike camp. This may not be a luxury for everyone camping with toddlers, but we kept it in the back of our minds in case something happened.
  • Wildlife encounters. There was a real concern for bears while we were camping with signs posted all over the place warning campers about leaving food out. My mom caught a raccoon looking for scraps at night, though there was absolutely none to be had (we packed everything away and into the vehicles). I think we would have stayed in the tents until it was safe to leave if there were any major issues.

Overall, there wasn’t any major issues or concerns for the entire trip. I think a lot of it had to do with staying flexible and not stressing over anything.

Keeping it Fun and Flexible

The most important thing is to keep it fun and flexible.

If possible, select a site that is within driving distance of your home. It relaxed us knowing that if Jai did not enjoy his time, we could drive him home so he could sleep in his own crib for the night.

By keeping it flexible, it kept our stress level down and therefore his stress level down. We had no set plans beyond making and striking camp. If we were going to spend the entire day at the site watching him play with dirt, then we’d find something relaxing for the grown-ups to do while he did that.

I certainly enjoyed this aspect of it because it allowed me to take a 72-hour break from my social media and electronics. I still checked stuff from time-to-time for professional reasons, but I took a temporary electronic detox (again).

It was important to me that his first trip be uneventful and fun, which I believe we were successful in doing. We are going to try to take him out a couple more times this year before the end of the season to keep him used to the idea and help get him excited for next year. I anticipate each year will grow more and more exciting for him as he gets older. I want him to look back on these trips with the same level of fondness and nostalgia as I do now.

How early did you take your little one out for camping? How well did that go? What suggestions or stories do you have to share? Leave your comment below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography

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Someday Wish: Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Last weekend we went camping by the approach trail for the Appalachian Trail (AT) in the North Georgia mountains.

It was my first time at the approach after hearing so much about this place for twenty+ years. Growing up in New England, particularly next to the AT, you were familiar with the six-month journey from Georgia to Maine. As a child, it was this nebulous start point in the state of Georgia which was a place you didn’t want to spend a lot of time in for various reasons.

For almost ten years to the day I’ve been living in Georgia, but I hadn’t made it close to the start of the AT until now. It was a goal to visit the trailhead (in some capacity) while living in the Southeast.

Growing Up Next to the Trail

As a child, seeing AT hikers was a frequent occurrence in the late-spring into mid-fall. When I was in high school I would see them walking along the road across the street on their way to the next section of trail. Sometimes they would stop on the embankment for a railroad line and some students would shout out the window at them.

Teenagers.

As I got older, I would see them along the road on my way to work. They would come into my place of employment to clean up in the bathroom and re-up their food supplies (it was a great place to shop for the vegan hikers). I never really got into much of a conversation with them as they came through my line, mainly because I didn’t even know what to say. Most left their packs outside, but you could always tell given the tired, dusty look on their faces.

I also hiked sections of the trail, but no more than a few miles at a time. I always enjoyed my time on the trail, but couldn’t imagine what it was like to hike over two thousand miles of the trail.

Someday…

When I found out what these hikers were doing, hiking from Georgia to Maine, I always wanted to try the journey myself. But I always thought myself incapable due to lack of physical fitness. As I got older, I found the idea of exerting myself every day for an extended period of time fatiguing (I blame my undiagnosed MS at the time).

Now that I’ve made significant lifestyle changes and feel better – the idea of going six months of hard physical labor every day no longer seems impossible. I understand there’s a lot of planning and prepping that goes into hiking the entirety of the trail, but I finally have the confidence that one day I will be able to do it.

I have built up my fitness goals. I completed a half-marathon, but I have the following “someday goals”:

  • Run a marathon
  • Compete in a Triathlon
  • Hike the AT
  • Stretch someday: Climb Mount Everest

Having my MS under control will also help my ability to hike the trail. It might take me a little longer than most people, but the more active I get and aware of my daily limitations, I think I could do it. I will have to wait until Jai is older either to take him with me, or he’s out of the house so he can go six-months without needing to see me. Either way, I will need to wait to go with a partner as the trail isn’t safe for a woman to go it alone. I don’t think I could convince Ash to go with me…

In the meantime…

Because it’s going to be several years before I am ready to hike the AT, but I know someone who is currently part of the 2018 AT Class: A Worthwhile Adventure. She’s blogging her journey fairly frequently so it’s enjoyable to see the pictures and read all about the literal ups and downs of her journey. I highly recommend subscribing to her blog to follow her exciting adventure through Appalachia.

What are some of your personal fitness or adventure goals? Would you ever spend six months on such a goal? Leave a comment below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography


Recovering with Nature

When I began my health journey nearly a year ago, I wasn’t sure what direction I would take. Honestly, I thought I would give up, go back to my old habits, and be on MS medication by now.

In the back of my mind, I had very few pleasures: eating sugar, fried foods, and not exercising.  These were things I did to self-sooth and help me cope with stress and my diagnosis.

It was my pattern. To try something new, get discouraged, and then give up on it.

This particular venture worked out differently. I think because I am blogging it allows for a level of accountability, perhaps if I didn’t maintain this blog I would have given up sooner. Back in November, I went through a period where I didn’t post as often as I wanted. It may have been discouragement (“is this something really worth doing? I am putting a lot of time into something with little to no feedback”), but I think I was also just busy with life and not sure if I wanted to continue regardless.

Somehow I stuck through it and I’ve continued to notice positive changes. I’ve lost weight, I feel happier, I feel more balanced, and I think I’ve fully accepted my diagnosis. I was on the path of acceptance several years ago, but I really embodied the “things I cannot change” attitude since August.

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