Family Camping: Checklist & 10 Tips for Your First Family Camping Trip

family camping around lake

Embarking on your first camping trip as a new(ish) family unit is an exciting rite of passage for all families who love nothing more than getting at one with nature again, and can create some priceless memories.

But you want to get your prep right because nothing fizzles out the fun of a camping holiday like ill-planning - especially when there are little ones added to the equation!

When you’re planning your first family camping getaway, you’ll want to nail your itinerary, and make sure you have a few backup options in the event of an emergency.

We’ve put together an expert guide to help you on your way to making memories you’ll cherish forever on your first family camping trip.

Preliminary Preparation

The trick to success is in the planning. Here’s what to do to get the preliminary details spot on:

1. Research Your Camping Spot

It’s wise to do a bit of sleuth work as to where the right camping spot is. The best source? Other families, of course.

Finding the right family campsite depends on several factors:

  • Your budget
  • Whether or not the spot is kid-friendly (some aren’t)
  • Safety: has the location got on-site security or staff?
  • Surroundings; are there busy roads/deep bodies of water nearby?
  • Is the site dog-friendly (if you’re planning on bringing your four-legged friend)?

2. Plan the Journey

Okay, we know travelling with little ones can be trying at the best of times, so the trick is to plan this accordingly so that you won’t arrive at your destination already wanting to go home (and not to mention with a few extra grey hairs on your head).

This means stocking up on plenty of car-friendly snacks, toys/books/games to keep the rugrats amused, anti-sickness meds (if they are prone to car sickness), and have plenty of pit stops to visit the bathroom, stretch the legs, top up on caffeine (for you), etc.

Route-planning is wise too. Most of us prefer camping in the summer months for obvious reasons, which can make motorways and dual carriageways extremely busy. Fun fact: gridlock traffic and toddlers is a match made in hell.

If there are alternative routes (even if they add an hour or so to the journey), it can be a good shout to take a detour to avoid summer holiday traffic. There’s only so much “are we there yet?” a person can suffer before losing the will to live.

Plan some car games. This is a great way to keep their boredom at bay and will help pass the time quicker. A darn good playlist that the whole family loves also doesn’t hurt.

What Essentials To Take

Your itinerary can make or break your camping trip. Going over the top will (quite literally) bog you down, and going for the less-is-more approach (if not planned properly) can also backfire.

While your little ones will probably want to take EVERY. SINGLE. TOY with them, resist the urge. Allow them to pack a maximum of three toys/games. This will stop the car from looking like you’ve looted the entire stock of Toys ‘R’ Us.

Your itinerary should look something like this:

  • A tent (we’ve heard it helps when camping…), plus accessories (pegs, mallet, etc.)
  • Sleeping bags
  • Tent carpet/rug
  • Rainproof awning/tarp
  • Doormat (imperative to keep the inside of the tent clean and mud-free)
  • Kitchenware (stove, plates, cups, etc. Always use plastic over glass/porcelain for safety)
  • Camp chairs
  • Pillows
  • Extra blankets
  • Hot water bottles
  • Air beds (plus a repair kit)
  • Air pump
  • Water carrier
  • Thermal flask
  • Matches/lighter
  • Paper towels
  • Bin bags
  • Food (don’t forget cooking oil!)
  • Utensils
  • Coolbox/icebox
  • Washing-up bowl
  • Dish soap (opt for eco-friendly stuff - it’s better for the earth)
  • Tea towels, scourers and cloths
  • Torch/lantern
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Pen knife/multi-tool
  • Biodegradable wipes
  • Clothing (don’t forget raingear, a warm jumper, and swimwear)
  • Bottled water for the car journey.
  • A first aid kit.
  • A charger
  • A paper map (don’t just rely on Google Maps or your Tom-Tom)
  • Details of nearest emergency help (hospitals, etc.)

So, those are your essentials - obviously, there will be other items you will want to bring along. We also recommend some useful items that make your camping experience more smooth and enjoyable:

Portable Power Station

A portable power station is ideal for camping or off-grid activities, without having to rely on a noisy, stinky, expensive and unsustainable gas generator.

Packed with ultra-durable LFP cells and a full-power pure- sine wave inverter, you can keep your devices charged up during your trip.

Battery-Powered Fairy Lights

This can help keep your camp lit in the evening without relying on candles, or anything else that might be costly or pose a threat. Plus the kids will love it because it’ll look super cosy.

A Firepit

If the campsite allows them, of course (always check in advance). This can help keep you warm, as well as let you do some cooking.

Disposable BBQs

No doubt you’ll want to try out the local eateries, but having a disposable barbecue or two can make for a quick, cheap, and safe way to whip up some delicious summer eats.

mother and child on a camping trip hike in the woods

Top Tips to Make Your Trip Incredible

Here are our top tips to make your family camping trip truly epic.

1. Take Storage Containers

A great option is a car boot tidy, which you can use to store various things in, such as toys, blankets, books, and other bric-a-brac. And because it’s collapsible, it takes up next to no extra room during the journey to and from the site.

2. Meal-Prep

Planning your food is a great way to save time and energy during your holiday. This can be a perfect solution to have breakfast and lunch covered, leaving your evenings free to explore the local eateries. You can freeze your prepped meals in your icebox.

3. Picnic Blankets

When camping with your mini-mes, it’s wise to take cheap picnic blankets instead of more costly items (like camping rug). Not only will this save money, but you won’t feel the blood drain from your face if the kids spill something on them, or adorn them with their muddy footprints.

CAMPING HACK: Take extra picnic blankets to put under your inflatable beds - this will stop the bed from being so chilly from the cold earth.

4. Invest in a Camping Toilet

This can be ideal if your whippersnappers need to make one (or more) midnight pilgrimages to the campsite bathroom (which always seems like it’s miles away - especially in the middle of the night). This means they can just nip out and use it without needing to wake you up multiple times.

5. Use a Garden Trailer

Instead of an extortionate festival trailer. When travelling with one or more kids, you will often find that you’ll need to make multiple trips back and forth from the car park to the site with all your gear - this is where a garden trailer comes in handy.

And if you don’t have one already, chances are someone you know does, and is willing to lend it to you.

6. Clear Tubs

Using clear tubs to pack all your belongings will take so much time and hassle out of unpacking, or looking for something you need, because you can see everything without having to turn the campsite into a jumble sale just because you can’t find the flashlight!

7. Arrive in Good Time

Nothing, and we mean nothing, is a bigger faff than having to unpack and set-up a campsite in the dark - especially if you’re fairly new to the world of camping.

Aim to arrive at the site in plenty of time, so that you can get unpacked and pitch your tent while it’s still light. This also makes it easier to acclimate to your new home for the next few days, and locate the nearest bathroom, etc.

family hikes to campsite with toddlers

8. Don’t Go Over the Top With the Tech

Yes, the iPads may come in handy in the car when they want to watch Bluey or Frozen, but try not to bring the whole Apple store.

Do you really need to bring your laptop and expensive camera, plus a tripod? Stick to the gadgets you need. Your smartphone can take some incredible pictures, serve as an emergency lifeline, and help you find all local amenities - your bulky Nikon D7 cannot.

9. Stick to a Routine

Within reason, anyway.

We know it’s a holiday, so letting the little monkeys stay up later and watch the stars is fine, but kids need their routines to feel stable and secure - this means breakfasts, showers, and any bedtime routines (storytime, etc).

10. Hygiene Planning

Okay, the only thing grubbier than kids in general is kids in nature. If you don’t want your tent to look like something out of Tarzan, create or invest in a campsite washing station. This can be washing-up bowls or baby baths (for bigger kids).

TOP TIP: if the weather is hot, you can fill the bath up in the morning (being sure to cover it to prevent pollen or bugs), and by the time the evening comes, it’ll be warm enough for them to wash.

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