Written by Campspot Ambassador, Jeremy Puglisi. Co-host of The RV Atlas podcast and the co-author of See You at the Campground.
I’ll never forget our first camping trip. I think we spent half of the weekend figuring out how to use our brand new pop up camper, and the other half chasing our little boys around and bringing them back to our campsite. But by the time we drove home that Sunday night, we were absolutely in love with camping. I wish we had known more about packing and managing our time, but eventually we figured it out–and you will too. Here are 8 tips to jumpstart the process and help you have an amazing first trip, and avoid some of the mistakes we made in our first few months as a camping family.
Bring a Few Special Toys
If you have extra space in your RV it can be tempting to bring along a miniature version of the playroom at home. Believe me, we have fallen into that trap once or twice. Although it’s certainly nice for kids to have well-loved toys that will occupy them while you relax in a camp chair for a few minutes, we’ve found that it’s good to only bring a few toys along for the ride. It helps keep the clutter inside and outside of the RV at bay, and it also encourages our kids to discover the rocks and sticks and streams that are waiting for them just beyond our campsite.
Get Your Kids Color Coded Packing Cubes
Buying your kids color-coded packing cubes will transform your packing experience if you give them a try. During our first few years of camping we used the typical duffel bags or plastic bins for our clothes. They would stay packed up nice and neat for about a day. But after the kids rooted through those bags or bins everything would quickly turn into a disorganized mess. Enter the packing cubes. They are small, zippered, pouches that you can use to organize and separate your kid’s clothes. Our boys get separate colors and keep them at the end of their bunk beds so they know exactly where to look for their clothing. When it comes to keeping the RV tidy, packing cubes have been a game changer.
Pack for Any Weather Contingency
We are complete nuts about being prepared for all kinds of weather on our camping trips. It might be our family’s natural aversion to being cold and wet, or our many experiences not having the right foul-weather gear over the years. At this point, it doesn’t really matter what the weather forecast says. We are prepared with bathing suits, coats, rain jackets, and boots regardless. Once you spend an entire day in the relatively small space of an RV with three energetic boys you will forever understand the value of a raincoat and rubber boots! Having the right clothing to tackle (almost) any weather situation is an absolute must for our family, and it should be for yours too.
Create a Sports Kit and a Game Box
A soccer ball or a game of catch can keep our three boys busy for hours at the campground. So I keep a set of old gloves and balls and frisbees in the RV and leave it there for the entire camping season. Most families have spare sports equipment in the garage, and we recommend repurposing it for a sports kit. We also keep a box of games in the RV and recommend avoiding games with lots of small pieces like Monopoly or Life. Instead, we opt for games with fewer pieces to lose like Spot It, Checkers, or Uno. We don’t play those particular games at home very much, so it feels like a special event when we pull them out at the campground.
Keep a Familiar Schedule
Most parents work incredibly hard to keep their kids on a schedule when it comes to mealtime and bedtime–and it’s easy to let those schedules slip when it comes to camping vacations. Kids want to stay up late around the campfire and scheduled meal times can easily get nixed when we are unshackled from work and school routines. But keeping everyone fed and on schedule keeps everyone happy. And kids that are well rested are just about always ready for fun and adventure. So do your best to stick to your standard family schedule when you are camping. You won’t regret it.
Invest in Quality Gear for Outdoor Adventures
Getting your kids geared up for camping can be fun, but it can also be daunting and a bit expensive. You might be tempted to buy inexpensive hiking shoes for your kids, or an inexpensive hiking carrier for hauling around little ones on the trail. But you get what you pay for, and cheap hiking shoes can hurt little feet, and a budget backpack carrier might only last for a season, or even worse, a single hike. The same goes for fishing gear and outdoor games like corn hole or rope ladder. Cheap stuff breaks, while quality stuff can last many seasons. Spend the extra money if you can.
Plan on Downtime at the Campground
Planning your first camping trip is incredibly exciting. For many parents, it is so exciting that we overplan our first trips, and we try to pack in too many exciting activities. The end result? Cranky kids, and exhausted parents. After our first camping trip we quickly realized that our family loved waking up early for a hike or kayak ride, and then heading back to the campground to relax each afternoon. This was our secret sauce for keeping everyone happy and well rested on our camping trips. We bought our first RV over 10 years ago, but we still stick to this formula every time we go camping. It worked then, and it still works now.
Get Your Kids Into Nature
Most parents struggle with monitoring and enforcing limits on their kids screen time. We certainly have. Each and every camping trip is an opportunity for your kids to disconnect with screens and reconnect with the natural world. Our kids are at their best when they are playing in the woods or skipping rocks across the surface of a clear blue lake. As parents we are also at our best when we spend time with them in the natural world. All of the stress of everyday life simply melts away when we spend time together at the campground with our kids. So why not book your first trip now?
If you do, my guess is that it will be the first of many happy adventures at the campground. You will make memories that your kids will talk about for years to come.
Ask me how I know.
Jeremy Puglisi is the co-host of The RV Atlas podcast and the co-author of See You at the Campground: A Guide to Discovering Community, Connection, and a Happier Family in the Great Outdoors and Where Should We Camp Next: A 50 State Guide to Amazing Campgrounds and other Unique Outdoor Accommodations, both published by Sourcebooks.