Camping… with a toddler.

Last week Bj had the whole week off as his “staycation” of the summer. Of course if Bj decides to take a week off and stay in Oregon, it rains! Yay! Also he got our sick yuckies which really stunk. So the night before our camping trip (planned months in advance so we could reserve a yurt) we were on the fence about going. We had the lovely forecast of 80% chance of all day rain. With visions of cramped quarters and splish splashy potty runs in my head I was all, “we don’t have to go if you don’t feel up to it.” In the end we just couldn’t say no, we have been wanting to camp with Tuesday for a long time. Way back in 2004 Bj and I took a 10,541 mile road trip around the United States. We camped in some questionable spots: at an RV park in our car, an emergency campspot at the Grand Canyon, KOA Kamping Kabins, and some great camp grounds with no running water and paved tent pitching areas! Fun! Actually it was fun, it was awesome and we talk about it all the time still. I only scrapped a portion of the 12 rolls (so vintage!) of film I took, but the book is a fav. The last time we went camping I was pregnant, so we had not been with Tuesday.
Now I have new tips because camping with a kid is different, and fun, and different! These may not pertain to you, but next time I’d like to remember:

1. Your kid can’t wait until ten PM to eat dinner.
We have a completely different set of dishes, cookware, and utensils for camping (gleaned from thrifting mostly). It is in a trunk, along with separate oven mitts, a table cloth, fire top popcorn maker (big hit! I think every Goodwill has one!), citronella candles, etc. I am a hard core camp food lover. If I go camping I cook on the fire. For every meal. This does not work so well when your fire pit is totally soaked and it takes FOREVER to make a fire, even though in the sixth grade you were awarded best fire started in outdoor school. I brought a couple packages of ramen as back up and that was it. Hello crazy. We lucked out and made it work though.
2. Let your normal routine go.
The first night we tried to put Tuesday to sleep before us. You know so we could sit romantically by the fire and gaze into the embers. Ha! It was way to different for Tuesday. The second night we all crawled into bed at the same time. 15 minutes later, night night. So easy.

2. That clip on seat is still genius.
Guess what a camp ground is like SO CRAZY INTERESTING to a toddler. I only put this clip on seat in our car because I thought we would be inside the whole trip and the yurt only comes with two chairs. This was a life saver while we were finishing up meals and she needed to be kept away from the fire/hot pans. I cinched her down tight and when she tried to climb out I got a, “mama tight?” yup, that’s right!

3. That potty seat would have been good too.
As you can see I brought most of the comforts of home, like the fan she sleeps with every night. I also brought this potty chair in case she had to go in the middle of the night and I was too tired it was too rainy to hike to the camp bathrooms. At home we use a potty seat still and I didn’t bring it because we rarely use it when we go out any more. But it turns out the campgrounds potties were “Whoa” (too big) and “dirty” (her words). It wasn’t even a pit toilet Tuesday, geez! Anyway we are currently on a practically all fruit diet over here because she just could not relax at the campground, and now we’re paying the price, poor thing.

4. Bring stickers and make friends.
I brought way too many projects (travel painting kit anyone?) because I was sure we were not going to leave the yurt. When we travel I always bring stickers, and I always encourage Tuesday to share them. In my experience this is a guaranteed way to make little friends. Blank cards are also in my travel stash. These were both a big hit with the five year old in the camp spot next to us. In case you don’t know five year olds are THE COOLEST THING ON THE PLANET to toddlers. So making friends with one and then getting to watch her do things like jump! hide and seek! ride her bike! walk around! are awesome. Big time bonus, you will forget something. And someone else will have remembered it. Being nice means they will lend you their olive oil when you realize you have no butter for the popcorn.
6. Water heater upper + bowl = camp time sink.
Yes, yes, I felt like a genius for this one. When I was thinking about sticky activities like smores making I figured it would be handy to have some hot water. Usually this is something I would do on the fire, but since we were in a yurt I brought my electric one. It was so handy, like seriously! I used the hot water for everything. That, along with our environmentally safe soap (important since you are going to toss it out into nature), meant that we could clean our faces, wash our hands, brush our teeth, and fix messes anytime with out trekking to the bathroom (that didn’t have reliable hot water anyway).
5. Do not bring a suitcase.
I never bring a suitcase camping. Not after that first time when I showed up at summer camp and was the only fool with a hard side baby blue suit case that I had to lug through the woods to my teepee. When you camp everything will get dirty and everything will smell like smoke. So your suitcase will be gross probably forever. Not only that but how handy is a suitcase? Not very. A trunk and some rubber made containers on the other hand can be used for a ton of stuff. They stack, they are waterproof, they can work as little tables. The rubber made can be your dishwashing station, the lid your drying rack.

5. Be prepared for any weather… even good weather.
I usually don’t put too much stock in weather reports, but in Oregon an 80% chance of non-stop rain usually means a 100% chance of a downpour. Luckily for us that wasn’t the case. It rained in the middle of the night, and the last morning when we were leaving. Unluckily for us we left our bikes and trailer at home because we were sure it was going to rain and I was afraid of trying to cram them in the yurt with us the whole time. Did I mention the reason we chose this campground was for the bike trails? No matter what bugs are going to roll in so bringing lots of extra layers including socks and hats is a fantastic idea. And don’t forget the sunscreen!

6. Take your time, stop on the drive, put away the phones.
We are totally a connected family. We had a goal of one night a week with no electronic devices. Total nights with no electronic devices this year (at home) zero. Bj and I are very very guilty of checking email constantly. Even when we are going somewhere we like to just get there. But on our drive home we really wanted to just slow down. We stopped anywhere that looked interesting, including a little road that dead ended right up near the beach. We walked up the hill and saw this.

Who puts a swing set there? I don’t know, but I love them. This was a not on the agenda thing. These are always the best. The unexpected little things because we slow down and look around.

(I look pregnant but I’m not… thanks for asking MOM!)
Also little bonus tip? If you camp at an Oregon State Parks campground then your parking pass is good for the whole day you leave at any other state park. We took advantage of this and stopped at one on the way home.
So what’s your tip?
p.s. Bj couldn’t resist.

Join the Conversation


  1. I want to go camping with you guys! Looks like such a fun time and BJ awesome video! PS in all fairness to me… Tuesday’s the one that told me… I didn’t come up with it on my own!

  2. Fun trip!! I’ve gotten spoiled camping with boy scouts so now I never want to camp alone! Something about them doing all of the cooking and cleaning and setting up camp and breaking it down…lol…
    But those tips are great! I do want to go camping as a family a few times this summer, I should probably make some reservations!

  3. The swing set is next to the beach?!! Even better! Thanks for the camping tips! I can’t wait to camp with our kids. I have lagged on making reservations so we may have to wait til next summer.

  4. What a great post! I have to mention I DID remember the potty when we took ours camping! Sarah was just 3, had been trained almost a year, but I thought, “Ya. Camp bathrooms? She won’t use a camp bathroom, I can tell you right now!” It was nice to have. (She wouldn’t use the automatic ones for a loooong time, either!) That clamp-on seat would’ve been so helpful back in then. I will certainly remember not to bring my suitcase! And, who puts a swing set out like that? Looks like that place was meant for you! 🙂 Great vid, too- my kids loved it. They asked, “Is your friend famous?” I say, “Not yet.” 🙂

  5. Looks like you guys had a great family camping trip. Love the photo of your husband reading to Tuesday while she is on the potty. Just precious.

  6. I love this post! I am always grabbing my two boys and taking them with me on travel adventures. I think it does them good to experience the world in it’s raw and natural state, although I do agree that some comforts of home make it easier 🙂

  7. Hi, I’ve just stumbled on this while searching for info on camping w/ my 5yo and 20 month old. Love your ideas, especially the stickers! I’m from the east coast; perhaps one day I’ll make it out your way. My husband had a business trip out there and I begged him to let me come (“and we can go camping, and visit Crater Lake…”) His response was basically: the allure of the northwest is hiking/mountainous terrain, beauty due to all the *rain* and then pointed out that I was 7 1/2 months pregnant, and had a 4yo at the time. Sigh; he’s the logical one. But one day I’d love to camp out there! Thanks again for your insights – and wonderful photography!

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