Why We Love Camping with Kids

At WAYB, we love sharing adventures with our junior humans. Camping is a great way to get closer to nature, make amazing family memories, and get away without having to go too far from home. Here are our top reasons why camping is great, as well as our favorite camping tips for those who are ready to try the great outdoors. And if staying closer to home is the order of the day, try backyard camping for some adventure without any travel!

Camping seems like the quintessential childhood memory. However, it’s not something my family did when I was a kid. As an adult I got more into it, and by the time I had kids I couldn’t wait to share it with my wee ones. Some people think camping is too hard: too much equipment, danger, or discomfort. But I’d argue that it’s one of the easiest ways to “get away,” especially when kids are young. 

Why camping rules:

  • It’s cheap - Campsites are a lot cheaper than hotels, and odds are there’s a great campsite within driving distance of your house. Sure, there’s equipment costs, but ask around and you will likely find a tent collecting cobwebs in your neighbor’s garage. 
  • It’s flexible - Without plane tickets, a camping getaway can be a bit more spontaneous. (Some popular sites need to be booked way in advance, but there’s only a tiny cancellation fee if your plans change later.) If you camp close to home, you can always bail out if needed. There are also all kinds of campsites, from remote hike-in sites to more well-equipped campgrounds.
  • Your kids will love it - Your idea of a memorable trip might be a week overseas, but kids see travel differently. They love the uninterrupted time with their parents. They love the freedom to play. And they love roasting marshmallows. 

How to do it right

  • Have a plan - When you’ve got a carload of hungry kids, it’s not the moment to find out the campground is full. For family trips, pick campsites you can reserve ahead (go to recreation.gov for National Parks, or go through a state or local campground’s website to see how they handle booking). If the campground is “site specific” that means you can choose your campsite in advance. Check out campsitephotos.com if you really want to preview your site. Have a backup plan, too: is there a cheap motel nearby, or could you head back home (think torrential rain or a kiddo isn’t feeling too well)? Are there grocery stores and restaurants if you can’t make a campfire for some reason? It’s not a bad idea to also know the nearest ER or Urgent Care - many campsites don’t have cell service. 
  • Get cozy - I love the idea of remote, hike-in camping. Carrying everything you need on your back, leaving roads and cars behind, sleeping under the stars away from city lights. With little kids, forget it. I love car camping, where you can drive right up to your site. With car camping you can bring the big cooler, the beach toys, the bicycles, and the cozy accessories, starting with favorite stuffed animals. In addition to basic sleeping pads, we also bring a big foam topper to throw under all of our sleeping bags. It makes a huge difference, especially for multi-night trips. We bring our pillows from home -- and battery-powered fairy lights or a lantern for cozy lighting at night. Be sure to pack extra warm clothes in case of a temp drop (Our youngest ALWAYS kicks off his sleeping bag, which freaks me out on very cold nights. If I just put him to bed in extra socks and a sweater, I don’t have to worry). A couple of sleep-related tips: make sure adults can get in and out of the tent without stepping on kids. And if your campsite is sloped, position your tent so your pillows are at the highest point; it makes for a much better night’s sleep if your head is elevated.
  • Ease into it - There are hardcore campers who bring a full camping kitchen and love having the latest gear. But if your family is just trying out this camping thing, you don’t need to overdo it. Just camp for a night or two, bring your favorite snacks from home, get or borrow a basic tent + footprint (the tarp that fits under a tent), and sleeping bags. Pick campsites that have a lot of fun things for kids without huge hikes (like a beach, playground, museum, or Junior Ranger programs). Keep food simple (and have backup food you don’t have to cook in case you have trouble with your campfire or stove). Bring sunscreen, bug repellant, and plenty of water. Plan your trip so you can get to your site early and set up your tent way before sundown, and leave lots of time for unstructured play. Watch your kids’ imaginations go wild as they explore the campground, stare into a campfire, or stargaze at night.

I asked my own kids what they love most about camping. That’s easy: S’MORES! Unless there are fire restrictions (many campgrounds won’t allow you to bring wood from afar, but they do sell it on site), definitely try to make this classic treat part of your family’s camping ritual.

About the author: Amanda Reid is the former Head of Brand and Social Impact at WAYB. She spent the last year living on a sailboat with her family where she spent her time writing, steering, boatschooling, and planning the next adventure, big or small.

Photo Credit: @chasing.sage