Top 5 Family Camping Tips

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Whether you're a novice or seasoned camper, taking your family on a trip in the great outdoors is a fantastic way to commune with nature and get to know one another better.

Although the outdoors is full of kid-friendly elements like campfires, little woodland animals and dirt, the unprepared camper can be caught off guard by a few common issues. Fortunately, many uncomfortable situations, issues and screaming fits can be avoided with a little bit of preparation.

So, before you start packing up the minivan with tents and sleeping bags, take a moment to peruse the following list of handy tips to make your family campout memorable -- in a good way!

Start Small
Camp at a local park, and keep the car accessible in case you have to leave.
Camp at a local park, and keep the car accessible in case you have to leave.

Think the wilds of Alaska are calling your name? Although you might be ready to head full-force into the wilderness, it's probably best to start off closer to home. Families with small kids in particular should take a couple of nearby test trips first to gauge the whole group's interest in this popular American pastime.

Lots of areas have local campsites for novice campers, complete with grills, areas for contained fires and even the occasional bathroom. That way, if your kid flips out about sleeping on the ground or using the bathroom in the woods, you can easily head for home. Bruce and Crystal Freemon of Nashville, Tenn., recently tested this theory and played it safe for their first family campout with two young daughters. "We just went to our local state park so we could bail and come home if we needed to," explains Crystal. "And we only planned one night for our first go. We actually had a really good time!"

What if one kid is having a great time while the other is itching for the comforts of the TV room? We don't exactly advocate bribery, but gooey hot s'mores can sway a little one's opinion about the great outdoors very easily!

Safety in Numbers

One way to keep your children from pummeling each other and/or whining constantly on your camping trip is by bringing along other kids to keep them occupied.

Consider inviting another family or two with children of similar ages to join you on your camping excursion. Often, kids make their own entertainment just chasing one another around in circles. Plus, it'll give the adults an opportunity to become better acquainted and perhaps even slip in some intelligent conversation that doesn't pertain to the latest episode of "Phineas and Ferb."

Bring Props
Bring along a book in case the kids get bored.
Bring along a book in case the kids get bored.

Your car is probably packed to the gills with camping equipment and food, and the idea of stuffing in more supplies might seem impossible. However, if you're hitting the wilderness with kids, it pays to make room for a few helpful tools.

For example, bring a book about nature to make it easy to teach your kids about the types of birds, animals and other wildlife you encounter on your hikes. Provide a plastic sand pail for smaller kids to collect interesting rocks, leaves and acorns. Be sure to pack a few favorite toys in case the novelty of camping wears off. Building blocks, toy cars and board games will go a long way toward keeping youngsters entertained once they've had their fill of nature-related activities.

Be Prepared

It's the first law of traveling with kids: The minute you leave that emergency kit or other supplies at home, you doom yourself to requiring them.

Avoid making a middle of the night trip to the convenience store by packing a few standard items, like a first aid kit, age-appropriate thermometers, medicine (pain and cough relievers, in particular), bug spray and kid-friendly food and snacks. Whatever you do, double-check before leaving your home that all bedtime necessities have been brought along for the ride. Even the best-behaved toddler is likely to throw a fit upon realizing that her treasured blankie, pillow or stuffed animal isn't there to cuddle with. Guess who'll reap the wrath of such a situation? That's right -- you.

Take it Easy
Everyone loves a hike.
Everyone loves a hike.

You might be roughing it, but that doesn't mean that camping trips should be less relaxing than any other vacation.

Resist the urge to overschedule your family during your time away from the big city. Instead, play it by ear, fitting in hikes, fishing excursions and campfire sing-alongs when your family is inclined, rather than forcing them to do way too much in a short amount of time. Overtaxing your family members will leave them tired, cranky and more likely to eat your s'mores when you're not looking.


The 'Wild' Effect? Why Hiking Is Surging in Popularity in the U.S.

The 'Wild' Effect? Why Hiking Is Surging in Popularity in the U.S.

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  • "Bring the Family Together With a Family Camping Trip." Camp JellyStone. (Jan. 2, 2011).
  • Freemon, Crystal. Personal interview conducted by Alia Hoyt via e-mail. (Dec. 26, 2010).
  • Hyde-Keller, O'rya. "Camping Out With a Toddler." Parenting. (Jan. 2, 2011).
  • Mount, Rachel. "Family Camping: Tips to Make Tenting Fun." Parents. (Jan. 2, 2011).
  • "Woods and Camping Safety for the Whole Family." KidsHealth. (Jan. 2, 2011).