4 Things I Learned on My First Camping Trip With a Toddler

I had big plans for this summer. So big in fact that I had planned on sleeping outside almost every weekend starting in May. I wanted my son’s first “real” summer to be epic. I wanted him to get dirty, play in streams and lakes, take his first steps barefoot with mud between his toes and learn the beauty of sleeping outside while rain falls all around you.

Well, here it is (August) and we finally took our first camping trip.

I think a big part of the delay was the fact that I was waiting for someone to go with me. While I’ve spent many nights under the stars, the idea of camping with a toddler presented some challenges in my mind that were better dealt with in the company of friends. However, I’m not the only one with a busy life and the desire to sleep outside was quickly becoming a need versus a want.

And so, we went. Here’s what I learned…

#1: Best Laid Plans

Ask anyone who knows me and they will all tell you the same thing; I’m a planner. I geek out on researching destinations, things to do and see, making packing lists, thinking through logistics, the works. Of course, I did the exact same thing with this trip – perhaps even more so since it was just us. I picked out 4 campgrounds (all first come, first serve) knowing that it was a busy area and one or two may be full already by the time we got there. Well, I didn’t account for all 4 of my options being full. In fact, there wasn’t a campsite available (even dispersed) for over 40 miles. At mile 41, I finally found a campsite that was WAY off my well-researched path but it was getting dark, so we snagged it.

Lesson learned: Over plan, over plan, over plan. In fact, have a Plan J.

#2: When to Call It

I’d recently purchased a little pop up camper and this was the first run with it, too (another reason I’d hoped to have someone with me…). It was getting dark, neither of us had eaten dinner yet and I was nervous and overthinking the camper set up. You see, I’m a tent girl, always have been. Originally, I thought long and hard about whether to make this purchase because I didn’t want my son to be a pansy. But, as those of you with tiny humans know, a camper (however basic) tends to make things a little easier. And here we are…in a foreign campground, surrounded by other campers (also not my favorite), about to attempt the first solo set up while keeping the screaming, hungry child at bay.

Then the jack broke.

If you know anything about a pop up camper, you know it needs to be unhooked from your truck before you can, well, pop things out. So…no camper.

Lesson Learned: Even though you just spent 5 hours of your life finding a campsite and its getting dark and you haven’t eaten, sometimes you just need to turn around and head home. Also, always bring a tent as back up.

#3: Friday the 13th

Just don’t. End of story.

Lesson Learned: Don’t ever attempt to go camping for the first time with a toddler on Friday the 13th. Period. That ju-ju is real.

#4: The Familiar

There’s a reason people stick to what they know. I’ve always been one that wants to try out new places, see new things, etc., but sometimes, the familiar is the way to go. So, when a friend texted me Saturday morning that they were headed up to our old standby camping area and asked if we wanted to go, I jumped at the chance for a do-over (since it was now no longer Friday the 13th…). Bottle jack in tow, we loaded up and headed to one of my favorite places on earth.

Truth be told, this was a place I was longing to show him anyway.

Camper set up went off without a hitch (or a jack for that matter), my son got dirty, walked along fallen logs and explored the woods. He ate camp food and threw sticks for the dogs. He breathed night air while he slept, listened to the rain fall on the roof and the rumble of thunder as the storms moved through. In the morning, we watched the sunrise from our camp chair; him with a sippy cup of milk and me with my coffee.

Lesson Learned: Sometimes you don’t need some epic adventure in a new location to achieve what you really need – time in nature.

3 thoughts on “4 Things I Learned on My First Camping Trip With a Toddler

  1. Loved reading this! I’m so impressed with your need to camp with a toddler; I’d never have had the courage. Hope this is the beginning of a lifetime love of camping for him! And kudos to you, Mama!!


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