We just got back from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where we attended Strawberry Music Festival. Although it was sunny and warm on the day we drove in and again on the day we drove out, in between we got fog, rain, hail and even a full-on (but thankfully brief) white-out snow storm.
And we were camping in tents. With a 16-month-old.
We had a great time.
I hear from so many moms, when I talk about our travel with Bean, "You are so brave! We would never do that!" Whether "that" is overseas travel, camping, 4-wheeling, or just a long road trip. But I think that if you like to travel, you should travel with your kids. So I do.
In her first year, Bean travelled with us to Santa Fe, Ireland, Canada (twice!) and Australia. In the past month, we've been camping twice.
In the spirit of encouraging more family travel, here is some wisdom I gleaned from our experience this weekend.
Make a Safe Space
If you want a chance to relax, make sure your camp area is safe for your little one to roam around in.
Our festival camp set-up was two 4-person tents (one for sleeping and one for a play zone) set up on a large ground-cover tarp. We have a trailer that has a propane tank, stove, and water tap, but without the trailer we would set the stove, cooking gear and food items up on a table so they would be out of reach of curious fingers.
I brought a basket of toys and books and put them in the "play tent" and Bean knew that was her space. She'd get in there as soon as we released her from bed in the morning which kept her contained and out from underfoot while we made coffee and breakfast.
If you arrange your base camp to be a safe space and provide enough interesting things to explore, your little one won't be tempted to go wandering off without you..
Get Comfortable With Dirt
Your child will get dirty and will probably get dirt in his or her mouth. Get over it.
Pack an extra package of baby wipes to help clean up before eating, but let go of the idea of clean clothes, clean fingers and clean faces. Dirt is part of the fun of outdoors.
Go With the Flow
When we're at home I'm a stickler for Bean's sleeping schedule. It is so much easier for me when she sleeps at regular times and for long enough. When she gets so tired she starts bouncing off the walls it is no fun for anyone! She takes a nap at about the same time every day and she goes to bed early.
But I knew a regular schedule wasn't going to be possible if I wanted to enjoy the festival myself. I decided I was going to let the schedule go for the weekend and see what happened.
What happened was that she would wind herself down and nurse to sleep right around her regular sleep times. One day she napped in my arms at the main stage - right through the zydeco band! One day she slept in the tent while I read a book just outside the door. One day she got hardly any nap at all, but we rolled with it.
In the evening we'd go out to the main stage for the evening acts, eat dinner there and let her play around our chairs until she asked to snuggle. I'd wrap her up in a blanket and she'd sleep in my lap until we walked back to camp and all got into bed together.
I know she didn't sleep quite enough any of the days we were there, but she will catch up this week. As long as she seemed to be enjoying herself, I followed her lead. Less stress for me and it seemed to work fine for her.
Plan For Everything
I saw before we left that the weather forecast over the weekend ranged from 30-79 degrees F. So I packed for everything.
I had cold weather clothes (including long underwear, snow pants and fleece hats), warm weather clothes (including a rash-guard suit for water play), sunscreen and insect repellent, more snacks than she would possibly consume, and a first aid kit with basic supplies including infant Advil.
I knew I wouldn't need everything, but I wanted to be prepared for any contingencies.
It turned out to be so cold for most of the weekend that all the extra clothes were really useful. We just layered up (two pairs of pants, three shirts, a jacket and two hats!) and let her go. I knew she was warm enough, even when it snowed.
Make sure to pack enough for yourself, too! There is nothing worse than being cold when you are camping, especially at night!
Commit to Having Fun
This is actually the most important tip, and the part that was hardest for me going into this trip. My man is a good example for me in this respect.
I knew the weather was going to be bad, and the whole week leading up to the weekend I was full of doom and gloom about how we were going to be cold and wet and miserable the whole time. He said, "We all have warm clothes. We have a 3-season tent. We'll be fine."
I said we'd be dirty and the music would be too loud for the Bean and she'd be overtired and impossible. He said, "She loves music and dirt washes off. I'll help you with her. We'll be fine."
So I took a deep breath and chose to believe we would be fine. While keeping in mind that we could leave if it was terrible.
It is so easy to ruin a good time with a bad attitude.
Prepare, definitely, but then make up your mind that you are going to have fun no matter what happens. And the chances are really good that you will.
Expect Some Re-Entry Adjustments
Our first night home Bean was up 2 and a half hours past her normal bedtime and she woke up several times during the night needing reassurance because I wasn't sleeping right next to her like we had been in the tent. In the morning I was exhausted.
Don't plan any big stuff the first couple of days after you return. It may take a few days to get back to normal schedules when you get home from a big trip, camping or otherwise. Be patient. It will happen.
But the bumpiness of the "re-entry days," as I call them, are worth it for the experience of new places, new people, adventure and fun that can be gained by getting out of your house and your normal routines for a few days.
Have you camped with a toddler? Do you have any other tips to add? Leave a comment and tell me!