If you have a love for travel, outdoors and adventure, it doesn’t have to come to an end when you have children. And depending on family circumstances, you may not always be able to go as a family with two parents. It might sound crazy and unrealistic to go camping as a soul parent but with preparation, patience, love for the great outdoors and even more love for your kiddies, it is achievable and truly a wonderful experience. I also told myself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen? We all have a meltdown and get back in the car to return home.”
As a parent of three children (a 3 year old and 1 year old twins), one of the first comments I received was about how crazy I was to camp with such young children which was then followed by “how do you do it?” While there were moments where I questioned my sanity, the special moments and beautiful memories created on our first camping trip far outweighed the madness. Disconnecting from technology and the hustle and bustle of reality to reconnect with nature, was the best thing for all of us. I could share my love for the outdoors with my little ones and I was able to see them connecting with nature and discovering all of it’s wonders.
I travelled only 1hr and a half hours from home to a holiday park on the South Coast of NSW. We camped in a tent, spent hours in the pool, beach-hopped to the most divine beaches along the South Coast, went for walks with my one year twins in the pram as we chased after my three-year-old scooting his way around the holiday park, watched all three bouncing up and down on the jumping pillow, fed birds and kangaroos in the wild and soaked up all of nature’s goodness. This is what life is all about!
As I write this, my heart is full. I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to do these things if it were just me but I have not only succeeded and survived but looking at planning our next trip. A prepared camper is a happy camper so here I share my experience and tips to inspire other parents to step outside any fear of camping alone with your little ones:
Flexibility and patience is key and know that it’s not always about the destination but the fun and memories that can be made along the way. Travelling with kids is very different to travelling as a couple. Slow down the pace, let them be little and remember that everything is new and exciting for your little ones. A kangaroo hopping by the car, hand-feeding birds, spiders spinning a web, shells on a beach, watching water trickle down rocks or seeing kite-surfers for the first time – appreciating all little things that make lasting memories.
Research your destination
As a soul parent, I recommend going to a holiday park by the beach until you become a professional camper. It gives you amenities, pool, cooking facilities, possibly a playground and a beach close by. This will give you the option to stay put the whole time or if you’re up for more adventure, you can get in the car and check out the surrounding areas. I went to Seven Mile Beach Holiday Park which belongs to South Coast Holidays and I also recommend looking at The Big 4 Holiday Parks – very kid-friendly and family-focused. When you book your accommodation, ask for an ensuite site as preference to give you the ease of being able to go to the bathroom without having to take all children, especially if you’re one to get up at night.
Going camping as the solo parent means you have to think of safety at a heightened level. Make sure you have a pram/carrier for any children who are not yet walking or have just started to walk and rely heavily on a pram. Mark out a ‘safe zone’ for your children who are old enough to understand and stick to physical boundaries. Make it fun by involving them to help mark out their ‘play space’. Ensure all children ‘try’ to go to the toilet on every trip to the amenities block and one final toilet stop before bedtime if you don’t have an ensuite site. Although I don’t encourage use of your mobile phone while on your trip, always have it close-by in the case of emergency. As vain as this may sound, pack a selfie stick so you have the ability of getting photos of you with your little ones or don’t be afraid to ask people to take photos for you.
Packing for a trip with young kids can be pretty tricky as you are probably used to all the mod-cons that come with your house. However, it is refreshing when you realise how little you need to survive. Use a port-a-cot for babies, it can be used for sleeping and also a safe place to play while you set up camp. For myself and my three-year-old, I used an air mattress which was perfect. You could also use a fold-out sofa for your toddler that can double-up as a lounge. If you are still using high chairs, Kmart has brilliant camping high chairs that fold down quite compact and are easy to clean.
When packing clothes, check the forecasted weather and also pack a couple of outfits for the opposing forecast. Pack a rain jacket just in case it starts to drizzle. I found a brilliant brand that makes a range of kids sizes starting from 1-2 years unlike many other brands which start at 4+. Rainbird have the Kids GoSTOW jacket in a range of colours and sizes.
After doing some research and in little time, I discovered the Coleman Darkroom Tent. The best thing about the tent (well there’s two things I love) is that when it is marketed to say ‘set up in 3 minutes’, it literally takes 3 minutes to erect! It is a pop-up tent, easily managed by one person and in a very short time. My second love, being a ‘Darkroom’ tent, your little ones won’t be waking up as early as sunrise because the tent is close to pitch-black inside.
Food & Cooking
If you’re adventurous like me or a high-achiever, you’ll want to take advantage of the experience and cook for yourself and your children. I recommend buying a double gas cooker as it will allow you to cook quickly and we all know when children are hungry, they go from hungry to ‘hangry’ within minutes. You’re on a holiday so be mindful of what is realistic and allow some flexibility.
- Breakfast ideas – pancake shake mix, cereal, toast
- Lunch ideas – wraps, sandwiches, wraps to act as burritos toasted on a fry pan, 2-minute noodles, meat and veggies
- Dinner ideas – any meat, stir-fry or frozen veggies, rice/noodle meal packets that can be boiled with flavour sachets
- Fruit and snacks – seasonal fruit, celery with peanut butter, crackers and cheese/dip, dried cereal, mini can of baked beans, cold and hard-boiled egg, leftover pancakes from breakfast, small bags of chips.
Preparation is Key
Once your children are asleep, take the time to pack the food for the next day. It will mean that no matter what time your children wake, you are prepared and ready to conquer. If your children are old enough to be involved, get them to help. In addition to having a little assistant, you can reflect on the day and talk about your plans for the next day.
A few other things to remember before you head out into the wilderness is to check your equipment especially if it has been in storage and always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. Enjoy your camping adventures and remember to embrace the beauty of slow and flexible travel – it’s all about the journey as well as the destination.