Week 3: Ten tips on camping with a baby

We're three weeks into our trip now, which is strange as it genuinely feels like we've been away for months. The learning curve has been steep, but fun, and so I thought this week I would talk about some of the learning’s we've had so far, particularly in relation to camping with a baby. We stayed this week for a few nights in an Air BNB in Wellington, our second in our trip so far, and we found ourselves hankering for our lovely camping space. I think partly it's that camping allows you to stay in some truly beautiful spots in New Zealand, but it's also that it's our home for the foreseeable, and we've found a way to make it work for us, so here are our tips to date:

(1) Buy a big enough tent

This one is key, particularly if you're going to be camping for a while - but even if you're not, having a tent with a sleeping space, a living space, and a little porch for storing stuff means you always have somewhere that's ok for the baby to sit in if the weather is bad, and you don't go mental living in the same space that your sleeping bag is in. 

(2) Do your research, and ask for what you want

There are good apps in New Zealand about camping, like the Camping NZ app, so you can check reviews ahead of time, particularly from families, and request particular camping spots that are better for you with a baby (e.g. further from the road, or in areas without groups in their 20's etc.).

When you get there, take five minutes to scope out the site, thinking about wind, the view, is it level, what are your neighbours like...if the camping spot doesn't work for you try and ask for something else that works before you pitch. There's nothing worse than realising you've got a terrible nights sleep ahead of you because you weren't proactive.

(3) The Erection (a title that sounds far more interesting than the reality...getting the bloody tent up)

Getting the tent up in the first place is a task that drives many couples I know to blows, but doing it with a baby in tow is a different matter. You have to accept that you're not going to be able to do everything together, so you need to work out your roles, and come to a bit of a system, particularly if you're arriving at camp at a time when feeding / playing / keeping the baby happy during the witching hour is relevant.

We've got ours pretty sussed now - Ben is more broadly responsible for the tent, I cover Otis, help on the bits that truly need two people, and sort everything that needs to go inside and any tasks that I can do while sitting alongside Otis (putting poles together, blowing up his portable cot etc.).

We have Otis set up on a waterproof blanket near the tent, with pillows around him, toys at the ready, and food if it's that time of day - and then he's sorted and safe for when we're both needed. Thinking ahead about what time of day you're arriving is key here in terms of how good your baby is going to be at just chilling out while you crack on with stuff (if you can time it so they're still asleep in the car seat, then happy days, but this hasn't worked for us so far! Try and avoid turning up really late if you can as it makes everything harder).

(4) Get organised - it's a tent, but you need a system

Our best tip here is getting long life shopping bags (the kind you always end up buying multiple of from Waitrose). We have these for dried food goods, our plates, tea towels, dustbin sacks etc., one for Otis's nappies and all of that paraphernalia, one for his toys and books...you get my drift. And then have the same place in the tent that these go each time - it prevents you both constantly going 'where's the?' - and most importantly allows you just to reach for something in the middle of the night if the baby is teething etc.

Likewise, in our rucksacks we use dry bags to organise our clothes, and it means you don't have to unpack all of your stuff at each camping stop, just grab the relevant bags.

Keeping the tent tidy & sorted not only helps your sanity with a baby, but it also means that you have some space to yourself that feels like it's living space, which is important in the evening when you can't just go to the pub!

(5) Layers, layers, layers...

This applies for you as well as the baby - but particularly for the baby - if you're camping somewhere like NZ then it's hot during the day, and often still hot when you're putting the baby to bed, but then it gets really cold overnight. Packing layers that you can add to them in their sleep when they wake for feeds is key, as is extra blankets you can add to them over night.

(6) Consider your sleeping arrangements

We have a great travel cot for Otis (the Koo-di - it's a bit like a small bubble tent - we use it with the additional blow up bed inside), and it's one that we've used at other people's houses and hotels pre coming away, so he's used to it. Having said that, if he's unsettled during the night, he often co-sleeps on the floor with us, and seems happier that way, so if you don't require a travel cot with you for other non-camping destinations that can work really well, and means you have less stuff to bring.

(7) Think about multiple use items

This particularly applies if you're back packing and camping, and want to minimise your packing. Think outside the box a little about how items can be used. We have a big plastic tub that serves as Otis's bath, a place for him to lean on while practicing standing, and also a storage box when moving from place to place that holds several of the long life bags of food. My scarf is a picnic blanket, sunshade, and extra blanket on cold nights. We have one bag that folds up into a tiny pocket that we use to transport extra shopping, get washing up to and from the tent, and get your stuff to the shower.

(8) White Noise is your best friend on a noisy campsite

One of the hardest things about camping with a baby is the amount of unreliable noise, particularly when you're putting them to bed, as it's often the liveliest time when others are having their dinner or drinks. We used Ewan the sheep at home, and have an app here (cunningly called White Noise) which has the same wave setting, so we can use that when putting him to bed, or for night-time wake-ups, or when we're coming to bed, so it off sets the noise of tent zips etc. Calming music in the evening also means you can sit and chat in the tent without having to whisper while you have your own time.

(9) Treat yourself!

Make the experience fun, particularly during the times when you know it might become tedious. Have beers / wine to hand for when you're putting the tent up. Think about nice food you can have when camping, particularly if you're not doing dinners out. We've made great curries in one pot when camping (and actually in NZ the campsites have great cooking facilities), and coupled with a good bottle of red, have still felt like we've had a lovely evening, despite not hitting the town. Cans of baked beans somehow wouldn't have hit the spot in the same way!

Having said that, on the night you arrive, make things easy on yourself. Have meat, cheese & bread prepared; or buy a rotisserie chicken - the last thing you want after having to put up the tent and then get the baby to bed is to think about making dinner, particularly if you've arrived late in the day.

(10) Adopt a more flexible approach, relax, and have fun!

Camping is naturally going to be a bit messier and dirty than a pristine nursery existence for your baby - you just have to accept it (and recognise it's probably quite good for them!). Obviously be smart about keeping non baby friendly items out of their reach, and don't let hygiene go out of the window completely, but your babies clothes are probably going to get a bit messy from them sitting on the floor of the tent, meals won't always be in a nice high chair, and washing won't always be in the routine (baths outside if it's miserable weather are less fun!), but they'll be happy and enjoy it, I promise.

Having said that, routine doesn't need to go out of the window entirely. We still have a bedtime routine for Otis of a bath (most nights), books, feed and bed. We know his broad nap routine, and try to work to it for when we get out of the door in the morning, plan drives, or big walks. We're not fastidious in keeping to it, but we recognise that doing things when he's lively and happy is a far nicer experience than when he's tired and miserable. It doesn't always work that way, but we give it a good go...

These things work for us anyway! I can't guarantee they will for you, but I hope you give it a go - camping is a cheap, fun way to spend time together as a family, and there's no reason why having a baby shouldn't make it as accessible as ever. 

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