Lodges, tents and preventing tantrums - camping with babies and toddlers
We’ve covered camping and caravanning with teenagers , keeping the kids happy on holiday and shared ingenious tips on things to do at the seaside. Now, possibly because y’all are the ones who really need it, we bring you our top tips on camping with babies and toddlers.
If the very thought of camping with your baby is causing you to break out either in manic sleep-deprived giggles or sobs, we urge you to think of the advantages. It’s budget-friendly, it will get your offspring indoctrinated at an early age and thus (in theory) minimise wails and gnashing of teeth when camping is suggested some years on.
And well, you’re not going to sleep for some years anyway so you might as well get a holiday out of it.
Our top tips on how to do it with minimum meltdown:
As any baggy-eyed baby owner will tell you, disrupting a very young person’s routine is tantamount to casting open the gates of hell. Well, imagine how you would feel if one night you were sleeping in your cosy familiar bed with your favourite blankie, and the next you were plucked from everything familiar with nary an explanation, and expected to go to sleep with some sort of mooing noise from a nearby field.
Prepare for this in advance by having a couple of ‘camping prep’ nights to get your baby used to sleeping elsewhere without this being a reason to go into a blue fit. If tent/yurt camping, you don’t have to set up camp in the back garden – do the same as you would for caravanning or in a camping pod and let your baby sleep in the travel cot for a couple of nights before you leave.
Yes, we said travel cot. Consider getting one even if you have a toddler, as many of this species don’t like sleeping bags or you might be concerned about putting them in a proper bed in a caravan or lodge if they haven't graduated to that at home.
If your toddler is getting longer than their travel cot but you don’t want to fork out for a cot bed, bring a single airbed – billy bonuses being that once it’s deflated it takes up virtually no room in the car, and you can use it for sleepovers back at home.
Buy foam bed guards or portable bed bumpers and attach them to the bed if you’re in a caravan or lodge: these start from about £5 for foam and £20 for portable guards.
Speaking of sleeping…
‘They won’t sleep in an unfamiliar place’ is the common lament of those who take babies and toddlers on holiday, even in a nice swish lodge with all mod cons. Long summer evenings, hearing other children playing outside and different temperatures can all combine to provide a tantrum of biblical proportions. And meanwhile you’re just waiting to crack open the wine. Try these tips if they still won’t drop off even after a day of tiring them out:
- Use a fan or noise-maker to drown out noises. No self-respecting two year old is going to drop obediently off to sleep when they can hear The Most Exciting Game Ever being played just outside the lodge. (We wouldn’t either.)
- Use a blackout blind or travel cot blackout blind (also nifty for daytime naps)
- Extra layers galore: babies and toddlers get colder than big people, especially if sleeping closer to the ground. Hats are popular for toddlers belonging to campers in the know, stylishly paired with an all in one fleece (we hear these are called 'onesies'). Also try tracksuit bottoms rather than pyjama bottoms, add mittens and buy bed or knee high socks.
- Take it easy: wise parents reckon that holidays are not the time to enforce proper bedtimes, and reason that their bundle of joy will pass out eventually. A portable DVD player or an MP3 with stories are your friends in the meantime. (If you're not in a lodge, caravan or any other accommodation with a handy socket, be sure and book a site with charging facilities. Your sanity will thank you.)
Baby bits to pack alongside the nappies, favourite sippy cup, Calpol and other paraphernalia:
- Play pen (most handy when unpacking or cooking; many travel cots have play pens combined)
- Disposable steriliser bags – leave the steriliser at home
- Extra baby wipes. And then some more. Extra tea towels/wiping cloths are also good to have stashed.
- Night comforters: lullaby or other familiar CD/DVD, night light
- Emergency treats
- Play mat
- Blackout blind, travel cot blackout blind or pushchair blind
- For toddlers: their own backpack and a few containers to put ‘finds’ in when out for walks (ie, tire them out)
- Wellies and wet weather gear
- Rainy day/indoor games
- Laptop/portable DVD player and DVDs
- A large washing up bowl for baths (or take a foldable baby bath)
Other toddling tips
- Look for family-friendly campsites and holiday parks, then check the individual listings for parks with a toddlers’ play area (such as Newperran Holiday Park in Cornwall) or a toddlers’ pool, like the musical one at Sandford Holiday Park in Dorset.
- Filter for sites with car parking by pitch, a parent and baby washroom or a launderette (or all three).
- Off site, pursue grown-up activities like going out to dinner by putting your baby/toddler into their PJs and letting them fall asleep in their pushchair on the way to the restaurant. Once there, produce a lightweight cloth and drape over the pushchair to block out the light. V oilà, bon appetit and mwahahahaha.
- Toddler-proofing a caravan? Use sticking plasters to cover plug sockets.
- Buy a large plastic box with a sturdy lid to store kitchen items, knives, matches, medicine and other nasties.
- Pack a potty and disposable linings even if your toddler is toilet-trained – for night time loo breaks if staying in a tent, tipi or anywhere else without a self-contained toilet.
- For babies, bring a sling so you can park the pushchair and go on the beach.
- Stay close to home for the first trip - there'll be less time to travel home if a terrible toddler doesn't settle.
And once your small loud camping companions grow up a bit, check out our other blogs and top tips for keeping them entertained on holidays:
Family camping - a guide to the bestest holiday ever
The wheelie big Pitchup.com guide to...family bike rides
Family holidays - camping with kids
Ten top family beach activities
Guide to holiday parks and caravan parks
Getting children connected with nature