Last weekend I had my first lesson in camping with kids… Actually, my own kid. I’ve camped with other people’s children before where I have ‘helped’ feed, organise and entertain them, but the responsibility for them was never really mine.
So we decided to take the plunge and bring our 18-month old daughter to one of our favourite Victorian nature sanctuaries… Wilsons Promontory. I’ve been coming here since I was a child. My memories include wombats invading the campsite looking for food (awesome as a child, not so great as an adult). Rosellas perching on my arm nibbling at bits of bread I would save for them. Sheltering in the tent playing UNO when the weather would turn on us.
As adults, my husband and I have been coming down here regularly with our best friends Jen, Clint and Charli. We’ve also filmed there once for the show. Pitching tents on our favourite campsite, side by side. Playing poker at night. Going for walks. Not going for walks. Playing beach cricket. Warding off wombats.
I wanted to start creating the same memories for our daughter. I know at 18 months, there is little (to no) chance she would actually remember the trip, but I wanted to start getting her familiar with camping and set the ‘foundation’ so to speak. I was also itching to get back to the ‘Prom’, having missed out last year because she was only a little baby. Ambitious? Not sure. A bit silly? Perhaps…
I was worried she was still too young. In an environment where there are NO barriers between your campsite, your neighbours campsite, the road and the bush, I was very nervous. At 18 months, little ones are wanderers. Their aim is to get as far away from you within as little time as possible. I knew we wouldn’t be able to take our eyes off her for a second.
So the day before we left I found myself in Baby Bunting staring at the wall that displayed the child ‘leashes’. I believe they are called ‘safety harnesses’… cough cough. I rang my sister. ‘I am seriously considering a leash. Help me’. My sister, mother to another tiny tearaway, tried to reassure me. ‘Emma, it will be stressful 75% of the time. But as long as everyone there watches her, you should manage’. She also mentioned something about maintaining a steady state of inebriation as a coping mechanism… Hmmmm…
Not exactly reassured but nevertheless determined, we packed up the car (sans leash) and left. Packing to camp with a child is a whole other level of headache. You have to prepare for every ‘what if’. Wilsons Prom is the bush. We camp on non-powered sites. Kids need a million different foods, toys and clothes. We were left with tiny corners of the car to squeeze in a few things of our own.
Of course we got there as the sun was setting and had to set up our tent by torchlight. It’s pretty much a tradition. One we try to break each year but never manage to.
And with an 18-month old escape artist on the loose, surrounded by bush that is home to feral wombats and snakes, and a road directly in front of our site, and with NO FENCES, BOUNDARIES or BARRIERS I found myself questioning my decision.
Of course I had known what to expect. I knew she was a runner. I knew the set up of the campground. I knew I would rarely get to sit down. And now I know the exhaustion.
Here is what I learned about camping with kids:
– Always take other people. Friends, family, whatever. You need someone to help you pitch the tent, do the dishes and make lunch and that person cannot be your partner because they will be watching your child.
– Don’t be afraid to take an iPad or other device capable of rendering your child immobile for longer than 30 seconds. You will need to bring it out just to have five minutes to drink a cup of tea.
– Kids aged six and above are ideal campers. They know the rules. They can help dry dishes. And they look after smaller kids because they actually like to. Charli was a godsend on the weekend.
– I brought my kindle and a magazine to read. Needn’t have bothered.
– If you can, book a powered site. It means you can put a fan in the tent for daytime naps. Our little one pretty much just missed out. The tent was roasting and there was no relief.
– Don’t get precious with dirt. Most campers wouldn’t but it goes without saying that dust, sand etc will get into cracks you never thought possible. Their clothes will be grey, their nostrils black and that’s just the way it is.
– You can not expect to relax (until they go to sleep). With kids this little, you are constantly chasing them, entertaining them or ensuring they keep away from dangerous camp equipment.
So the big question is, was it worth it? Definitely YES.
I barely sat down. But the memories were priceless. Watching her in her little hoodie try to ‘help’ put the poles into the tent. Her in her little beach towel dancing to ‘Happy’ on beautiful Norman Beach with Charli. Feeling the cold Bass Strait waters on her toes as she charged into the sea. Watching the rosellas perch on my husband’s hand with big, wide eyes. Jumping on the airbed like a giant trampoline and squealing with glee. Using the dustpan and broom to ‘clean’ the dirt off the ground. Walking hand in hand with each of us up and down the campground avenue while she pointed out all of the different ‘birdies’. Showing her to the wallaby that dropped by our campsite for a visit then wouldn’t leave. And bonding with her in a beautiful, pristine natural environment, some of the best our beautiful country has to offer.
Travelling with kids can be hard. Camping, slightly tougher. However in the end the exhaustion fades, but the amazing memories don’t. I know I’ll be finding dirt in her clothes, toys, bags and colouring books for months. And every time I do, I will smile.
What has your experience been camping with kids? I’d love to know your tips and stories.