35 Steps to (Prepare to Go) Camping with a Toddler

Alexandra Kuykendall honestly

Camping. It always sounds like such a good idea when you reserve the campsite in February. You are sure potty training will be successful and done, and all the sleep issues in your house will be resolved by summer. Now the camping days blocked off on your calendar are here and you are faced with living simply in the great outdoors. Only it’s not as simple as you dreamed back when there was still snow on the ground. In the spirit of the not-so-simple camping years…

  1. Make a packing list that resembles one you’d have for moving to Siberia for three years.
  2. Go back to the list every few minutes and add extra wipes, diapers, sippy cups, special blankies/binkies/stuffed animals as you remember them.
  3. Assess the space in your car and decide there will be PLENTY of space between the car seats, the dog, and the canoe. Because this year you are going “light”.
  4. Take the toddler to the grocery store to buy all of the non-perishable “camping treats” (i.e. Cheetos and Pop Tarts) you will need to bribe said toddler to be quiet at 2:00am in the campground.
  5. Agree to use the car cart at the grocery store even though it weighs five times more than the regular cart and is likely to swing and hit every grandma at the store because you are the “fun mom.” You are taking your child camping after all.
  6. Call your husband from the store and ask him if you really need to buy for two nights or will you really (i.e. hopefully) be coming home after one?
  7. Unpack from shopping trip and realize that nothing about your nature experience will be “green” in any way. Rather, you will be producing trash bags full of dirty diapers, used paper plates and wrappers from recently purchased “treats.”
  8. Pack extra garbage bags.
  9. Decide what time you want to pull out of your driveway the next day for your big trip.
  10. Add two hours to your desired departure time before texting your friends your plans.
  11. Text friends your plans. Including an apology for bringing a leash for your child.
  12. Check weather forecast on your phone to see if you need to bring sunscreen, swimming suits and flip flops or rain coats, extra blankets and tent toys.
  13. Decide to bring it all.
  14. Text your husband who is working extra time (because he still believes you will leave two hours earlier than you know is possible) to make sure he really does want to go sleep on the ground, with mosquitos, to get three hours of sleep and wake up to instant coffee.
  15. Experience a bit of disappointment when he says he does want to go. And he’s excited.
  16. Start packing.
  17. Put in show for toddler who refuses to nap so you can have two minutes to yourself to think through every potential scenario and what you might need for it.
  18. Pack life jackets, extra baby wipes and bear spray.
  19. Chop, cook, sort, bag up food to prepare for campfire meals. Roughing it is a little easier when it comes out of a Ziploc bag.
  20. As you fall asleep, say prayers that it will not rain and try not to think of every bear mauling story you’ve ever heard.
  21. Wake up early to start packing the car.
  22. Make one last run to the store with toddler to get ice for the coolers and a few more “treats.”
  23. Argue with fit-throwing toddler about using the car cart. Fun mom is about to take a bit of a vacation.
  24. Go home and allow toddler to play on the iPad as long as toddler wants while you continue to pack. Toddler will have no screen time for 3 days. It’s totally justifiable.
  25. Make a case for taking two cars. Everything will fit (and you have a not-yet-mentioned, but obvious, escape plan.)
  26. Break into the “camping treats,” chewing quietly, trying to hide that fact from your toddler. You must save some for the 2 a.m. emergencies.
  27. Give toddler “camping treats” when toddler discover you are eating something. Part of camping is the packing time. Right?
  28. Hide in the bathroom with your phone and look up hotels close to your reserved campsite.
  29. Go to your neighbor’s house to ask if the dog can stay with her for the weekend. Who were you kidding? Another peeing creature will not be needed in your tent.
  30. Make some space-based packing cuts. Remember your worst case scenarios from yesterday and decide the canoe is out. But the life jackets and bear spray are required.
  31. Realize you are later than you thought you’d be in the packing process and start throwing everything else in the car(s).
  32. Tell your screaming/starving toddler that you will stop at McDonald’s on the way out of town. Again toddler will be in nature for three days breathing fresh air and likely eating lots of non-poisonous plant life. Totally justifiable.
  33. Yell one last thank you to your neighbor and try to act excited for her and the dog to bond over the weekend.
  34. Buckle toddler in the car seat while whispering continued reassurance of a soon to be Happy Meal. We all know that’s why they’re called Happy Meals.
  35. Pull out of the driveway feeling pleased that you are once again the fun mom.

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