Camping with kids
My hubby and I love being outdoors and camped a lot before we had kids, sometimes in a tent, or in a cave, or under the stars, we were happy to rough. But I'm embarrassed to say we have just been too chicken to go camping with kids yet. Part of the problem is we keep waiting until we have more gear to make it more comfortable, but then we never go. So when the opportunity came up to camp along the Wild Coast for a few nights, we decided to take the leap and go for it. Here it is in a nutshell, in the words of my friend Tara: lower your standards and lower your expectations. But if you want a bit more detail, here's how we did it:
Choosing a campsite
Although we loved camping wild, with small kids, choosing an established camp site is a good idea. It means an ablution block, a washing up sink, and normally a braai area. If you can find a spot with lots of grass, it reduces the amount of dirt in tents and food, and, well everywhere really. We stayed at two different camp sites and were really grateful that the campsites weren't very full, and will probably avoid camping in peak season with kids, as I would find lots of cars and tents and strange people a bit worrying.
We used two smaller tents, and I slept with Finn and Cam slept with Lexi. That way we had separate places for the kids day time naps (or rest, in Lexi's case) and to get them to sleep in the evening. We put the tents close together so that it felt like a little village and we could easily hear each other. I think when the kids are a bit older, a big family tent would do the trick too, but we were working with what we had.
We are lucky to have a bakkie with quite a lot of space so we took roll up foam mattresses and pillows. Cam had his sleeping bag and I took a duvet and then the kids were in warm onesies with a fleece blanket each. The mattresses took up quite a bit of space, but you could also invest in good blow up mattresses.
Sleeping in a tent is really exciting for little kids, but can also be a bit too exciting so don't forget to pack any sleep aids or associations. I have a white noise app on my phone, which helped with the camp site noise, and is a sleep association for Finn, as well as his dummy of course. Lexi had her doll and her fleecy blanket.
This can definitely make or break a camping trip for me and so we organised it quite carefully. We decided that the tents would be for sleeping, and we would keep all bags in the back of the bakkie. This meant that no little hands were getting into clothes, and it kept the tents relatively neat. You could use the back seat of your car, or your boot, but having a place to keep bags of clothes neatly packed, and any boxes of supplies, is really useful. Each person had their own small tog bag to keep things separate and easy to find. Having all the bags in the car also means you can lock up and leave your campsite quite easily when it's beach time.
Chairs and a little table are essential. The kids have lovely camp chairs, and most places have some kind of seating. Our kids don't eat very well unless there is a table and chair involved, and even then it's hard to keep them pinned down. We used our cooler as a little table for them but honestly, it was hard to keep them there, and I think that even though we are big about sitting at table at home, snacks on the run may be a good call for some nights, especially the first night out when excitement levels are high.
Especially if you are camping in Autumn or Spring and the days are shorter, headlights or torches are really useful for finding your way around, and of course for reading snuggly bedtimes stories in your tent.
In future, some kind of ground cover for very dusty spots, and possibly a tarp to act as a wind break would be nice, but not essential.
Torch or headlights
Cutlery & Crockery box
Take all the old clothes because the kids get filthy. If you know us, you know that my kids live in second hand clothes so that I never have to stress about their clothes. Some days my hubby just dressed the kids in the grubby clothes from the day before rather than clean clothes. Extra warm layers are good because evenings can get chilly being out in the open. Another tip is to take slippers for after a bath, and gumboots for dewy grass on the mornings to minimize soggy, wet pyjamas and socks.
If things did get wet and dirty, we have them a quick wash in the shower and then hung them out to dry for the day.
Clean changes of clothes
Extra warm layers for being outdoors, including a wind breaker and a warm hat
Gumboots for the dew if it's chilly
Most camp sites have nice ablution blocks, and the ones we were in even had baths, but we weren't sure what we would get so we took a big plastic tub as a bath option. We used it to pack towels and bedding and double up as a bath tub.
When picking a camping spot, we chose one quite close to the bathroom so that Lexi could go to the toilet by herself.
We planned very simple meals and tried to keep them very familiar and similar to what we eat at home because the kids were often quite wired and struggled to focus on eating. Careful meal planning really helps us remember everything we need, stick to a plan, and not run out of food or waste food.
We have a gas bottle and simple stove and although we very rarely eat meat at home, we have found that braaing is the easiest option when camping. There is always a braai spot at a camp site and there's nothing like a nice fire as the sun goes down. Another nice option is to double up on your cooking the week before and take some frozen meals which you can reheat. We have one big cooler box and one ammo box crate with non-perishable food, and then our cutlery and crockery box which also has a pot and a pan. There is usually rain water available for drinking.
If you are interested, these are some of our meals:
- Breakfasts are quite simple if you do porridge or cereal. We do banana, egg, and oat pancakes in a pan on the gas.
- Lunches are generally scrambled eggs with avo, veggie sticks and sometimes crackers. If you eat bread, sandwiches are the easiests. Egg mayo, tuna mayo, avos, cheese or hummus are all good options.
- Snacks are always essential - we did lots of fruit, raisins, crackers, and dry wors (sausage)
- Suppers take a bit more thought but we keep them simple. Some things we did this trip were:
Wors (sausage), sweet potato and butternut on the fire, baby tomatoes, cucumber, avo and grated carrot and apple salad.
Burgers with low GI rolls, cheese, and salad veggies
Frozen meals: I made an extra batch of babotie the week before we came and froze it and popped it in the bottom of the cooler box for a quick easy supper reheated on the gas. You could do a bolognese sauce, a lasagne, a stew, or a curry, the options are open, just think about how you will reheat it.
Simple stir fry with rice
Pasta and sauce (we used to love the Ina Parmen Tomato pesto)
We have inherited Cam's parents old camping cutlery and crockery and it works well. We took one or two pots and pans from home, our own braai grid and some sharp knives with covers. Dont forget the salt and pepper! We packed that all in a picnic basket style cooler bag which just helped to keep it all a bit more organised and easily accessible.
If you are cooking on gas, check that your gas is full before you go
A lighter, fire lighters and coal or wood if it isn't provided
Tongs for the braai
Cutlery and crockery
A sharp knife
Pot and pan
Salt & pepper
Soap, sponges and dishcloths for washing up.
In summary, camping gave us access to some incredible spots but certainly wasn't the most peaceful and restful holiday experience. The pros; the back of our bakkie provided a great, clean, kid free space to get organised and keep food and gear. The kids slept well in the tents and loved the experience. The ablution blocks where we stayed were spacious, clean and amazing. We were camping in low season so there were very few other visitors. We got to cook, eat and wake up to incredible views and the sound of the ocean. The cons: there isn't as much chill space (couches and carpeted floors) as we are used to. Keeping clean, especially once the kids are bathed, is a bit more of an issue, and prepping food on a rickety table, while cooking on a gas stove with little hands trying to get involved is definitely a bit more stressful than usual. But by keeping meals simple, letting the kids run a but wild and get filthy, and lowering our standards and expectations, we had a good time and it was more than worth it for very affordable access and accommodation in the incredible spots we got to stay at.