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Creating a Relaxing + Adventure-Filled Family Camping Trip

Updated: Nov 2, 2019

Guide to organizing a camping trip with your entire brood that actually feels like a vacation.

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Communing with flora and fauna, snuggling under the stars, unplugging from the digi-world, peeing in the woods… camping can be lovely. But it can also be awful if you don’t take certain steps before and during the trip, especially when you’re camping with your offspring.

After numerous epic-fail camping trips, we were forced to examine what was and wasn’t working in our relationship with camping. This reflection resulted in a solid system for crafting family camp trips that peels away much of the drudgery, revealing the simplicity, joy and family bonding at the heart of this classic form of intrepid vacation.

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a camper, these suggestions can help you push past your reservations and unveil your ability to get down with nature.

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Consider what your family wants out of the trip.

Campouts come in many forms, offering everything from ultimate relaxation to epic adventure. So before you plan the trip, have a family pow wow to determine everyone’s motivations for camping (unless you have teens that are blah about it… you can just decide for them!)

This discussion may lead you to discover that most of your crew yearns for a chill trip where they can fill their days reading and napping. Or maybe, your people want to push their limits by going on a backpacking trip. This discussion will not only help inform where you go, but also what activities you prep for.

Plan ahead.

A yellow highlighter and day planner with yellow heading being used to plan a family camping trip.

While you can usually rock up to a hotel the day you want to stay and snag a room, it’s not always like that with campsites. For example, if we want to car camp on the Southern California coast during the summer, we have to make a reservation about three months in advance, sometimes more. In the Big Sur area, you’re usually looking at booking at least nine months in advance. And Yosemite, don’t get us started…

Essentially, some campgrounds are highly coveted and require ample forethought. But not all spots are like that. If you’re not trying to camp in a national park, or near a beach, getting a site is often easier. And if you’re up for the challenge of backpacking to a site you’re almost guaranteed to find a spot.

Choose a campsite that offers the desired amenities.

Is your family jonesing for a camping trip that’s well off the beaten path? Or by a swimmable river? Are you all about the beach, or maybe lake-life? Do you want to make sure there are bathrooms and showers nearby? Consider the camp-criteria of your family, then begin your search for the ideal spot with those parameters in mind.

Tip: Don’t forget to read campground reviews to get the inside scoop on what the area is really like. AAA, CampGroundReviews.com and TripAdvisor are good places to start.

Research campground rules.

Welcome station at a campground in the woods.

Come prepared by checking the website of the grounds where you’ll be camping to see if they have a burn ban (eliminating the need for firewood), precautions for wild animals like bears or raccoons, a curfew, or any other guidelines you should be aware of. In addition, if you’re planning to sleep in a RV or pop-up, confirm they’re allowed and that there are hookups at your site.

Stay for at least two nights.

We started to actually enjoy camping when we began living by this rule. When you only camp for one night, it feels like 75% of your experience is taken up by moving stuff around. However, when you go for two nights (at least) you have one golden day where all you have to do is engage in all the (mostly) fun activities we go camping for in the first place. Because let’s be real, no one camps because they get a kick out of wrestling with a tent and trying to shove 8’x7’ worth of gear into a 6’x5’ trunk.

Create a packing list.

A red jacket, hiking boots, a black backpack, compass, and camera on a map beng packed for a camping trip.

To get you started on this task, we created a thorough camping packing list. However, before you throw all these items in the back of the car, think about what your family will actually use. If you haven’t camped before this can be tricky, but considering your family’s interests and food preferences (more on that below) can help you make an educated guess.

Now that you’ve done your pondering, cross off items from our list you don’t think you’ll use, add any new essentials you came up with, and commit to only packing items from the list that's left over. And be picky about what “essential” means to you, as one of the biggest headaches of camping is bringing too much stuff.

Note: We included earplugs on our downloadable list because certain campgrounds can be super noisy between 7am and 10pm. To ensure little ones can sleep without distraction, bring plugs for them as well.

Pack more bedding and warm clothes than you think you need.

We know... we just told you to only bring essentials and now we’re telling you to bring extras of something. We say this because it’s hard to know how cold you’ll get in the evening and it’s super uncomfortable and exhausting to be freezing all night. So if you’re staying in a location that gets chilly at night, even in the summer (like California), load up on warmth.