Survival tips for camping with babies and toddlers

About a year ago, I wrote this piece about taking our toddler camping. My uncomfortable second pregnancy coupled with our toddler’s spirited independence, a.k.a. his normal growth and development, made our outdoor pursuits together a little more…challenging. Last summer alone, we saved him from falling off bridges, watched helplessly as he flung his sippy cup into a fire pit, held him as he flailed violently during temper tantrums on steep hiking trails, soothed several black eyes, saved him from falling off the platform at a train station in Germany, and doctored up the resulting bloody nose when he accidentally jabbed Dad in the face, in the tent (in the dark) during a backpacking trip.

Let’s fast forward one year. My aforementioned baby-bump is now a full-fledged babbling, crawling nine-month old who has recently completed her first weekend camping trip, under the mentorship of her much more experienced big brother and proud parents. Her big brother is now a two-and-three-quarter year old who loves to camp and, mercifully, now has a slightly better sense of self-preservation.


The trip went well, and we have already planned to take our first backpacking trip as a family of four before summer’s over. A friend recently reacted to this by saying “all this sounds great, but it sounds like a lot of work.” When I asked for clarification on what she meant by it, she pointed to my kids. Oh, right. That it. That ever-changing storybook of early childhood, its pages unfolding while pitching a tent. Setting up camp. Figuring out where everything happens…cooking, eating, playing, washing up. Saving the toddler from nature and all its perils. Meltdowns and tantrums at public campgrounds. All while caring for an infant. Nursing her, keeping her content and safe, soothing her rare but ear-splitting cries raising the alarm for who knows what. Packing in kids’ paraphernalia, changing diapers, packing out dirty diapers and wipes. Throw in ensuring an enjoyable and memorable camping experience for me and my husband, and capturing those quintessentially Instagrammable photos. It is a lot of work.

So, what do we do to enjoy camping with our baby and toddler?

1) We Make A Packing List & Bring Only What We Need.
We are pretty simple campers. As a family, we have decided that having less stuff lets us enjoy what we do have more. The less time we spend carting, organizing, keeping track of, and cleaning up our campsite, the more time we can spend with our kids and actually enjoy camping.

Besides critical items (food + water + camp stove and cookware, shelter: tent + sleeping bags + pads, change of clothing, rain coats, sandals/water shoes, diapers and wipes) we didn’t bring much else. One really doesn’t need any entertainment while camping because we are surrounded by nature and that is the best entertainment.


The only play thing we brought for Johann from home was his balance bike and helmet. This kept him entertained and active while we cooked, built a fire or did camp chores. Dirt, rocks, and hunting for edible berries around our campsite kept him busy the rest of the time.


Arya played with whatever we had laying around at camp, mugs, water bottles, carabiners, etc. and she had a great time. I know this will change as she gets older, so we’re cherishing her simplistic entertainment needs now. Even a salt-shaker was hilarious fun.

Waiting patiently to toast marshmallows.

We brought camp chairs for the adults and toddler, and the GoPod for our baby. No one is paying me to say this, but if you’re an outdoor family looking for a safe place to put an older infant, I highly recommend the KidCo GoPod. It is as lightweight and folds up slim like a camp chair. We have gotten so much use out of this thing with both our kids on fishing trips, camping, picnics and very often just in our own backyard.

2) We Keep Camping Food Easy.
Prep easy meals at home that the whole family can eat, and bring everything marinated or pre-seasoned, so that the most you have to do at camp is sauté or boil in water. We like to eat good, wholesome food, so we put in a little extra effort at home to make easy and fast camp-ready meals – two important factors, since we are also watching the kids. Pictured here is what we brought on our last camping trip, enough to feed all of us for three days.


We love one-pot meals like rice and cous cous that can be pre-measured and pre-mixed into baggies with spices and dehydrated veggies. Toss the contents into a billy pot with water and boil, then fry up some nitrate-free sausages (or better yet, roast them over the fire pit) for a complete meal. Or serve with lentils, or just eat plain. Cous cous is a hands-down favorite, since it only takes five minutes to cook. You will need all that extra non-cooking time to go grab your toddler before he digs up the poisonous mushrooms behind your campsite.

Table decorations = clam shells that our toddler collected on the beach

Oatmeal is another favorite – mixed with cinnamon, raisins, and brown sugar if desired – just add boiling water for a hearty breakfast. Eggs carefully nestled into the cooler then soft-boiled at camp, along with some fresh spinach we had laying around, and sausages, all thrown together into tortillas made great breakfast burritos another day. Some canned salmon and tuna, chopped red onions and capers that we prepped in a tupperware container beforehand (leave the cutting boards at home) went into more tortillas for easy no-cook lunch wraps between hiking and beach exploration. Tortillas are pretty great for camping and backpacking – they hold up better than bread, take up less room, and they don’t get squished like bread. A peanut butter and jelly wrap tastes just as good as a sandwich. And Johnny’s Seasoning Salt – never leave home without it.

Not pictured: Fresh fruit (cherries and apples). Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches that we ate in the car en route. Marshmallows for toasting, a camping must-have! Our small cooler to house the eggs and other cold stuff, ice-filled water bottles, and three small icepacks.

3) We Give Each Other Space.
While we thrive on our family-time, my husband and I both love alone-time, too.  It is quite impossible to find much of either at a crowded campground, much less at our own campsite (or in our 6’x7′ tent)! We are with our kids all.the.time. Even when they get fussy and/or misbehave. It’s at these times that we plan strategic alone-time.


The boys will go for a walk while I nurse the baby and enjoy the quiet. Or I take the Johann down to the water while Ryan and Arya get a chance to enjoy some quiet time. An example from our recent camping trip: our first night was rough, I hardly slept. Baby girl was in my sleeping bag and she stirred and fussed every hour or so. It was awful, and so unlike sleeping at home. The next morning I was trying hard not to be a sleep-deprived zombie. Ryan wore Arya in the Ergo carrier, and watched Johann ride his bike around the campground while I stole a few minutes to journal and enjoy my morning coffee. Those few minutes went a long way, and I really appreciated that break.

4) We Accept That The Kids Will Get Dirty.
This was a hard one for me, but having a boy first made me get over the fact that kids will find dirt and get into it no matter what. Johann was six months old the first time we took him backpacking. I had laid down the rain cover of my pack and gingerly set him down on top of it while we set up our tent, but in less than half a minute he had already moved to the dirt and was happily eating it. That was my A-ha moment. On this recent camping trip, our daughter sucked on some large rocks on the beach. Oh well.


I’ve come a long way and just accept it now. Dirt makes kids happy, and it’s good for them, too. We give our littles a good hand and face scrub at the end of each camping day and call it good enough until we hop into hot showers back home.     

5) We Keep Our Sleep Expectations Low.
Does anyone really sleep the same while camping as in their own bed? When we camp, we all go to bed at the same time, which is usually very late (with the sun), and we all tend to wake up very early (with the sun, again). The minute they see any day light the kids are up and at ’em…lest they miss any of the day’s excitement. We’re learning that we all can operate remarkably well on less sleep – temporarily. The other thing is personal space. We have a small (3-person) backpacking tent. When our toddler was a baby, he would bunk in one of our sleeping bags with us and we would be very careful not to squish him. This usually meant that we ourselves did not sleep very soundly. At about one-and-a-half years old, we got him his own sleeping bag, which made a huge difference and helped all of us sleep better. Now, we’re reliving it with our baby girl who wakes up and fusses every time one of us tries to roll over. But – we know it is temporary, and this works for us – for now. We plan to get a bigger tent for future car-camping trips as our littles ones are only getting bigger, and before we know it, Arya will be a toddler and will have her own sleeping bag. There are more options for those who have bigger tents – like sleeping on an air mattress to absorb some of the movement, or a travel crib or pack n’ play for the baby. This works really well for our friends who camp with their littles!

The point is to do what works for your family, so that you and your little ones are happy in pursuing the things you love to do as a family, and embracing each season you have together.


We had a blast. We explored a new place, witnessed firsts, bonded in new ways, and made memories for a lifetime. We look forward to many more camping adventures with our kids! Here’s wishing you all the same.

On flowers, forgotten shoes, forgiveness and flexibility

We decided to go to the Tulip Festival this weekend. If you’ve ever spent a spring season in the Seattle area, you probably know what this is. Miles and miles of tulips, even some daffodils and irises, all over the fertile soils of the Skagit River valley, against the backdrop of the beautiful Cascade mountains. In five years of living in the Pacific Northwest we have been slowly working through our list of things to do and see here, we just hadn’t gotten to the Tulip Festival yet. Our family isn’t necessarily hardcore about flowers. But, since it’s such big deal around here, we wanted to go. So when a friend called me up a few days before, and invited us to tag along with their family, we said “sure!” We like them, our kids are the same ages, and we could think of nothing more wonderful than hanging out with friends and letting our toddlers run around while we all enjoyed thousands of glorious tulips on a beautiful day. So, this was the year we would go to the famous Tulip Festival.

We hopped on the Interstate Saturday morning, braved the traffic at the crowded exits with the thousands of others who also wanted to see the tulips, and breathed a collective sigh of relief when we finally pulled into the parking area of ‘Tulip Town.’ We decided to walk around a bit and get our bearings since our friends were delayed in traffic. I strapped baby Arya into the Ergo carrier, while Ryan tended to putting on Johann’s socks and shoes. (The kid has kicked off his socks and shoes since birth, so we’ve learned to just leave them off for long car rides and save ourselves the work of putting them on again and again.)

And, then Ryan says “you grabbed Johann’s shoes, right?”

Um. No. You were supposed to put his shoes and socks in the car. You’re joking, right? It was the one thing I had asked for help with as we were heading out the door that morning.

No response.

“Ryan, please be joking.” Crickets again.

And, then, I got that sinking feeling. “Just remember that you love me.”  (We had just celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary the day before, and love was in the air.) And, then the facts were revealed. Ryan had put his socks on, but had totally forgotten about his shoes which were safely still tucked away in the closet. No, no, no! This was bad. We were over an hour’s drive from home. What better thing to leave at home than the shoes of a two year old boy with lots of energy, when you’ve planned to spend the entire morning in a place like this!? We didn’t have spare shoes in the car. No stroller, or backup baby carrier. We are minimalists, after all. We don’t even have that much stuff to bring on these day trips, how could we leave behind something as critical as shoes!? I’m usually so prepared!

I am a planner. Ryan is the flexible spontaneous one. I like knowing what’s coming in any given situation. He finds it easy to improvise and make the most of things. No shoes? This didn’t fit into my plans for the morning. At that moment, we had two choices. A: we could stay and try to make the most of it. Or, B: pout and go home. After a few minutes deliberation, (during which time I did pout, but also decided to forgive Ryan) we decided to stay and try to make the most of it. Besides, the nice festival folks had just fleeced us for $12 to be here.

Johann could have run around barefoot, if we were perhaps in another country or we didn’t care much about keeping our toddler’s feet unhurt. But that wasn’t really viable. So, Johann could ride on daddy’s shoulders (which they both love). But I had a feeling it wouldn’t last long. There was at least a mile or two of walking involved, Johann could get restless, Ryan’s shoulders could get sore, and we wouldn’t want to inhibit our friends from seeing everything they wanted to see too. But we would see how it went.

We walked around a little bit, while we waited for our friends to arrive. Johann was content to ride on his dad’s shoulders. He did ask a couple times to “get down” but didn’t fuss when we said he couldn’t because he didn’t have shoes on. When our friends arrived, they didn’t have a spare pair of shoes either. But they had brought a double stroller for their kids. Their toddler was more content to run around so they offered Johann his seat. I wasn’t sure about this at all. For the past several months, it has taken a ton of coaxing to get Johann to sit in a stroller. He prefers to walk or run everywhere and doesn’t enjoy sitting in the stroller anymore. To my surprise, Johann rode the entire way in their stroller. Happy as a clam. Maybe it was the novelty of it, or maybe he was just being extraordinarily good. But everything went fine. The kids were all well-behaved, and everyone had a good time. It turned out to be a lovely morning. The tulips were truly stunning.

We all went out to lunch afterwards. By that time, Johann had stopped asking to “get down.” Maybe he remembered that it wasn’t an option any more. We parted ways with our friends after lunch, and got home later that afternoon where Johann played in the backyard and “helped” his dad with some yard work (with shoes on). He did eventually burn off all the energy that had built up over the course of the day.

Everything had turned out fine. We finally made it to the Tulip Festival. It wasn’t such a big a deal that Johann didn’t have his shoes. What was I so worried about earlier? So we messed up and left something behind. Who doesn’t do that from time to time? My change in attitude was the turning point of the morning. I could have sulked, placed blame, and chosen not to have a good time. This parenting thing is hard. It doesn’t need to be made any harder by beating ourselves up when something doesn’t go well. Little eyes are watching and little ears are hearing how we respond. I am grateful for my husband, the wiser parent in many regards, who balances me out and models what it means to try to make the most of a less than ideal situation.


As we were walking out of the tulip fields back to our parked car, we stopped to admire the kites flying by the entrance. It reminded me that there is freedom in forgiving ourselves and our spouses, and finding the flexibility to blow where the wind takes you. I want my kids to learn that! And, I am learning that too.

Lessons from my first Camping trip

In an odd way, it was my upbringing that spurred my interest in hiking, backpacking and camping. Mainly because I never grew up doing anything close to it. Growing up in a city of several million people in southern India, I saw more people and concrete buildings than trees. Fast forward years later, after I hopped a plane to come to the United States, to my first camping trip. Let me tell you about that first time…

The first time I ever went camping was at a state park in Texas, during my senior year of college. I went with my boyfriend at the time, and his best friend who was visiting from their hometown. None of us knew anything about camping, so we picked a nice state park campground close to where we were, and planned to go for only one night. It was a lovely fall weekend and the temperatures were mild. My boyfriend literally went out the night before to buy everything at the local big blue box store that’s not known for selling quality outdoor gear. Sleeping bags, four bundles of firewood, gimmicky contraptions to make popcorn and s’mores over a fire, a 100-pack of styrofoam plates and napkins – all this for one night, mind you. The grand finale of the shopping fit was an eight-person tent with two rooms. The entire tent folded up into a large duffel bag, the same size as one you would carry on a two-week vacation somewhere with no laundry facilities. The question “what were you thinking” came to mind.

We had no idea how to pack and carry all this stuff, so it was all in plastic bags and storage totes. The campsite was a walk-in site about 500-yards away from the parking lot, so all three of us made several trips back and forth to haul everything out to the campsite. Oh, and it was pitch dark when we arrived. (This was only one of several mistakes we made that weekend, as you can imagine.) We spent a few minutes taking the tags off all the (brand new) equipment, and piled them all on the picnic able as a neat reminder of how much we were taken for. After what seemed like hours later, we had a fully set up tent. Happy with the evening’s effort, we started cooking an elaborate three-course dinner featuring New York Strip steaks, baked potatoes, and firepit roasted veggies before breaking out the popcorn and s’more makers. Come morning, we realized that no one had remembered to bring anything for breakfast. So we broke camp, explored a bit of the park, then hit the Dairy Queen on our way home.  By the way, that tent never did fit back into the duffel bag as neatly as it has come, so it just got bundled into the truck.

All in all, it was not an ideal first camping trip and it could have turned me off camping for the rest of my life. Except, I fell in love. I fell in love with this new way of enjoying nature and being outdoors. I fell in love with sleeping under the stars. I fell in love with the idea of experiencing beautiful places at odd times that one normally wouldn’t get to…times when you would be doing ordinary things at home like picking up the living room or brushing your teeth. It was just so different from anything I had ever done before.

That trip was over ten years ago now and, every time I remember it, I cannot help but smile at how much I have learned and changed. I now rest assured in the fact that the most incredible tasting s’mores are toasted directly over the campfire, rather than in some funky contraption – the likes of which (I’m happy to report) I have not laid eyes on since that first time. And, obviously, now I know it’s entirely possible to have a hike-in campsite and only make one trip.

After that, I didn’t have the opportunity to go camping again until after I moved to Wisconsin and met Ryan. Growing up he had never camped either, but he went a few times in his early working years and certainly knew more about this stuff than I did. We started going camping early in our married life, as a way to see new places cheaply. As a couple, we’ve always tried to be minimalist (sometimes to an extreme – but more on that in an upcoming post!), so we never packed a whole lot to begin with. Certainly no gimmicky popcorn and s’more makers. With every trip we try to learn something, to make some small improvement in bringing less stuff, without creating additional discomfort, and while still enjoying ourselves. All of this has been more challenging with our baby, now toddler. But, on a more holistic level, we’re actually finding that having less stuff lets us enjoy what we do have more.

None of these revelations are right or wrong. They just work well for us.

If you have found camping stressful in the past, it might have been because you had too much stuff. It certainly detracted from my first experience. We’ve all seen campsites with picnic tables completely overloaded with stuff. Piles and piles of bulk food items, disposable plates, cheap but huge colorful games and toys, giant water coolers, etc. There’s no room at the table, because of all the stuff, so everything else goes on the ground. The more stuff you bring, the more there is to keep track of, clean up, get stressed out about, and organize. That could get tiresome for anyone. You don’t need to bring your entire house along to go camping. But being minimalist does not mean being uncomfortable, either! With a little planning, you don’t need a lot of gear. Even with a baby or toddler. But you do need the right gear. Bring what you need (not what you think you’ll need) to be comfortable and relaxed. Nothing more. I’ll do a whole post on this soon.

Or maybe you haven’t enjoyed camping because your expectations weren’t aligned with your experience. Nothing will be as comfortable as sleeping in your own bed, or cooking in your own kitchen, or using your own bathroom. But, is that really the point anyway?

Or maybe you go camping to please someone dear to you who does enjoy it?

In any of these situations, it helps to consider your motivation. Your why.

People have different reasons. Us, we backpack, hike and camp for the same reasons we travel – because it’s part of our why. We want to continue challenging ourselves, broadening our horizons, and keep physically active while exploring new places frugally. There are hidden gems waiting to be discovered, and some are not much further than your closest lake, river, forest, mountain, or coast. So, get outside!