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Van Life: Tent Camping with a Baby

Van Life BannerWe had a good run with the van over the winter and then took a break from camping because we had a baby. Then in April we camped overnight at the Woodland Celtic Games which was a lot of fun and the baby did beautifully. She was just over a month old at the time. It was supposed to be a test run for the summer. 

The grand plan was to spend the entire month of July driving up California, Oregon, and Washington and camping in the van along the way, but three things happened. One, the van is having transmission problems and a long trip like that is sure to be the death of the current transmission. We were going to fix it, but then the second thing happened. My husband, tired of putting up with a ton of crap at work, decided not to renew his contract which means we’re living off a smaller amount of money so we decided not to spend the $8,000 just yet to replace the transmission. Then the van needed a couple minor repairs which my husband is in the process of doing himself. Not a big deal, but we can’t drive the van right now even on easy expeditions.

Not wanting to give up on camping we busted out our tent and transferred some of our camping gear to our car and headed out into the Tahoe National Forest this past weekend. With our four month old baby. And you know what? It was just fine with a couple hiccups- primarily sleeping on the ground is not fun when you’re our age. 

Here are some tips for camping with a baby:

  1. Pack light. I know the impulse is to pack every last little thing you *might* need, but resist that urge. You will be miserable trying to fit it all in the car, more miserable trying to find a place for it in camp, and mad when you don’t end up using 95% of it. The purpose of camping is to get out and away from everyday life, so don’t recreate your house. Plus the baby will be fine getting a bit dirty. That being said, keep reading for the things we found essential. 
  2. Have a place they can lay/sit outside the tent. Since our baby is not yet sitting, standing, crawling or walking we could fairly easily corral her. We had bought a folding wagon to schlep stuff from the car to the campsite (it was a 5 minute walk). When we were done unloading we laid out her blankets and put her down in it. But to be honest, we could have thrown some blankets on the ground (enough to cushion her little baby head) and called it a day. Blankets are washable as are babies so it’s okay if they get a bit dusty. For older, more mobile babies, consider a folding chair with a tray. They make one that looks almost exactly like a camp chair, but it has a tray and is super short. However, I don’t think this is a necessity. Baby can sit on your lap for meals and may not want to be confined to a chair at other times. 
  3. Consider co-sleeping with your baby. For us that was me not using a pillow (I don’t at home either) and laying out several blankets next to my sleeping bag for the baby’s sleeping pallet. I opened up the sleeping bag and draped it over us much as I do with a blanket at home. 
  4. Borrow a good carrier. We have an awesome baby carrier. It cost $20 and we have now used it with both our girls. The problem is, it’s best for around town errands and not so great on a hike. We needed something that would do a better job supporting the baby while we hiked. Ergos are, in my opinion, way to bulky and hot for around town, but it worked well for the hike (it was still bulky and hot for all involved, but the baby isn’t big enough to sit in a hiking back pack). We borrowed one from our neighbor because it isn’t something we’re going to use all the time and I refuse to spend $120 on it. Once the baby can hold her torso up better we’ll see if we can borrow a baby backpack or buy one used. Again, a super expensive item that really won’t be used all that often. Going back to tip #1, don’t bring a stroller. Unless you’re in a paved campsite and have all the space in the world, you won’t use it and it will just be annoying to maneuver and take up space in the car. 
  5. If you are breastfeeding, bring extra snacks and water. I know for me I get hungry between meals while breastfeeding and I need to constantly drink water. We eat light while camping and I felt hungry a little more often than I normally do. Extra snacks would have been perfect. Along the lines of water, you might want to pick a site close to the bathroom so getting up in the night (or running over during the day) isn’t a big production. The site we were in didn’t have any water and as a result I drank less than I wanted to. It worked out, but I wish we had brought more. 
  6. Pack a sun hat. If you’re going to be outside, which you’re camping so you will be most of the time, make sure the baby is covered. Malin seems particularly prone to burning on her nose and cheeks and despite my best efforts she still got pink. Having the right kind of protective clothing is essential and remember, you’re outside for nearly all the activities you are normally inside for. 
  7. Diapers might be a hassle, but they might not. So the site we went to had no trash. Because of this I brought along cloth diapers which we normally use. It was fine, kind of a pain, but we were going to have to trek the dirty disposables out too, so why bother? In retrospect, though, there was a pit toilet. We have gDiapers that make a flushable/compostable insert and I could have used those and thrown them into the pit toilet. You might consider biodegradable diapers so that when they go into the trash at the campsite, they will eventually break down. If you cloth diaper, know that it wasn’t really much more of a hassle than it is at home. 

Honestly, the best thing you can bring with you is a flexible attitude and a sense of humor. Camping with a baby is not impossible, so don’t let your youngest family member deter you from getting outside. 

Van Life: New Adventures

Van Life Banner

So, about two weeks before the end of 2017 we bought a Eurovan. Our big plan, that we’ve been talking about for nearly a year now, is to take off all of July and headĀ up California, Oregon, Washington and into Canada with the two kids, the two of us, and the two dogs. Ultimately we’d love to do this every year and get out to explore the U.S., Canada, and maybe ultimately Mexico (although we’re hoping to head north to cooler climates when it’s blazing hot down south). I’m not sure we’d ever be the family that sells our house and lives full time in our van while traveling, but a change of pace for one month a year sounds about right for now.

We took our first trip on the last two days of the year and headed down to Yosemite. It was my first time in the Park and it was really lovely, if a wee bit chilly. Also, camping while seven months pregnant was little challenging. I wish our campsite had been closer to the bathroom. We plan on taking a lot of overnight and weekend trips in the van as well since there’s plenty to see within a few hours of where we live. And because my husband runs on a school schedule he gets dedicated winter and spring breaks plus a handful of three day weekends that will allow us to go out on longer trips.

I am really new to the whole camping thing (I did go to summer camp a few times, but it was all tent cabins and mess halls, no tents or camp stoves or even really campfires) so I am learning as we go along. In fact the last, and maybe only time, I went camping was nearly 30 years ago. I would like to post about van life, camping with kids, and traveling/camping with dogs. Tips, tricks, thoughts, etc in case anyone else wants ideas or inspiration. If you’ve done the math, our July trip will involve a three month old baby. It could be the world’s best idea of the world’s worst idea. We’ll find out. I think we’re going into this with an open mind and a sense of adventure that will hopefully allow us to take everything in stride.