A Personal Guide To Road Tripping and Camping With A Toddler


Growing up, I never went camping with my family nor did I know any Asian family who did. The closest I ever came to camping as a child was at sixth grade camp, which aside from the timed three-minute showers and the short hikes cannot be properly classified as camping.

My husband is an outdoorsman by nature and camped regularly before he met me. It’s safe to say he was disappointed when he learned that I was one of those urbanites who loved nature but did not love being in it. Pit toilets, pajamas covered in campfire ash, and getting swarmed by mosquitoes are not exactly my idea of a vacation. The most camping we did together were one night stays at a campground in Idyllwild, a small mountain town in South California. Those I was able to survive—as long as the pit toilets were not filled with a year’s worth of feces (yuck!).

But I hypothesize that maybe—just maybe—being a mother has made me more gutsy and more willing to do uncomfortable things.

Because miraculously, our family just completed a 15 day road trip from Southern California to Oregon and back!

To be a bit more precise, that’s 2800 miles on the road, 56 hours in the car, 7 nights of tent camping at 3 different camp sites, 4 different AirBNBs or homes of friends/family, and sleeping in 40 degree chill. All of this with a 2.33 year old!

We’ve been talking about visiting Oregon’s lush green for years and finally decided to make it happen this summer. While planning for this trip, I was excited and, needless to say, scared. I was scared of having to comfort a crying baby in the middle of the night for 2 straight weeks. I was scared of having to suffer in the car next to a vomit-soaked carseat. I was scared that our trip would be derailed by a sudden illness or a malfunctioning car.

But we survived. And not only that, we had such a beautiful time together, hopping from forest to river to city to ocean and back to forest again. We saw friends that we have not seen in years. We saw jaw-dropping landscapes that you should see at least once in your life. It was a trip that we are hoping will imprint into our little daughter’s subconscious memory and make her love being in the outdoors.

There are tons of blogs out there that covers everything you need to bring and prepare if you’re road tripping or camping with a little one. This is not one of them. But here are my personal tips on what made this experience comfortable and fun for our child…and for me!

1. Do a test run! We had two small camping experiences with our daughter before we embarked on this much longer one. On the first one, she was a little over a year old. She slept between us in a two person tent – there was a moderate amount of waking and not very much sleeping. After that trip, we decided to graduate to six person tent and an air mattress! We experimented with our new set up a month before our road trip. I used this opportunity to figure out the perfect sleeping set up that would maximize the amount of sleep for us all—this resulted in me and child on air mattress and daddy on the sleeping pad next to us. As a result, my daughter slept really well every nigh…except for one when she woke up screaming at midnight. But one out of seven nights is not bad in my book!

2. Fun times in the car. My daughter is pretty tolerant of being stuck to a carseat but knowing that we were spending a huge chunk of our trip in the car, I wanted to make the car ride as fun for her as possible. This meant special snacks (Pocky sticks, crackers, ice cream, seaweed), new toys (most of them given to us by friends during the trip, “Water Wow” coloring pads, books with dry erase markers), preloaded games on the iPad (mostly puzzle games and her favorite “Feed the Animals”), and lots of story time and singing with mommy in the back seat. She quickly became very excited every time we had to get in the car!

3. Be loose with structure. At home, we are on the dot when it comes to bedtime and I try to incorporate veggies in her lunch and dinner. But during the trip, I was okay with her sleeping at 9:00, 10:00 or sometimes even 11:00pm. I was also okay with her eating peanut butter jelly sandwiches for lunch AND dinner on some nights. However afternoon naps were mandatory because no nap = moody child. As long as she was cheerful during the day and pooping, I was flexible with her sleeping schedule and higher than normal sugar intake.

4. Allowing a hands-on experience. Our child loves mastering new skills. We made sure we involved her in the set-up and maintenance of the camp. For example, during set up, she helped us lay out the tarp, install the camping poles, and pump up the air mattress. She enjoyed watching daddy wash the dishes after a meal. She also enjoyed practicing hiking up and down the stairs at the camp. All of these little things made it exciting for her and she became eager to set up camp at our next site. Throughout our stays in the forests, she would smile and say “I like go camping!”

5. Good planning. Knowing that I am squeamish and whiny by nature, my husband booked campsites that had flush toilets, showers, close promixity to a store, and were generally well-kept. Although he’s content with digging a hole for a bathroom, he wanted to keep me happy and therefore planned a comfortable camping experience for us. Speaking for myself, I made a very thorough list of what to bring and checked off each item as I packed it into my bag. That’s not something I usually do for trips but this time, I knew if I didn’t have her bedtime pacifier or teddy bear, it could potentially be a disaster. The attention and time spent on packing was well worth it. The only things I wish I would’ve brought were water shoes for my daughter (so she could stand in the campsite showers), a wearable blanket (she likes to kick off her blankets at night), and warmer clothes for me.

Well, we had a memorable time together and are settled home now. My daughter would be happy to travel for a few more weeks and bounce to a new place to stay every night. My husband is happy to not be driving 6 hours a day but would be thrilled to take a longer vacation.

As for me, I’m just happy I made it through the two weeks and am going to start catching up on my sleep starting…now 🙂