Buying a Camper and Camping with Kids: Tips from a Pro


Who said camping with kids is fun?

Honestly, I have never been a huge fan of camping but when it was just me and my husband, I could put on a brave face and actually have fun. But once you bring kids into the picture, suddenly camping requires that you plan and prepare like you’re launching into outer space. Kids need so much stuff when they’re camping. They need to be entertained and kept safe, and they require sunscreen and bug spray and every type of shoe ever made. Plus, have you ever tried to microwave a pizza in the wild? Or make chicken nuggets? I don’t think I even need to say more.

The thing is, every year, our kids ask to go camping and the best we have been able to do is set up the tent in our backyard. Now that I am in my 30s, I’m just not a tent camper anymore and I feel guilty that I’m holding them back from that experience. But sleeping on the ground, the morning dew on the tent, the wet grass, and the muggy temperature inside the tent are anything but appealing to me. However, with a camper with a kitchen, bathroom, queen bed and space to move, AND air conditioning, I could camp with my family. A camper is exactly what I needed to be the fun camping mom my kids so badly wanted.

Young girl roasting a hot dog over a fire while camping

A couple months ago, we began looking at campers but that ended almost immediately because we don’t have a truck. There are definitely campers that don’t require a truck, but we did not want a pop-up and there are a lot of limitations with smaller pull-behind campers. Between the pulling weight of the camper and the weight of the camper on the vehicle pulling it, we couldn’t find a camper we wanted. I was disappointed but put the idea of camping this year aside.

Then, like a sign (and I don’t believe in signs), a camper became available that was perfect for our family.

It was used but still like new. It honestly even smelled new despite being 5 years old. Long story short, the price was right and it’s now ours and I could not be happier.

We still don’t have a truck though. And this camper is too big for us to pull without a truck. We have however been fortunate enough to have friends who are willing to lend us their truck when needed. Here’s your virtual thank you – you know who you are.

So, now that we have a camper, and have camped a few times, I’m basically a pro now, and here’s what I know about camping with kids:

Camp in your yard for a week.

It may sound silly, but hear me out. By taking the time to camp right near all your day-to-day amenities, you will quickly realize what you do and don’t need to bring with you in the camper. Every time you think of something, just write it down as an item to grab.

Don’t outfit your camper in one day.

By all means, go ahead and do it if you can afford to, but we became campers on a budget. I was able to find a lot of items in our home that we weren’t using that came in handy in the camper. And for things like plates and cups, where I didn’t have extra, I looked at the dollar store or Walmart (we snagged plates and cups for $0.50 each there).

dogs campingWatch YouTube.

We were complete camper newbies and knew nothing more than how to open the door and extend the awning and the slide.

I found searching for our camper on YouTube gave me video tutorials that were easier to follow than just reading a manual.

This way, I was able to learn how to light the stove on my own. My husband felt confident about how to empty both the gray and black tanks when we got to a campground- and, even more importantly, when we didn’t have full hookups and he needed to pull up to the dumping station. Honestly, if you don’t know what this part means, you probably don’t need to.

Bug Spray and Sunscreen.

This may absolutely be a no-brainer for you, but I wouldn’t be a mom without mentioning it. Sunscreen is quite self-explanatory, but for me, bug spray wasn’t as big of a deal until we went camping. Our first trip with the camper changed my views on bug spray when we discovered that my son had a tick on his neck. This was the first experience we’ve had with ticks, and it resulted in a traditional bulls-eye rash, one failed antibiotic due to an allergy, and an extended course of antibiotics due to the first failure. Safe to say, I will never forget the bug spray/tick spray ever again.

child lays on a rock by a stream while wearing a biking helmetResearch your campgrounds.

This may sound simple enough, but don’t just rely on the website where you booked your stay. Dig a little deeper into online reviews from those who have experienced it already. Also, if it is possible and local to you, take a drive by the campsite to check it out. We recently drove by one that we were considering staying at and that drive confirmed that we would not want to stay there. It was clean and served a purpose, but it wasn’t what we wanted for our camping experience.

I failed to do research on the second trip we booked and I returned home feeling unfulfilled.

two kids in a campground poolWe booked a local KOA because we had to return home daily for sports. The location was great and the grounds were incredibly clean. This trip determined, however, that KOA camping is probably not for me. I want camping that feels a little more intimate and is truly geared towards families — I just didn’t get that feeling there. It probably didn’t help that our first trip spoiled us and I will compare every campground to that first idyllic one. Small, privately-owned campgrounds are more my speed.

Bring all the games.

Thankfully, we had several duplicates of card games that we were able to move to stock up the camper. Camping with kids in a camper can be extremely fun until you get a rainy day and they are stuck inside with nothing to do. Those card games come in real handy.

camping with kids on bikesAdditionally, don’t forget to bring the kids’ bikes because they will spend a lot of time on them, and don’t forget toys for the dogs. This was a rookie mistake I made on our first trip and our dog, Finnegan, let me know.

camping dogKeep your meal planning simple.

I’ve found that simple has been best for us, especially when our trips have been less than a week long. I tend to make a pasta salad ahead of time, and then pack a lot of easy-to-make meals. Veggies and fruits are all cut up ahead of time and placed in separate containers for quick snacking. Some meals we enjoy are:

  • Grilled Vegetables
  • Potato Salad
  • Macaroni Salad / Pasta Salad
  • Smoked meats

solostove and blackstone grilling hot dogsBring your own firepit.

Ok, so this one may sound excessive to some, and really is only necessary if you have a portable firepit. We have a Solo Stove at home that we use for our fires and it is designed to be packed up to travel with. The one thing I can not stand about campfires is the smoke, and this takes care of that problem. Solo Stoves are portable, smokeless firepits and an item to absolutely put on your wish list if you haven’t already. And lastly, as you are packing up to go camping, don’t forget your comfy camp chairs because what’s the point of camping if you don’t get some time to relax.

Taking the time to research some camping companies that are geared towards providing discounts to members is another great option.

We now frequent Camping World and decided to become Good Sam members as some campgrounds offer discounts.

Camping with kids can feel like an extreme sport at times (add in two dogs and it sometimes feels like a circus), so preparing yourself the best you can only helps to ease any stress.

What are some of your best camping tips you can share with all of us fellow camping newbies?

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Halie Manley
Halie is a Vermonter born and raised, with a passion for travel, beauty, style, and life. She currently resides on the eastern side of the state with her husband and two kids (a hockey-focused son and a ballet-loving daughter.) She attended Colby-Sawyer College and Philadelphia University, then returned to Colby-Sawyer where she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business. Her family has a running joke that Halie was on her own version of Amazing Race (selecting a college edition.) While she loves to visit cities, she discovered that she can’t live in one! She best describes herself as quirky and sometimes awkward, constantly looking to learn, a makeup and skincare enthusiast, and also an avid lover of coffee, tea, local craft beers, ice cream, HGTV, and basically anything that sparks joy! She is ridiculously comfortable in her own shoes (probably because she ditched heels!) You can find more about her on her blog, Our Small Life Home.


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