Tips for Smoother Camping and Travel With Kids

Here, Kids Eat Free

We at Tread understand that traveling, camping, and vacations as a whole can be challenging with kids—especially younger ones. We also know how much more their lives will be enriched through those experiences. As the saying goes “it takes a village,” so why not call upon those of us who have traveled with their kids enough to have discovered ways to make it even a tad bit easier. We asked our friends at Rogue Overland to help us out with some tips from their experiences over the years on trips with their families. A little bit of insight can go a long way.

Overlanding With Kids

Kids are often a part of most overland groups. And the same goes with Rogue Overland where two of the five owners have kids—three kids each to be exact. Over many miles and many years we have learned the ins and outs of adventuring with kids. Travel with kids is amazing because nothing is more fulfilling than seeing your kids experience the world as they grow up learning to respect people and places. Now, travel with kids is packed with moments of joy but it’s not all epic trails and sunsets. Pack five people in an overland rig and there will be moments that test your patience. Sometimes it will be similar to cruising down a graded dirt road with the views of Monument Valley, and sometimes it will be like working for four hours to extract your vehicle from the mud hole that was WAY deeper than you thought. A valuable lesson learned is to be prepared but realize you cannot be prepared for everything. The following are examples of things we have experienced along the way.

Two kids on a hammock at the campground

Redirect for Sanity

Kids have meltdowns, sometimes for no apparent reason. To keep your sanity you will need things to redirect their focus. A quickly deployed snack, coloring book, glow stick, or game can avoid the building storm of a meltdown.

Cold Brings Cranky

Our kids camp regardless of the weather, but a cold kid is a cranky kid. Packing layers is a lifesaver when the temperature drops or it starts to rain. Be sure to layer them up before they get cold, otherwise you will be digging out of a hole.

Three kids playing checkers using a log as a table

Mud: Friend or Foe?

Puddles, creeks, and mud are winches that pull kids straight to them. Similarly, hand three kids each a bowl of cowboy chili and in less than 30 seconds one of them will spill it on their lap. Bringing a spare set of clothes is a must if you want to prevent a kid covered in mud from trampling through your rig for the rest of the day.

Minimalist Packing

Space is a premium when the whole family will be living out of a vehicle; the longer the trip the more surgical your packing must be. It is a fine balance of bringing everything you need but not overpacking. Using a backpacker’s mentality can save space and decrease the stress put on a vehicle by carrying extra weight.

First-Aid Training

Cuts, bruises, and getting dirt in their eyes WILL happen when kids are exploring around camp. Having a solid first-aid kit will keep you on the road of adventure instead of the road home. Remember that first-aid kit is of no use if you do not have the proper training to use it. It is a good idea to get trained in basic first aid.

Travel with kids and have them help with easy tasks
Having kids participate in tasks they can handle makes them feel included.

Take a Break

A crying or whiny kid will, at some point in the trip, result in your patience being tested. There is not always a clear way to diffuse the situation. Having the other parent tag you out is often a great solution. If another parent isn’t available, then an impromptu stop to get out of the vehicle is helpful. This will allow time for the worked-up kid to burn some energy and the frustrated parent to have a moment of quiet to regroup.

Give a Purpose

Kids love to be involved, especially when adventuring. Give them a task appropriate for their age so they can feel like a contributing part of the team. At gas station stops our two younger kids are responsible for cleaning up any trash from inside the truck, while our older kid helps refill everyone’s water bottles. At camp all the kids help build the fire ring and gather kindling to start the fire (of course only if wood gathering is legal).

Safe Exploration

Let them roam at camp, as kids love interacting with their environment. As parents it is sometimes difficult to not be overprotective while adventuring with your kids. Finding an appropriate campsite where the kids can safely explore will make camp life less stressful.

Teach Safety

Give older kids an active role in their safety. Agree on boundaries and point out potential hazards together. For example, in areas with a lot of snakes, like the Southwest desert, constantly remind the kids to keep an eye out for snakes. You’d be surprised how aware they can be. Last summer while on lunch break during our run of John Bull Trail, the kids identified a snake while roaming around. They all immediately walked back over to the trucks to let the adults know they had seen a snake.

Travel with kids tip: Three car seats easily fit in the back of an SUV
Learn from example, three car seats easily fit in the back of an SUV.

Start Now, You Won’t Regret It

Now is the right time to get out and travel with your kids. Our kids have been adventuring since before they could walk; after all this time we can say for sure that every age has its own set of challenges. Don’t get caught up in the “we will travel with them when they are a little older because it is easier” trap. Travel with kids is always amazing but always comes with unique challenges. With the right tools and preparation, the challenges of travel with kids can be overcome. The time to start building memories is now.

Many memories are made when you travel with kids
The memories made on trips far outweigh the challenges faced. The lifelong friendships formed are an added bonus.

Presently we do our best to appreciate the challenges associated with overlanding with younger kids. We are making priceless memories and raising the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts who will be a positive part of the off-road community. That being said, we do look forward to the day when we roll into a great location, sit back with a tasty beverage, and watch our kids work together to set up camp.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the July/August 2020 print issue of Tread Magazine.