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If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you know I love camping! You also probably know that my definition of camping has changed since the kids were born (read about that here). Recently, we took our trailer on what I must say was an epic two week camping trip to celebrate the National Park’s Centennial. We visited four states (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Utah), six national parks/monuments (Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, Craters of the Moon, Arches, and Canyonlands), and a few state parks. We all survived, and I believe that the kids made memories that will last a lifetime. I know I did. So how did we all survive, and still have fun? Here are my top 5 tips to have the Great American Camping Road Trip!
1) Know Your Equipment
We bought the trailer at the end of last summer. We were able to get out once for a weekend at a local campground to break it in. We also took it out at Spring Break for a longer trip, where we stayed at one location. I used those trips as a chance to get to know the ins and outs of using the trailer. I learned how to hook it up quickly, level the struts, and dump the sewage. I also learned how the SUV responded while towing. By knowing the equipment, I was able to get ready for towing quickly, which got us on the road quicker and made long driving days a little more bearable. I avoided overheating the SUV when we went over a 10,000 foot mountain pass on a 90 degree day. I was able to have the trailer ready for making dinner 20 minutes after pulling into our camping spot. Even if you’re using a tent instead of a trailer, or even if you rent a cabin, know how everything works so you can use it effortlessly. These little moments of being prepared saves time and stress.
2) Pack Efficiently (but bring plenty of extras!)
Our little 16 foot trailer was tight on space, especially considering it was sleeping five! We were gone for two weeks, plus our locations changed from mountainous (40 degree nights) to desert (95 degree days). We really had to strategize on the best way to bring what we needed. We settled on packing for 9 days, and planned on doing laundry at the campground at the midway point. We kept half of the clothes in the trailer and the other half in the SUV and switched as needed. Having packed for a couple extra days gave us spare clothes when our daughter got completely dirty one day, and also gave us the option of changing to lighter clothes when it ended up being unseasonably warm in Yellowstone. We also meal planned in a similar fashion. We planned a day to stop and restock the pantry, as well as having plenty of quality snacks in both the trailer and the SUV.
3) Expect Messes and Dirt
Camping is not always the cleanest of activities, but when you’re camping with kids, messy goes to a whole new level. We had three separate occasions where we used nearly half a roll of paper towels to clean up a major spill. One spill was when a bottle of conditioner spilled on the toddler’s clothes. Thankfully, we had already packed a few extras, and we just let her wear some outfits twice to get us to laundry day. In addition to the extra messes, there is the problem of getting everyone cleaned up. While our trailer technically had a shower, it was not user friendly for kids and the sewage tanks would have filled quickly (while I became a professional at emptying them, I didn’t want to do it a bunch because have you ever smelled those dump stations?) The first half of our trip included campsites with nearby shower buildings, but even then getting the kids up there and cleaned was challenging, we learned that a shower every three days or so was good enough. The last four days of our trip we weren’t so fortunate. In order to spare us from stinking up the trailer too badly with BO, we brought along Epic Wipes. They’re much bigger than regular wipes and worked great! Everyone got a wipe down with those in order to make it until we got home.
4) Plan Out Roles
My wife and I agreed to some specific jobs that each of us would complete in order to be more efficient. It also meant taking turns with the kids so we could complete those jobs. While I was getting the trailer parked and set up, or ready for towing, my wife would take the kids to the campground’s park. It was my turn to distract the kids during laundry or making meals. We also left ourselves some flexibility. For example, my wife hooked up the trailer once when we had a little more time, and I made a few lunches, but for the most part, we stuck to our jobs to keep things running smoothly.
5) Dial Back Expectations (and go with the flow!)
We knew that the best way to see some of these amazing National Parks included hiking. With a 7 year old, 5 year old, and 1 year old, long hikes were just not possible. We got out at some stops and walked as much as we could, but we were always ready to turn back when we had to. In Yellowstone, we didn’t see much at the Mammoth Hot Springs. It was hot and sunny, and my 5 year old daughter was done hiking for the day. Instead, we got out at the overlooks, snapped a few pictures and spent most of the rest of the day driving around looking for wildlife. At Craters of the Moon, it was drizzling rain and the 1 year old was not cooperating. My wife and I took turns sitting in the car with her while the other jumped out with the big kids and saw some of the different areas. Being flexible made everyone’s trip more enjoyable.
6) (Bonus) Take Advantage of Advances in Technology
To avoid a lot of “Are we there yet?” and “He’s touching me!” we allowed the kids to watch DVDs on the portable player during those long driving days (if you don’t have one, I highly recommend it!). We also brought along their tablets to use during some of the down time when we were all confined in the trailer.
Overall, we saw incredible mountains, geysers, hot springs, lava flows, lakes, glaciers, natural arches, stunning canyons, bison, elk, bears, bald eagles, and more. Every stop was an adventure and the kids got excited each time. Were they a little testy with each other from time to time? Of course! But they got over it pretty quickly because there was so much to do, and we had plans to keep a lot of the stress out of the trip. I hope you get a chance to get out and Find Your Park with your kids. It seems intimidating, but a little planning and a lot of flexibility will make it the greatest trip ever!
Have you ever gone on a long camping road trip with the kids? Any advice on making a camping road trip successful?