On Taking Him Camping With Us: Five Things We’ve Learned
In January of this year my husband and I, along with our then eight-month-old son, began a yearlong camping and fly fishing trip around the United States. To many people, the trip sounds like 365 days of vacation, but because we’re continuing to work regular jobs and have adult commitments it’s really more of a juggling act between obligations and passions.
The other big thing that many people don’t necessarily realize right off the bat is that our son, Gus, is along for the whole ride. Beyond a few important stopovers with loved ones, there is no babysitter. No daycare. If we’re going outside, Gus is coming with us.
This decision to spend a year camping and traveling with an infant/toddler wasn’t one we made lightly, and to be sure it’s not for everyone. Before we started our trip we took Gus in for a checkup with our pediatrician and she assured us that at this point in his life all Gus really needs is us. That was both reassuring and completely terrifying.
Millions of parents worldwide raise their kids without a big house or extended community, but it’s one thing to know that and another thing completely to stare at a tiny human at two in the afternoon and know that there’s five more hours until bedtime and your options are to either sit in an 118 sq. foot trailer or to go outside and see what there is to see even though it might be rainy, cold, glaringly bright, 100 degrees, etc. This is not a hard choice to make. Outside wins. Every time.*
Outside there are trees and flowers. Fish, frogs, turtles, deer, birds and bunnies live outside. Outside there are mountains and rivers, new people to meet and new places to explore. Sometimes there are playgrounds. There is almost always a trail. We believe in outside like people believe the sun will rise. It is part of us, and it is becoming part of Gus. Now ten months into our yearlong camping trip, we’ve figured out quite a bit about sharing the outdoors with a baby.
Five Outdoor Tips For Children Under Two
- It’s all about managing expectations. Some days are going to be absolutely amazing. Everyone will be happy, well rested, well fed and up for adventure. Some days are going to be brutal. Be ready to adapt to what the day, you, and your child need. Maybe just as you make it to the end of the trail your fussy baby finally falls asleep in the pack. Be ready to decide if you want to keep walking (maybe right back down the trail) so to prolong the nap, or stick to your original plan of a picnic. Maybe rather than fishing a good looking stretch of water with junior in the pack, you stay on the river bank, catching frogs and turning over rocks.
- Be prepared. Take extra snacks, clothes, sunscreen and diapers. Find a pack that lets you carry what you need comfortably because you’re never going to know when you need it. We’ve found that having a small book tucked away in the bottom of our Kid Comfort can often save the day.
- Don’t listen to the naysayers. Everyone has an opinion on how a child should be raised and what activities are acceptable with a baby. Trust your judgment, your pediatrician and your kid, but also don’t be stupid.
- Know your limits. This is related to No. 3. With social media we’re exposed to thousands of images and stories of other people getting after it. It’s awesome. It’s also not you, or your kid. Know what you can do, what your comfortable with and what your child can handle. It’s good to push the limits, but first you have to know what the limit is. I don’t wade in waters with heavy currents over mid thigh with Gus on my back. To me it’s an unnecessary risk, but I do regularly hike alone with him in wilderness areas. It’s your call.
- Model the behavior you want to cultivate in your child. We want Gus to see the outdoors as a fun, exciting place filled with wonder and opportunity. Do we really think that rock is the best thing ever? Maybe not. But right now, he does, so we mirror his enthusiasm plus some. The world out there is cool!
*As with everything, there are exceptions. I’m not sure we’ve had a day were we haven’t gone outside at all, but sometimes books, toys and the couch are what’s needed.