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How to Plan a Camping Trip the Whole Family Will Love

For many folks, the memories of childhood camping are among the best of their lives. If this is you, then you likely can’t wait to share those same experiences with your family! But it’s always a unique challenge to figure out how to plan a camping trip that everyone in the family will enjoy…from young to old.

We’re here to help! Read on for a guide on tips and tricks for how to plan a camping trip that will have your kiddos eager to take their families camping and recreate the same kinds of memories you helped make for them.

A family sitting around a campfire at night while tent camping.

Set Goals for the Trip

Having clear and defined goals for what you want to do is a key factor of how to plan a camping trip the whole family will love. And it should be noted this is not a closed-door meeting where the adults set all the parameters of what the trip should and should not be.

To really make a memorable experience out of how to plan a camping trip for the family, get the whole family involved! Sit everyone down and let each member of the family voice something they want to do on the trip.

Whether that’s fishing, hiking, campfire s’mores, or even a chance to read a book quietly in a hammock, everyone should have something to look forward to. This will get them involved and invested, not just in how to plan a camping trip, but in seeing through to the success of the trip for everyone involved.

A family fishing at sunrise or sunset.

Choose the Right Time of Year

Timing is crucial for how to plan a camping trip for the whole family. This encompasses, not just where and when you go, but how each person will thrive once you’re there. Bear in mind different family members’ tolerance to hot and cold temperatures and other outdoor elements.

In addition, you’ll want to consider the seasonal expectations from jobs, school, sports, social circles, and other activities that will have to be set aside for the duration of your camping trip.

Other aspects of timing include weather and safety. Depending on where you choose to camp, there are all sorts of inclement weather possibilities you will need to prepare for.

Midwest camping in the spring and fall, for example, can run the risk of some nasty thunderstorms and even tornados. Meanwhile, in the mountains, late or early season snowfall can see whole campgrounds shut down in the blink of an eye.

It’s important to plan according to weather possibilities, keep an eye on the weather leading up to your camping trip, and ensure you have the right gear for whatever might come.

As best you can, try to pick a time that allows you to comfortably fit in most of the camping goals your family has set. Also, set realistic expectations about what sort of weather your family can camp in. Griping and disdain over conditions will put a damper on your camping trip faster than a rain shower.

Choose the Right Length of a Trip

Some families will have so much fun with camping, they’ll want to go for two weeks or more. Other families will start to feel homesick and miss their normal routine, friends, daily life activities, etc. after just a few days.

An enjoyable amount of time spent camping is a broad spectrum, and it’s important to choose the length of your trip based on what your family can handle.

This is where it’s important to hear everyone out. Listen to those who want to stay the longest and those who want a shorter camping experience. Find a balance in the middle where everyone feels heard and agrees that the duration of the camping trip is doable. This will help mitigate a lot of potential for grief and hurt feelings.

Pick the Right Location

Regardless of where you live, finding a campground is likely both the easiest–and in some ways, the hardest!–aspect of how to plan a camping trip for the family. With so many options scattered across the United States, you will not be lacking campgrounds to choose from.

However, you’ll want to find a campground that meets as many camping goals of as many family members as possible. So you may need to be a bit picky!

Setting up a tent campsite. How to plan a camping trip.

Set expectations ahead of time of how far you are willing to travel. Consider that the time spent away from home and in the car is an important part of how to plan a camping trip; the farther you have to drive, it’s likely the fewer days you’ll spend actually camping.

You also want to choose a location that can accommodate the various needs of your family. Not every campground is accessible to the handicapped or those in wheelchairs. Some campgrounds have better water safety than others. Some are more rustic and others are more amenities–all of which can make or break some family members’ enjoyment of the trip.

These are all factors to consider when learning how to plan a camping trip the whole family will enjoy. You won’t find a location where you can have absolutely everything. But finding ways to compromise and adjust your goals and vision as a family will help keep everyone involved and working toward the same outcome: a wonderful family camping experience.

Pack Smart

Bringing the right items along can really make or break success when it comes to how to plan a camping trip for your family. Whether you’re camping in a tent or an RV, there can be a temptation to fill up the space with all the things you might need…but that’s not the wisest way to go about it.

A father and son relaxing in a tent in the woods.

When planning your family camping trip, the best practice is to bring only what you need…and to pack it well.

This can vary depending on the location and time of year you’re camping, but as a general rule, you want to bring good outdoor attire such as sturdy boots, enough food and water, and all your standard camping gear such as tents, sleeping bags, chairs, etc. Also, consider some emergency items including lanterns, a first aid kit, batteries, and some comfort items in case they’re needed.

This is a great opportunity to teach your kids how to pack mindfully, bringing what’s needed with no excess. Help them brainstorm, give and receive suggestions, and take turns celebrating successful packing.

Also, if you are outfitting a large family or multiple people, bear in mind that you have the option to use something like the REI Resupply co-op to trade in old camping gear for new.

Plan Your Meals

Planning meals and packing the appropriate amount of food is a crucial part of how to plan a camping trip for the family. At home, most of us are used to being able to change our minds on a dime or as cravings arise.

A multi-generational family at mealtime while RV camping.

Because of this common mindset, having pre-planned meals can be a sharp culture shift for some families. But doing so will take a lot of the pressure off how to plan a camping trip. Be sure you have all the necessary gear, such as a camp stove, and be considerate of the eating habits of your family members, especially the littlest campers.

Having a mixture of safe, planned, and prepared meals that your family knows from home, as well as trying something new (such as foods cooked over an open fire) can strike a great balance. It can be adventurous and exciting, while also helping mitigate hunger strikes and stresses around eating in a new environment while on an uncommon adventure.

Prepare Everyone Ahead of Time

Another of the key elements for how to plan a camping trip is to know and adapt your preparedness. This can look a lot of ways to a lot of different people.

The obvious, of course, is to mentally prepare each person. This can be especially crucial with younger children. You will want to remind them frequently of what is coming and what to expect with a camping trip. This can often look like a script, where you remind them of things like, “In [a certain number] of sleeps/days, we are going camping! We will stay in a big tent and you can hear animals all night long…”

Using frequent preparatory language and habits with toddlers and young children will help the camping experience not to feel so overwhelming or unexpected to them. You can also help prepare younger campers by building a “tent” out of sheets, letting them sleep on their tent mat in their bedroom, or for older kids, even setting up a pup tent in the backyard for them to acclimate to the experience.

A couple of kids in a camping tent at night.

However, there is also a physical aspect of preparation in how to plan a camping trip. For example, if your family shows eagerness to hike at your camping location, but strenuous physical activity is not a large part of their day-to-day regimen, certain prep work can be beneficial.

Take time to build in things like frequent walks or local hikes, swim lessons for those setting a goal of ocean swimming, training in field spotting, birdwatching, and wildlife sighting, practicing fishing, etc. You should also carve out time for safety preparedness steps–all of which can help with meeting goals and having an easier, safer time on your camping trip.

Everyone Gets a Voice

This refers back to the goal setting aspect of how to plan a camping trip, but it also goes deeper than that. Family members of any age who feel they have no say in things are likely to spend more time sulking and counting down the days until they get to go home. This is as opposed to being an active participant in the camping adventure.

Some things to try here are to allow space for frustration and communal problem solving if and when things go wrong. Invite all family members to have a voice in the planning process. Let each person pick at least one meal.

When decisions need to be made, round-table it as much as possible. This can help every camper in your family to grow and expand their knowledge base and level of experience with camping. This will not only help the process of how to plan a camping trip for the family…it will also make everyone much more eager for the next trip.

Do’s and Don’ts of How to Plan a Camping Trip For the Family

A family enjoying themselves at a lake.

DO Plan for Things to Go Wrong

It’s a necessary part of how to plan a camping trip for the family that you expect something to go wrong…and plan accordingly. Even if the hope is to be entirely unplugged and roughing it, you may want to have a backup plan that invokes some familiar comforts…just in case.

Having a first aid kit handy, a toddler’s favorite box of band-aids, and even some crutch items like iPads and movies can help mitigate some bigger upheavals, should things go sour.

DON’T Expect Perfection

We all want to make fun memories when planning a family camping trip. But it’s important to set reasonable expectations on ourselves and all family members–especially little ones and even teenagers.

Camping is a big departure from the norm for a lot of people. Even the best steps for how to plan a camping trip won’t entirely erase instances of grumbling and homesickness. There might be fear and upset. The weather and settings can be unpredictable. You may not get to every goal on the list…and this can create some disappointment. And that’s okay!

DO Work on Preparedness

Camping can be unpredictable, but there are lots of things we can prepare ourselves and our families for when it comes to how to plan a camping trip.

It can be helpful to prepare young children with age-appropriate descriptions of what you might encounter in the woods, and ready them ahead of time to do things outside their norm. This can look like practicing wearing a hat in the woods to avoid tick bites, acclimating them to the feeling of wearing safe swim gear, and working on applying sunblock and insect repellant.

You may also do things like watch movies or shows about setting up tents, campfire cooking, and other camp-related activities to help all family members be prepared and even excited for what lies ahead on their camping adventure.

DON’T Make Camping Scary

While preparedness is important, you also want to keep it in balance. Kids of all ages–and even anxious adults–can lose their joy in the great outdoors if all they are thinking about is snake bites, ticks, drowning, and bear encounters. When preparing for what your camping trip might entail, be sure not to go overboard on the scare-factor.

Wrapping Up How to Plan a Camping Trip the Whole Family Will Love

Two kids and an adult roasting marshmallows over a campfire.

Feeling prepared for how to plan a camping trip the whole family will love? Before you get started, be sure to check out our Camping Gear page. This is a great resource for experience and new campers alike to easily find the gear they need for a trip that will be memorable in all the best ways.