8 Tips For Your First Family Camping Trip

A Great Smoky Mountains campsite in fall with tall, yellow trees surrounding a picnic table, for first family camping trip. Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

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So you’ve decided to take the plunge and head off on your first family camping trip. Great! Here are some tips to make sure it’s a trip you’ll look back on fondly and not one you’d rather forget.

While there are many great things about camping it can often be a case of trial and error to find out what works best for you. Finding out is all part of the adventure! 

Top tips for your first family camping trip

1. Let go of expectations.  

There is no such thing as the ‘right’ kind of camping. Don’t compare. It’s okay that your idea of camping is different from someone else’s.  

Don’t expect everything to be perfect on your first family camping trip. While the following tips deal with the practicalities of camping, I feel this one is the most important. Sure enough, whether it’s the weather or a forgotten piece of equipment, some things won’t go to plan. Don’t be afraid to ask for (or accept help) if you need it. We campers are a friendly bunch and are always willing to lend a hand.




2. Choose a camping ground that best suits you and your family.

Roasting marshmallows over an open campfire, first family camping trip. Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

Choosing a campground can sometimes seem overwhelming – there are so many options. Have a think and discuss with your family the most important things the camping ground must have.

Decide on your top 3 priorities. Are flushing toilets and hot showers important?  Do you need somewhere that allows dogs? Is being able to have a campfire essential?

Once you’ve nailed down what is important to you hop online and start researching campsites. Luckily, there are lots of resources available online to help you find the best place for you.  

Are you In the States? Recreation.gov and reserveamerica.com are great places to start your search.

Are you planning on camping in the UK or Europe? Check out our post on how to find a place to camp

When choosing a camping ground, investigate activities that are nearby that you might want to do. Is it near water? Can you go kayaking or boating? Any walking trails or hikes nearby? What level of difficulty are they? Any other places of interest you could visit?

Also, think about activities to do in and around the campground. Stuck for ideas? How about a photographic scavenger hunt?

3. Be aware and be prepared.

An overhead shot of two people planning a trip with a map and a laptop on a wooden surface, for first family camping trip. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Take the time to research the natural environment of the area you’ll be camping in.  What do you need to be aware of? While there are so many great things about being outdoors, there will also be some potential wildlife annoyances and even some possible dangers you will need to think about too.

Do you need to beware of bears, snakes, poison ivy, ticks?

Here in Scotland, we can walk through the woods or grassland without fear of bears or deadly snakes (phew!). However, we do need to be aware of bitey insects such as midges and ticks and keep an eye out for stinging nettles. 

Another thing you may also need to consider is how to keep your food and/or garbage protected from animals such as racoons, bears or foxes. Nothing will ruin your camping trip faster than your food being scavenged by a wild animal!

So do your research – check online for advice given on the particular area or campground you are going to.

If you find you need to take special equipment, first aid supplies or clothing (we have midge spray, midge nets, a tick remover and antihistamine cream), be sure to add them to your list. This brings us to Tip Number 4…

4. Make a list. Check it twice.

Spiral notebook with pen, for making list for first family camping trip. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Not sure what to take? Or are you worried about leaving something behind? Use our checklist as a starting point and add or remove items to suit your needs.  Using this list is also a great way to ensure you pack everything into your vehicle.

If there is something you don’t have, don’t rush out and buy it straight away. Check with friends or neighbours to see if you can borrow it. When we first started camping in the UK we used borrowed gear – it helped us decide what we needed, and what we didn’t.

Remember to bring activities for both indoors if it rains, or if you want to stay out of the heat (for example cards, games, pens, paper) as well as outside (sports equipment, bikes etc).

Bring your list with you, and make notes if you think of something that you’d like to bring next time or things you bought but didn’t use at all. Make notes if anything needs repairing, breaks or is difficult to use. This will all help with planning your next trip, because YES, there will be a next time!

5. Practice setting up the tent

If you are camping in a tent (rather than in a caravan, cabin etc) practice setting it up first.

This is important because:

a) You need to know exactly how big your tent is (your tent footprint) for finding (or pre-booking) your pitch at the campground.

b) You never know how fast you’ll need to set it up (or take it down). If big dark rain clouds appear overhead just as you arrive at your campground, you’ll want to get your tent up pretty quick!

So make sure you feel confident about setting it up.  Check the instruction manual (despite what your husband/wife/partner might say to the contrary!) Check that you have all the required equipment such as ropes, poles, pegs, mallet etc.

There’s nothing like that feeling of satisfaction of getting your tent set up quickly, relaxing with a cool drink, and knowing your camping break is officially underway. 

6. Check equipment

A lit burner underneath a metal pot next to a man sitting in his campsite, for first family camping trip. Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash
Check all the equipment is working as it should, and you know how to use it. For example, do you know how to work the gas stove, and replace the gas if it runs out? Do you have the right kind of fuel for your stove?

Do you know how to use the pump for the air mattress? Or repair the air mattress if it gets a leak?

Does your lighter have enough lighter fluid in it? Are there plenty of matches in the box? You’ll need more than you think!

7. Plan your journey

Whether you’re camping close to home or travelling further afield, plan your journey so you arrive at your destination with plenty of time to set up before it gets dark.

If you think the time may be tight between setting up and getting dark, bring along a simple pre-cooked meal you can reheat quickly. Or, if you’re not keen on attempting camp cooking on your first trip, plan to eat elsewhere and stay in a campground near to a pub or cafe.

8. Go easy on yourself (and your family)

Don’t insist on doing ALL THE THINGS.

If your first camping trip involves travelling hundreds of miles away from home, setting up a truckload of gear, attempting several strenuous hikes, and undertaking a cooking-from-scratch extravaganza over an open fire every night you’ll soon find yourself (or your family) grumpy and/or exhausted.

It’s okay to camp close to home, take leisurely walks, and cook easy pre-prepared food. You can build up to the other things over time if that’s what you want to do.

There are so many great reasons to go camping. Remember to take the time to relax and enjoy the experience of your first family camping trip and the memories you are making.

With a little bit of planning and preparation, you can feel confident heading out into the great outdoors, and we’re sure that your first family camping trip, won’t be your last.

Pin This labelA Great Smoky Mountains campsite in fall with tall, yellow trees surrounding a picnic table, for first family camping trip. Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
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