How to Plan the Ultimate Family Camping Trip

A young family of four bushwalking

If you're planning your first family camping trip, then one thing is guaranteed. It's going to be a memorable experience!

The question is, will it be memorable because you embraced the outdoors and enjoyed some quality time together? Or will you remember a holiday that was a disaster from start to finish?

There are sure to be new and unexpected challenges that you face when camping with a young family.

Even if it's just your partner and there are no kids to consider, it's still important to adjust your camping adventure to match the needs of first-time campers.

To guide you on your camping journey, we've put together some tips on how to plan the ultimate family camping trip!

Family Camping Checklist: Plan Your Trip in 8 Easy Steps

A young family of four bushwalking

Step 1: Decide How You Want to Camp

Before you decide where you want to go camping or what you're going to take with you, it's essential to decide how you're going to camp.

Maybe your parents always took you camping in a tent when you were a kid but you're considering something more comfortable for your family. Perhaps you spent your childhood holidays in a caravan and never want to step foot in one again!

Every family will have their own camping style. Here are just a few you may want to consider:

  • Camping in a tent: Affordable and fun, tent camping is your back-to-basics camping experience. If you're camping in a tent, keep in mind that the length of your camping trip may be limited to a few days, and you'll need to pack plenty of extras to ensure your young family is comfortable and entertained for the entire trip.

  • Camping in a caravan: Going camping in a caravan, campervan, or another recreational vehicle (RV) will give you access to the most indoor living luxuries on your camping trip, including beds, entertainment, indoor cooking, and heating/cooling facilities. However, you will be limited in the campsites a caravan can access, and you need the right vehicle (and the confidence) to tow a full-size caravan.

  • Camping in a camper trailer: Camper trailers are like a cross between a camping tent and a caravan. They are much smaller than a caravan and easier to tow. At the campsite, they expand to form an off-ground sleeping area with a bed for the parents, as well as extra connected tent space for the kids. With features like extendable awnings and powered outdoor kitchens, you get the outdoor tent camping experience with the best benefits of a caravan. Perfect if you're planning many camping trips with your family! Check out the range of Patriot Campers to get a better idea of what a camper trailer can offer you.

  • Camping in a hybrid camper: A hybrid camper trailer brings you closer again to the caravan experience while still letting you enjoy the great outdoors. These hybrid vehicles are closer to caravans in size while still offering greater accessibility and off-road capability for the most part. Like a caravan, you can expect most, if not all sleeping spaces to be contained inside a hybrid camper, with solid walls and floors rather than the mesh of a tent or standard camper trailer. Your hybrid camper may include luxuries like a toilet and a shower but will still feature the retractable awning and exterior kitchen for outdoor living at its best! Check out the range of Lifestyle Campers to get a better idea of what a hybrid trailer can offer you.

  • Backpacking: A backpacking camping adventure involves carrying all your gear, including a tent, on your back! This method will certainly allow you to get connected with nature and often includes wilderness camping (where you're not camping at any designated site). You might hike to one spot and stay there for a few days before returning to your vehicle, or you might backpack to multiple sites while making your way back to the car. A fun camping adventure, but probably not recommended for most family camping trips!

  • Glamping: This style of camping has exploded in popularity in recent years. Glamping involves camping in tents, yurts, tepees, pods, huts, or similar that have been set up with amenities more akin to a hotel. Glamping typically takes place at private sites with organised activities and meals for adults and kids alike. If you have a reluctant camper in your family or you want to enjoy the outdoors with plenty of structure and luxury, glamping could be an excellent soft entry point.

What Camping Style Do We Recommend?

If you're taking the family camping for the first time and you don't know if you'll ever go again, consider tent camping. If you want more luxury upfront, you could consider glamping, but be aware that this can cost as much or more than conventional accommodation.

If you're going to go camping time and time again, then it might be worth upgrading to something more than just a camping tent. A camper trailer or hybrid camper will help you retain the best elements of tent camping while adding those much-desired creature comforts. A caravan tends to take away some of the outdoor charms of camping trips, and backpacking is a camping style best reserved for experienced outdoor enthusiasts.

Step 2: Determine Where You're Going to Camp

The location that you choose as your campsite will fall into one of a few basic categories.

There's wild camping (also known as wildlife camping, dispersed camping, or bush camping). There are many National Parks across Victoria and other states where you can just choose a spot in the bush and get comfy! If you choose this method of camping, think about nearby amenities and facilities, as well as how far you are from phone reception. Prepare to be as self-sufficient as possible when camping in undesignated camping grounds.

Next up is camping at a designated campsite. Depending on where you go, your site might come with designated fire pits, drop toilets or flushable toilets, and even sources of potable water. Other sites will have little to no amenities and will simply be open areas that are officially designated as campsites by your state or territory.

Caravan parks are another place where you can go camping. These private locations often feature powered and unpowered sites that also suit tents and camper trailers. Larger caravan parks are sometimes called holiday parks and often feature cabin accommodation as well as organised activities and facilities like swimming pools, dining options, and activities for young kids.

If you're looking to go camping in Victoria, the Parks Victoria website is a great place to start to find a campsite.

When selecting a site, it's also important to consider:

  • Accessibility: Can your vehicle and tow easily access the campsite?
  • Reservations: Some campsites, especially private and commercial sites, require you to book in advance, especially during busy holiday periods.

Step 3: Make Sure Everything Is Packed Before You Leave

Camping mug sitting on a sawn off tree trunk

There are so many things to pack ahead of a family camping trip. Your list will vary based on where you are going and whether you're in a tent, camper trailer, or caravan, but it's sure to be a long list either way.

Just some of the items you will need include:

Your family camping packing list may also include toilet paper, duct tape, paper towels, reusable water bottles, ziplock bags, bottle openers, tea towels, personal items, and other essential items

Check out our list of 80+ Caravan, Camper Trailer, and Camping Accessories here.

Or explore the camping accessories we have available at our camping store in Melbourne

Step 4: Plan Your Journey to the Campsite

There's a lot you need to think about when travelling to your campsite, and you need to be able to do it all over the constant chorus of "are we there yet?!"

Once your car is fully packed, here's what you need to do to ensure your camping road trip is as seamless as possible:

  • Make sure your car and camper trailer have been serviced recently and that all insurances are up to date.

  • If you're towing a conventional trailer, camper trailer, or caravan, ensure you know how to do it safely. Take smaller practice trips first if necessary. You also need to ensure that your tow vehicle is suitable for the job.

  • Look up your route in advance and check for any planned road closures. If you need to travel across unsealed roads, make sure your vehicle and your trailer are equipped for the journey.

  • Leaving home early is the best way to avoid traffic and ensure you arrive at your campsite with plenty of time for setup.

  • Pack car snacks, plenty of water, and activities for passengers of all ages. Create a list of items for your kids to spot on the journey, and provide plenty of books, audiobooks, and other electronic devices (with headphones included).

  • Consider swapping drivers if it's a long journey.

  • Have a travel plan in place but be willing to deviate. You may need to stop for extra toilet breaks, to get some fresh air and stretch your legs, or even just to see something cool that you spotted on the way!

Step 5: Plan Site Set Up and Pack Up in Advance

Setting up and packing up is the part of camping that nobody likes, but it has to be done!

Ensure you arrive at your site with plenty of daylight so you have time to pitch your tent or set up your camper trailer. Even if you're sleeping in a caravan, there will still be items that you need to unpack from the car.

Look for a flat, even surface with no overhanging trees to set up your sleeping space. If you are on a sloping surface and you have a caravan or camper trailer, you can adjust the angle of the trailer to create a flat, even surface for all hard-floor sleeping areas.

When it comes to packing up at the end of the trip, make sure you leave the campsite in the condition you found it. Leave plenty of time to pack everything up so you're not taking down the tent or packing away your camper in the dark!

Step 6: Meals and Snacks Are Camping Essentials!

Food is an important part of any camping trip, especially when you're camping with a young family. Hungry children are generally not happy children, so make sure you have plenty of snacks for on-demand eating! Muesli bars, crackers, lollies, dried fruit and nuts, cereal, and other non-perishable foods are all great options. With an esky or a camper trailer fridge, you can also pack snacks and food that need refrigeration.

You need to plan every meal before you hit the road, considering not just what you're going to eat but what you're going to cook it on and serve it on, as well as how you're handling the clean-up.

Plates, cutlery, portable gas cookers, dishwashing liquid, extra water for cleaning, and chopping boards are just the tip of the iceberg.

And if you're going camping with kids, you absolutely can't forget the marshmallows for roasting over an open fire!

Step 7: Provide Structure and Responsibility - But Don't Over Plan!

Children do well in structured environments where there are plenty of tasks and activities to take care of. It's easy to see camping as an activity where you're in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do, but this couldn't be further from the truth.

From bushwalks to kicking a football, there are plenty of recreational activities you can plan. Structure also comes in the form of responsibility, like gathering some wood for the fire or helping to cook and clean up.

While it's important to plan, you should also leave plenty of free time where the kids can just run around the campsite and wear themselves out. A good balance of structured and unstructured play will ensure everyone is happy, no one is bored, and there's plenty of time for adults and kids to enjoy their camping trip. 

Step 8: Plan Plenty of Fun Family Camping Trip Activities 

Speaking of activities, here's a list of fun and games to fill your family camping trip. Just remember to be respectful of other groups when planning these indoor and outdoor activities:

  • Telling stories around the campfire
  • A game of limbo using your longest stick of firewood
  • Games like "Red Light, Green Light" or "What's the time Mr Wolf?" where all you need is a few willing participants and some open space
  • I Spy and Scavenger Hunts
  • Thumb wrestling
  • Shadow hand puppets using a light and the wall of your tent
  • Pack some water pistols and plan some water-based games
  • Ring toss - to play at night, pack some glow sticks and glow bracelets to use as your ring toss equipment!
  • Card games and board games - Uno is just as fun (and competitive) in the bush!
  • Animal watching
  • Stargazing (you can even bring a portable telescope!)
  • Play "When I Went Camping" - Player one starts by stating one item you bring on a camping trip. For example, "When I went camping, I bought one tent". Player two says "When I went camping I bought two flashlights and one tent". Keep going in a circle and see how long you can go listing new items and remembering every other item in number order!
  • Play other games like "Two truths and a lie", "Simon Says", or "Wink murder"

Extra Tips for Your Family Camping Trip

Those are our 8 steps to a perfect family camping trip, but here are some other things to consider.

Don't Just Pack Your Camping Equipment - Test It First

Cast an eye over any item that might need testing, restocking, or refuelling before you leave.

Make sure your camping mattresses inflate and don't have any leaks. Check that your sunscreen and insect repellent are full. Ensure you have batteries for your torches, fully stocked first-aid kits, gas for your camp stove, charged power banks for mobile phones, and more. 

Make Sure There's a Place for Everything and Everything Has Its Place

Consider labelled containers, collapsible hampers, see-through storage boxes, rubbish bins and bags, storage bags, and more.

These camping storage essentials will make your packing, unpacking and repacking much easier.

Stay Dry at All Costs

You can't control the weather, but you can take some extra steps to stay dry if it starts raining.

If you're sleeping in a tent or a soft-floor camper, make sure you put a tarp under the floor and place beds in the middle of the space, away from the edge of the canvas. Leave a few zips slightly down or use diesel heaters to fight condensation.

Awnings and other shades can also help to keep you dry in light rain. Make sure you pack extra clothes that you can change into if you get wet!

And More Importantly, Stay Safe at All Costs

Safety is incredibly important on a camping trip. The first thing to do is make sure you have a fully-stocked first-aid kit. Look into a camping first-aid kit or survival first-aid kit to get an idea of everything that should be included so you can perform basic first-aid in the bush.

Familiarise your kids with the surroundings of the campsite and set boundaries so they know not to wander off too far into the bush or walk onto the open road.

If you are heading off on a family hike or kids are exploring on their own, a whistle can be a useful safety accessory. If they wander too far from the group, they can blow the whistle and you can come and find them.

Consider the Pros and Cons of Pets on a Camping Trip

There are many dog-friendly campsites across Australia, but even if they are permitted, you should consider carefully before bringing your pet along.

Bringing the family dog might be an extra source of entertainment for the kids and a fun little adventure for the dog. It also gives you peace of mind because your furry friend is right there with you, rather than relying on a kennel or family/friends/neighbours to take care of them.

However, unfamiliar environments can also make pets more anxious, aggressive, noisy, or accident-prone. Your dog may not interact well with wildlife or they may inadvertently eat something toxic. Some dogs will also get carsick, and even if all goes well, they may need to stay on a leash the whole time, which isn't so fun for them or you!

First Trip for Everyone? Consider Camping in the Backyard!

It might sound funny, but setting up in the backyard can be a great trial run before heading out on a camping trip. If you want to familiarise your kids with the concept of camping or no one in the family has been camping for a long time, test camping in the garden can be a lot of fun.

Bring Extra Clothes 

When it comes to camping clothes, the more options you have the better. You need spare clothes just in case you get wet or muddy. Extra layers at night are often appreciated, and you should also be prepared for an unexpected heat wave. 

Pack everything from underwear and thermals to t-shirts, shorts, long pants, skivvies, jumpers, waterproof jackets, hats, gloves, and beanies! Pack enough clothes for every day of the trip and then one or two extra days.

Don't Forget a Good Campfire!

If you want your kids to love camping, you can't complete your trip without sitting by a crackling open fire.

As well as keeping you warm in the morning and at night, a campfire can teach kids about fire safety, encourage them to gather wood, and give you a chance to cook on an open fire.

There's nothing like sitting around the light of a fire when the world around you is pitch black. So even if you have a complete camp kitchen, torches, and portable heaters, don't skip out on giving your family the full campfire experience! 

Bring the Comfort of Home with You

Remember that your kids or partner might not enjoy camping quite as much as you on their first time out.

Bringing a favourite toy, a comfortable blanket, or a few electronics might help them settle into the experience a bit easier.

It's easy to get carried away with the idea of going off-grid and being your own version of Bear Grylls for a few days, but for a camping trip with kids and other first-time campers, you might need something a little simpler and more familiar to start with.

Those Are Our Steps and Tips for Camping with Your Family

Our team specialises in camper trailers and camping gear in Melbourne and HobartYou can check out the Camping Adventures online range for shipping across Australia or come and visit our Melbourne showroom if you're interested in buying a camper trailer or hybrid camper for your family.

No matter how you choose to camp, we hope you have an amazing time on your family camping trip!

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