Inside: If your family is into summer camping, read on to learn how to prepare for camping with a special child.
It’s officially summer! It’s 32 degrees Celsius in our place and I feel really hot! But I should not complain and just welcome this weather, which for me personally is better than the very cold winters.
On this second pandemic summer, we have planned to go summer camping again next weekend and sleep in tents. Like last year and the previous years. It’s been a family tradition for our extended families.
Some of you may have been planning for a summer get away somewhere, but with the pandemic still around, it’s kind of scary to go anywhere and ride the plane. At least, we are slowly going back to normal activities, although we still have to strictly wash our hands and practice social distancing. So, let’s just go camping instead. I’m sure everyone is excited to go out after more than a year of staying at home so COVID-19 will not spread around.
Are you ready? Of course, the whole family is excited! I have researched so you know how to prepare for camping with a special child in tow.
Of course you’re thinking, ” Can I really bring my special child with the whole family? ” Why not, he may have special needs but he has the right to enjoy and spend time with everybody. This will be a special bonding time for everyone – to relax, unwind, breathe some fresh air and enjoy nature.
Be sure to plan and prepare what to bring so nothing is missed and everybody can just have fun.
I promise you, it will be a summer escapade galore!
Where to go
Months or weeks in advance, you need to plan where the family wants to go and reserve or book the place.
I assume you did this already. Did you book a cabin or a tent area? Or are you bringing your camper? Either way, all three are fun places to stay.
Is your site somewhere close, like half an hour ride or maybe up to 2 hours is good. But some families love to go long driving, like a 3-4 hour or more travel, which might be uncomfortable though for the kids, especially your special one.
You can actually make a long trip comfy by breaking it into shorter trips. How do you do that?
Rest in between, like after an hour or two, look for a park with a picnic table or a grocery store with some benches outside where you can rest or maybe eat your snacks or lunch. Don’t forget social distancing, if there are other people in the area!
Even a 30-45 minute rest would give everyone a space to relax and a time to stretch and fill the hungry tummy.
Then, off you go again for another ride. Make sure that you let Dad or whoever is driving know that you need to stop every after 1-2 hours of driving to recharge.
Plan your activities and meal preparation
Planning is key to success, comfort, and fun in camping.
If you are camping with your extended family or friends, like what we do all the time, for sure there maybe a minimum of 4-5 families or around 16-25 people.
For a big group like this, it will be surely fun and the most important thing is to decide how you will prepare your meals.
For our group, we usually assign which family prepares this or that meal, so we prepare and cook only once or twice for that weekend get away.
On the first day though, that is on check in day, each family brings packed lunch or dinner, so we don’t worry what to eat when we get to the site and we can focus on pitching our tents or preparing for the first night.
That said, you know what food and cooking utensils to bring when you have planned your menu for your assigned day and specific meal. For example, you don’t need to bring eggs when you are assigned to prepare dinner on a Saturday.
How about activities in the camp?
Swimming is an all-time favorite for kids, including your special one.
When booking for a camp, always look if the site has a swimming pool or a suitable lake. Be sure to be with your kids at all times during these activities for safety reasons. I’m not sure though if swimming pools are open already due to COVID-19 precautions. If they are, the kids will really have more fun!
Outdoor games like badminton, frisbee or parlor games would be enjoyable as well for the whole family.
Be sure to bring those rackets and shuttlecocks, frisbee flying disks and materials for parlor games like sacks, big hankies, empty bottles, etc.
What to bring
It is best to make a list of what to bring so you will not forget anything or at least you will be able to bring the most essential things that you need.
I remember in one of our tent campings, my husband forgot to bring our sleeping bags, it’s good that my brother’s family were in their camper with heating, so they let us use their sleeping bags.
Here is a list of what you will need:
1. Shelter and sleeping needs
- Tent- make sure that what you have from years before is still usable and clean, otherwise, you have to buy again. Does it fit everybody or do you need an additional tent if everybody will not be accommodated? If you want to purchase a new one, you can buy at AMAZON by clicking here.
- Sleeping mattress or airbed- don’t forget to bring the pump to put some air
- Sleeping bag – it is usually cold late at night and early morning, so this is really important; suitable for one to 3 -persons depending on the number of family members; lots of choices at AMAZON.
- Extra blankets- the regular ones that you can use at daytime when you want to have a nap or just want to lie down
- Weighted blanket- if you have one, bring it!
This post contains affiliate links. Read here the full affiliate disclosure.
2. Cooking and serving materials
- Match or a lighter
- Kettle, frying pan, rice cooker – you have to know what food are you cooking so you know what to bring
- Chopping board
- Disposable platters or plastic ones that you can wash to use again
3. Eating utensils
- Disposable plates, spoons and forks, glasses
- Serving spoons
4. Clean up materials including stuff for bathing and swimming
- Tissue paper
- Boxed tissue
- Toiletries-including soap, body wash, body scrub or sponge, shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste, dental floss
- Bathing suit
- Make-up, lipstick, deodorants
- Diapers ( click to buy ) for small kids or even for your non-toilet trained special one
5. Food and Water ( think of your assigned meal plan so you don’t miss anything )
- Bottled water
- Water for cooking in a large container
- Cooler with ice and hot dogs, pre-cooked food
- Snacks-cookies, chips, nuts
- Drinks, including milk for young kids and your special one
- Coffee or chocolate for grown-ups
- Travel food in a separate bag for long trips- usually cookies, nuts, including water
- Pre-packed lunch or dinner depending on your check-in time so you can concentrate on putting up your tent upon arrival
- Other food- meat, fish, dried food such as beans, eggs, vegetables, spices, salt, marshmallow, etc
- Sweaters, jackets, toque, scarves, mitts- Be prepared for cold nights and on early mornings
- Jogging pants- especially because there could be mosquitoes or ticks
- Jammies, preferably long-sleeve tops
- Shorts and light-colored or white shirts for daytime use when it’s usually hot
- Caps or hats
7. Other Essentials
- Light for the tent and for your dining table
- Camp chairs
- Alcohol or disinfectant ( very essential now for COVID precautions
- Insect repellant
- Coins- some showers need coins to function
- Hanging ropes for wet towels and clothes
- Books and board games – reading to your special one can still continue outside or inside your tent or camper
- Camera or phone
- House keys
- Travel diary if you are fond of recording your experiences
- CD’s to entertain you while traveling for long trips
- Balls, Badminton sets, freebies
- Small toys for your special child
- Lightweight stroller for your special kid- very important!
Related post: How to Travel with a Stroller: Ten Best Lightweight Strollers ( for Children with Special Needs )
Set up your tent properly
Plan on putting up your tent properly especially if you have kids and your special kid in tow. You never know how the weather will behave while you’re in camp.
It could start really warm but could rain anytime. One time, when we were camping, it rained really hard with strong winds that my husband had to hold our tent from outside so it won’t collapse. Good thing, it stopped after an hour and we did not get wet inside.
What do you do during camping?
When you have small kids and a special child with you, fun activities need to be planned so they don’t get bored.
Activities that kids enjoy are swimming, outdoor sports like biking, ball games, badminton, etc.
Hiking could also be fun if your special child can walk by himself, or you can push him in his stroller if there’s a somewhat smooth path.
Or, if he is able, and you don’t want to bring his stroller, let him stroll at the start, then maybe carry him later in your back if he gets tired. Then plan to go back to your tent at this point, otherwise your back will get sore carrying him for a very long walk.
As you progress with your hike, show your special child the plants, flowers, trees, or animals around you and this could be an educational experience for him as well.
Campfire and barbecuing or grilling hot dogs and marshmallows are things that they also love.
This is a special time for families and friends to bond by sharing experiences or jokes around a campfire, or sharing music by singing in a guitar accompaniment, if your family is musically-inclined.
If possible, tell your kids to limit the use of social media ( phones, laptops, DVDs, etc ) and instead encourage them to play active games and interact with family especially siblings and cousins their age.
After the camping, what?
Be sure to ask your older kids to help you out with folding the tent and keeping all the things that you need to bring home.
Make your trip back home fun by playing music and singing while traveling. If you think your special child cannot handle the noise, put on him an earphone.
You can also play games in your car, like the ” I spy ” game where you take turns in saying something that you see around, for example, a red flower, and let the other family members guess where it is.
When you are already close to where you live, you can eat out in a restaurant so you don’t have to prepare another meal at home because by then you will be very tired.
Then, putting away stuff is another hurdle to do. Try to keep all things in their proper places so when you need them again in your next camping trip, you know where to look for them.
Inspect all your stuff and clothing to make sure that you don’t have ticks with you.
Remember, that weekend with your family including your special one is a precious event.
He will always cherish those times with you. Keep memories alive through pictures and videos.
Lastly, if possible, allot a day for rest and to put all stuff in proper places before you go back to work , so productivity in your workplace is not affected.
Till next camping!
Originally published: June 28, 2018 Updated: July 1, 2021
Do you and your family love camping? Do you always bring your child with special needs? Not that hard, right? Please share your experiences with us.
18 thoughts on “How to Prepare for Camping with a Special Child ( Summer Escapade Galore!! )”
Thank you for compiling the lists of gear and giving us some great activity ideas. Playing I spy in the car is actually a lot of fun and it helps to pass the time. You have me thinking about the trips our family used to take to a cabin. At night we would all take turns making up part of a story. Everyone got to have a part and by the end of it that story was out there. Good times. Have a wonderful day.
Looks like you always had a lot of fun. Awesome memories for our kids to cherish.
We are actually going for camping today till Sunday.
We’ll be sleeping in tents and looking forward to swimming in the pool to freshen us with the summer heat.
Thanks for reading.
I have been really worried about this topic because there are some times when I just get to think of how these special children would spend time away from home and not get to lack anything that would be vital to them staying comfortable.
Seeing an article that gives clarity on that is just a great idea and so many parents would benefit from it as myself, and I would be able to give assistance to others in need.
Yes, our special needs kids, just like us, need some time to go out with family and enjoy.
Last weekend, we did our first camping with extended family, including my sister’s family with her special daughter, and everything went fine, except for some annoying mosquitoes.
Thanks for reading.
I love camping a lot but for a long time now, I can’t camp because of the whole pandemic issue, but now that things are being eased off a little bit, there might be a chance that the whole extended family will go camping.
We have a special kid and we will need some help that’s why I came here. I should share this with the whole family so they can read this and be conscious of the tips here, too.
Our extended family with my special niece and her family enjoyed camping last weekend and everybody had fun!
We all slept in our tents and although it rained for some hours early on our second night, we still bonded really well.
Glad that my post is helpful for your family.
I’ve been so much anticipating the chance to get out of this house for about 2 days or 3 with my family, very funny how my wife is still so scared of Corona virus, I bet she won’t take the idea for now but we can always plan ahead of time. This article is just what I need, it contains all needed for a camping trip and I like it, thank you.
I know, it is still scary to go out camping, but as long as you adhere to precautions, you should be fine.
My extended family is bound to an hour and a half travel to a family-owned campground for two nights sleeping in tents, starting today and we’re all excited to go.
But, of course if your wife says no, please understand that it’s for the sake of everyone.
Thanks for reading.
I agree that special needs children have a right to have fun and go camping and I appreciate you writing a post on the topic.
Breaking up a longer trip into shorter ones is great advice. Assigning meals is a great idea too. Maybe a good way to do it is to draw from a hat?
I’m glad you reminded us about swimming and parlor games. One game I loved as a kid was foosball, and I’m sure a special needs child would love games like these too.
You’ve linked to some important and quality products such as the SOULOUT Sleeping Bag and weighted blankets. I’m definitely bookmarking your page for camping trip reference, thank you!
Our special needs kids deserve fun so they should not be left out during camping.
I got intrigued with how foosball is played, so I googled it and it looks like you need fine motor skills to play it, so special kids can handle it as long as he has developed his fine motor skills in his hands.
Thanks for reading.
Thank you for this post.
I really appreciate the long trip break tip. So many times I just want to get to the end and don’t take the time to think that a few stops in between will make a huge difference.
I already use the family meal assignment technique. It makes the trip so much easier when everyone know who’s responsible for what provisions and who’s handling what meals. What I really hadn’t considered was each family being responsible for their own first-day/day of arrival meals. That makes perfect sense and there’s no need to worry so much about when everyone will arrive and so on.
I appreciate the list of necessities and will add it as a check-off list for future trips.
Thank you so much…this was really helpful.
Glad to share those tips.
Great article. I love how you recommend swimming, while remembering to remind parents to always have a watchful eye on children during this time. It is so important, whether a child has special needs or not.
Also, you’re what to bring checklist is so handy! I would have never thought of some of the items you listed. The list actually sparked my imagination on some ideas for my own camping trip this summer.
I love the advice about splitting up a long drive to couple hour increments. Even us adults get antsy being in the car for much longer than that.
Do you think it may even be a good idea to stay over night at a motel halfway through if our trip is more than six hours of drive time?
Thank you again for the information!
Staying in a motel overnight if the trip is really long is the best option if we consider safety and health of everyone.
The driver and the whole family can rest and have good sleep then will be fresh and well relaxed for the trip the next morning.That is, if there’s only one driver, but if there are 2 or more, then you can choose to schedule who drives for certain hours and just continue the trip.
Enjoy you summer camping!
Thanks for this info. I don’t have a special needs child, but I know a few families who do and this list helps me think about those extra details that I can help out with to make it a fun trip for everyone. Do you have any camping games that you’ve found most kids to enjoy?
Preparing for camping with a special needs child is just like any camping but with some additional perks, like bringing the special child’s weighted blanket ( if they have ), favorite toy or book, special food, etc.
Of course camping games are also very important for everyone to have fun. Ball games, like ” ball hitting ,” on land or in the water ( pool or lake ) are one of those that everybody will enjoy. Badminton, frisbee, scavenger hunt, chase the donkey’s tail, and some parlor games will surely bring laughter to all, as well.
Thanks for dropping by. Do you have plans of going camping this summer?
I really enjoyed the reading!
One of my friends has a child with special needs, and she really wants to go camping in the summer, but she was worried about it. I will show her this article; I am sure she will love it! There are lots of excellent tips!
Thank you very much for this useful post!
Thanks for the nice comments.
Please tell your friend she does not need to worry, it’s just like at home with awesome fun outdoors.