Camping with My Family: The Things I Learned, The Things I Forgot


One of our favorite things to do as a family is go camping. It doesn’t matter if we pitch a tent, sleep in the back of our SUV, or rent an RV — we love it all. In fact, my now-seven-year-old son went on his very first camping trip when he was not even one month old! We have a longstanding tradition of camping with a big group of friends and family every fourth of July, and there was no way I was going to miss it, newborn and all.

We still camp several times a year –– at least once or twice a month throughout the summer and fall. Like most modern families, we lead an extremely busy, fast-paced lifestyle, and camping is our favorite way to disconnect from daily stresses and reconnect with one another.

With all that camping experience under my belt, you’d think I have it down to a science, right? Mostly. But believe me, I still forget things (sometimes very important things!) and learn at least one valuable lesson on almost every trip.

Things I’ve Left Behind

Thankfully, I’ve never forgotten several things for a single camping trip. However, I have forgotten one or two major things on several camping trips!

  • Pot and/or percolator. As a family who loves to cook and a momma who loves her coffee, this one was probably my biggest-ever blunder. I packed plenty of pans, but not a single pot. I even forgot my coffee percolator! Needless to say, boiling water in a frying pan and pouring it into coffee cups was interesting.
  • Knife. Technically, we had knives — plastic butter knives. But let’s just say they’re not particularly effective at cutting much of anything.
  • Kids’ activities. We travel and camp frequently, so I keep a bin stocked with “busy” activities like coloring books, card games (we love Uno, Spot It!, and Pass the Pigs), small craft kits, and a few baggies of Legos. It turns out, though, that you actually have to bring it with you in order for the kids to use it.
  • A lighter or matches. I’m a camping enthusiast, not a hardcore survivalist, which means I still haven’t mastered starting a fire with my bare hands. Fortunately, on this particular trip, we had enough fruit, veggies, and sandwich supplies to get by. I now keep multiple extra lighters in our camping bins!

What I’ve Learned

One of the biggest and most important lessons I’ve learned through the trial and error of camping is that sometimes, less really is more. Every time we realized something was left behind, regardless of what it was, we all made do and even laughed about it, which seemed to bring us closer together.

Since I forgot the kids’ activity bin, for example, I took the rainfly off the tent and we stargazed from our sleeping bags instead. My kids still talk about that particular trip, years later, and ask if we can do that again.

Another important thing I’ve learned as a result of forgetting some important camping items is to be present. Instead of getting frustrated and caught up in what I forgot, I’ve learned to laugh it off and make the most of it. Otherwise, I’m sacrificing valuable time with my family — something we’re all short on in this increasingly engaged world.

Plus, I probably forgot those things because I was being present to begin with, focusing on our awesome unplugged getaway!

Family Camping Checklist

In order to (hopefully!) avoid some of the same mistakes I’ve made — or at the very least, avoid forgetting some of the same things I have — I’ve put together a family camping checklist.

Keep in mind, this list focuses on easily-overlooked, easily-forgotten things and not so much the bigger-ticket items like a tent and sleeping bags. If you do need a general camping checklist, REI has one of the best out there.

  • Rainy day activities - Camping, of course, is all about spending time in nature. However, there are times when the weather isn’t cooperating and you find yourself having to hang out in the tent or RV. Books, coloring supplies, puzzles, cards, and board games will keep all ages entertained.
  • Condiments - We all agree that food tastes better when you’re camping, right? But trust me, that’s not totally true when you find yourself eating plain burgers or chicken.
  • Extra batteries - Murphy’s Law of camping states that whatever items you have that require batteries will need replacements during your trip — but only if you don’t have any. Pack a few backups to be safe.
  • Toilet paper - Even if you’re camping at a developed site, there’s no such thing as too much TP.
  • Food storage bags or containers Even if you don’t need these for leftovers, they’ll come in handy for collecting rocks, pine cones, sticks, or bugs.
  • Soap and towels or paper towels - Children (and yes, adults too) manage to get incredibly dirty while camping. You’ll want to have an easily accessible setup for handwashing, even in a developed campground. Trust me, even a short walk feels like an eternity if it involves muddy or sticky hands multiple times a day.
  • Extra clothes and shoes - As I said, kids make impressive messes on camping trips. They also get wet or have occasional accidents, plus weather is more unpredictable the further into nature you go. Keeping everyone dry is paramount to having an enjoyable trip, so save yourself the headache and pack some extra sets of clothes.
  • Bug spray - This one’s simple: no one enjoys being eaten alive by bugs.
  • Band-Aids and tweezers - Much like batteries, Murphy’s Law applies to first-aid supplies. Have some basics on hand to clean up scrapes and remove thorns or splinters just in case.
  • Wipes - Sometimes, camping is extraordinarily sticky. There are some messes (I’m looking at you, s’mores) that even soap and water can’t sufficiently clean and for those jobs, you’ll want wipes.

Hopefully, this list helps you to pack for your next family camping trip without forgetting too many things! Get out into nature, unplug for a bit, and enjoy spending quality time with your family. Camping memories will last a lifetime, so don’t miss out!