This Place: Families Camping

Laura and Chris Wilson, newly married, moved to Kingston, NB in 2011. “It was a compromise,” Laura laughs, explaining that her husband prefers the wilderness. The couple enjoys the acreage and their quiet life on the peninsula.

The Wilsons always camped together, first taking their two dogs in a tent. But when their son Harrison was two, the couple started a tradition that is now an annual event for their boys. Laura and Chris spend much of their summer camping with sons, Harrison, 4, Duncan, 2, and their two dogs, Colbie and Katie.

The Wilson family spends many summer weekends at their favourite New Brunswick parks to unplug from the hustle and bustle of life. Their top three places to camp give them a place to hike and discover nature, all while building memories for their two small boys.

  1. Kouchibouguac National Park: Laura says the best thing about this park is that they’re completely cut off from the world. “You can get a signal in the bathroom, but that’s it,” she says with a laugh. With no internet, no cell service, and a long drive to any store, Laura says to come prepared (check out her top ten tips to family camping below). She says the park offers a lot for families, like easy hiking trails. Many of the trails are wheelchair accessible, perfect for strollers and toddlers. There is also a dog-friendly beach.
  2. Mactaquac Provincial Park: The campground at Mactaquac is wonderful for kids, offering planned activities for all age groups, like crafts, bingo, and a slip and slide. Laura says that there are kid boxes all along the trails with items that encourage an exploration of nature.
  3. Fundy National Park: If you are looking for a get away that is remote like those above, without the long drive, then Fundy is for you. Relatively local, the park offers a variety of hiking, beautiful views, and family fun. Don’t forget to check out Kelly’s famous sticky buns in Alma.

Camping with two boys under four and two dogs takes preparation, patience, and a positive outlook. Laura claims you need to “know your kid’s limits”. She advises not to push them too far, and not to lose confidence when the tantrums erupt, even on a 5K hike or at bedtime. Laura brings snacks, activities, and drinks to keep the boys from meltdown, yet her best advice is to understand in advance that it won’t ever be the ideal vacation. She remembers a week-long camping trip when both she and Chris got the flu, but she recalls it with a big laugh and says it didn’t stop them from camping again.

She approaches each trip with the knowledge that it won’t be perfect, instead it is the time away from the world with family that matters most. She emphasises the experiences she and Chris are giving the boys, often spending much longer on the trails than expected so they can inspect the insects, the leaves, and the moss, learning about the nature of our province. It’s these moments that make the camping trips worth all the prep, overshadowing the tantrums.

Still, one needs to prepare, and if you are thinking of camping, especially with children, Laura is the expert in family camping preparation. Here are Laura’s Top Ten Tips to Camping:

  1. Know Your Equipment and Your Camping Site: If you’ve just purchased a new BBQ, or stove, or tent, try it out at home first so you know that it has all the parts and poles.
  2. Start with a Packing List: Laura downloads a checklist that fits her family from Pinterest and works through it for each trip.
  3. Pack Extra Everything: Remember a second set of shoes and clothes for the kids–and yourself. Pack more than you need to be prepared for any snafu.
  4. Meal Plan: Laura creates a menu for the week. She often makes slow cooker meals ahead of time and puts those on in the trailer before an adventure. The meal is ready when they return. She brings lots of pre-prepared snacks like veggies, meats, cheeses, and sandwiches, things that can be packed into the hiking pack and easy to grab. The more chopping of vegetables and organizing of meals that can done at home the better. Meal planning gives you more time with the kids and less time preparing meals over a camp stove.
  5. Make It Fun: Laura makes sure to remind herself that her boys won’t be small forever, so these trips are meant to be fun for everyone to enjoy together.
  6. Realistic Expectations: Laura expects things to go wrong, but she doesn’t let the negative impact the bigger picture: time with her family. The perfect trip won’t happen: there will be tantrums, bedtime will be later, mornings start when the sun appears.
  7. Pack Camping-Only Toys: Laura keeps her camp trailer stocked with toys, games, and books that she only uses when they go camping. She often takes a trip to the dollar store for inexpensive and fun toys that are only for the camping trip. She explains that the new things don’t have to be expensive or elaborate, so go to the library for a fresh stack of books and DVDs.
  8. Create a Car Travel Box: Laura makes sure that along with the toys and books she finds things suitable for the car ride, too. She hides a stash of back up new things for the road like snacks, drinks, and fun little toys they wouldn’t normally get at home. “Glow sticks are great for night car rides!” she says.
  9. Try New Things: Laura encourages campers to explore the parks and campsites. The trails and new locations are a great learning experience for the family. The Wilsons explore the woods, often stopping to investigate a fuzzy fern or a wiggly worm. She says they rarely stay at the camp site, instead preferring to break out and explore the new little world around them.
  10. Make Camping About the Family: Laura’s tips are all designed to make the life of the camper easier so that the time you spend is with your family, not stressing about what to eat, where to go, and what you forgot. The lists, the prepared meals, the toys and games, all come down to family time. “The boys love it,” she says. Her boys know that camping season is here, the trailer is ready, and the first trip over the May long weekend sets the stage for their summer fun. Laura’s hope for you is to enjoy your time away from the world and focus on the time you have with your family.