Did you stop travelling, camping, or exploring when you had kids, or when your family grew larger? Are you planning for children and concerned you’ll have to give up your outdoor and adventure lifestyle? Do you already have young kids and are new to overlanding or camping, and wondering how to make it all work?
For us (JC & family), we were super active in camping, off-roading and long distance vehicle based exploring, even before we had kids. Sure, back before little ones it was less work and easier to just pack up and hit the backroads whenever we wanted. Now it’s a bit more work, but we were blessed to gain experience from other young families who were already travelling and adventuring together and making it work. There is hope!
These days, we take our two little ones, a baby and a toddler, with us pretty much everywhere. Whether its a multi-week exploring trip sleeping in a tent in the snow, or a super remote, week-long hunting trip in grizzly and cougar country (almost all of BC is grizzly and cougar country!), we’ve made it work.
We’re by no means experts, just slightly experienced, and have learned some things along the way that we’ll share here. Hopefully this will provide some guidance or tips to some of you out there in adventure-land.
Most of the photos I’ll post below are from a trip last fall from the interior of BC. It was a bit of a mix of everything, with some family visits intermixed with camping and exploring. Within the story, I’ll share our pointers and information for taking kids along on our adventures. Forgive me if the story line and our route doesn’t make much sense!
The trip started off with some easy group camping with family and friends on a 100 acre alfalfa farm in the Shuswap area. The cool evenings made for some nice photos during the week. We even got to tow a Dodge 2500 P/U and attached 30ft enclosed trailer out of the mud (sorry no photos).
DRIVING WITH KIDS:
1) Start with a shorter trip. When you’re starting out, I wouldn’t suggest taking that week-long remote expedition into the unknown. Start with a weekend trip or overnighter to a local Provincial Park or Rec Site.
2) Expect to cover less distance every day. Travelling with kids is slower, period. Packing up the rig in the mornings, extra stops for diaper or bathroom breaks, as well as the unexpected reasons for stopping or pulling over… Don’t try to power-drive all day, you’ll just get stressed out.
3) Ease up on the itinerary. Stuff happens! With kids, there’ll be unexpected delays or stops to be made. We found that going with the flow was just easier all around. The whole point is to get out there and enjoy your time together, so stop at that playground the kids see while passing by. Or even better, take some time to check out the cool looking creek and rocky beach beside the trail you’re driving on. Remember, even though you’ve checked out that stop of interest on the way out of town a dozen times, it may be the first time for your kids to see and experience it!
4) Lunch time = play time! On a three week trip from BC to Colorado, we were covering a lot of highways and main routes to get down to our destination. We found that kids, (and adults!), can become…. less pleasant when hungry and couped up in the truck. Around lunch time we found playgrounds (every town has one) or cool nature spots to stop and make lunch. Your kids can run around and burn off energy while you make up lunch out of the back of your vehicle or trailer. This mid-day break from driving would help settle the kids and prepare them for the rest of the driving journey.
5) Snacks and driving games. Non-messy snacks like cheerios or peanut butter/jam sandwiches works wonders for “quiet time” during the drive. Driving games also help for younger and older kids, if they don’t have their noses buried into their ipads! For toddlers, we would tie their toys to an extra shoestring, that way if they dropped it on the floor where we couldn’t reach it while driving, they could just pull it back into their lap by the string.
Continuing on from the Shuswap, we made our way into Revelstoke and hit the town park for lunch!
Revelstoke is one of the coolest mountain towns in BC with plenty of wilderness, history, and shops/restaurants. During the summer the have a giant farmer’s market and live outdoor concerts every night.
After lazing around town we made our way back to Three-Valley Gap to play by the lake and make dinner. A few trains went by during our stay, but unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures.
After dinner we headed south on logging roads through a valley and along the east side of Mable Lake, eventually coming out at Lumby, east of Vernon.
CAMP TIME WITH KIDS:
1) Give them tasks to help setup. Obviously this only works with toddlers and older kids, and it even may slow down camp setup, but it keeps them busy and helps them to feel they are contributing. Usually we have our toddler scour the area for twigs and kindling to get the fire going.
2) Keep toys to a minimum. If you pack all the kids’ toys from home, there’ll be no room left for anything else! Pick a select few toys to bring along, and pick the ones you don’t mind getting dirty. There are plenty of sticks, rocks, bugs and other natural things to keep the kids busy when out in the bush. For our toddler, we usually bring a ball, his little bicycle and a few books. Most of the time he barely even touches the toys when in camp.
3) Pre-made meals. This cuts down on a lot of cooking time. Making spaghetti sauce, chilli or butter chicken etc. before hand, then freezing it before your trip, makes for easy dinners. Just pour it in the pan and heat it on the stove. We all know food tastes better when camping, so it doesn’t have to be fancy all the time. We pack all our frozen food into a small soft-sided cooler and wrap it in towels/blankets, and have found it stays frozen up to a week this way. You can add a dinner item to the main cooler in the mornings to thaw. Also, it gives us some peace of mind, not stressing about keeping meat cold enough, when we can’t run into town for more ice. For us, we saved the $1000 one would spend on a fridge, and put that money into fuel and more trips.
3) Stroller doubling as the high chair. For the youngins that can’t sit at the big table or hold their own plates, bring a stroller along , one with the built in table tray. Plunk them in there at meal time instead of bringing a separate booster seat or high chair etc. It’s also a safe place to sit the younger ones when you’re repositioning the truck or cooking on the fire etc.
4) Cloth diapers! I hate to say it, but these actually do make things easier than disposables when traveling long hours in a car seat with an infant. You need some good garbage bags, and its gross… but in the end, it was less work than cleaning up the blowouts that covered everything once a day, even with high-end expensive disposables, that involved cleaning up the mess on baby where there shouldn’t be a mess, changing the clothes, and cleaning the car seat etc. It is very rare to have a blowout or leaking cloth diaper, compared to the every-day problems we had with disposables. Some people will argue about this for hours on end. I’m just sharing our experience that it’s been better with cloth diapers. Once a baby is onto solid foods this isn’t an issue anymore.
Along the forest road we found a nice rec site on Wap Lake. It was after dark when we setup, but the view in the morning was worth it. I failed to zip up the Kakadu tent all the way and a pesky mouse came inside overnight. I chased it out by throwing my shoe and a book at it, then made sure everything was zipped up tight. If setup properly, the Kakadu tent seals perfectly to the trailer and no mosquitoes or mice can get in – another reason we love this trailer.
I even managed to get a blurry photo of the northern lights in the middle of the night – thanks to the mouse for waking me up!
TIPS FOR SLEEP TIME:
1) Everyone needs good gear. Kids or adults, you need a good quality sleeping bag. Especially in Canada, where it can snow year round and at almost any elevation. If you aren’t comfortable in bed you won’t enjoy your trip.
2) Kids love flashlights. Kids will break/lose them (so buy cheap ones), or ones with a lanyard you can clip to a belt loop. When its dark everywhere, kids love to be able to sit on their bed or walk around the tent with their own little light. Our toddler holds the light for me while I set things up, and he thinks it’s just play time. It’s a win-win.
3) Bring extra *dark* sheets or blankets. When the sun rises at 530 or 600 am, it usually lights up your tent/vehicle and wakes the kiddos up. Our Kakadu Bushranger has pretty dark canvass, so this isn’t much of a problem anymore, but I remember the days when this wasn’t the case. We brought black sheets and hung them up with safety pins and clips to block out the light. It’s amazing when you wake up at 8am and the kids are just waking up too. If you are in a ground tent, an extra dark coloured tarp strewn over the tent can help, but you don’t want to block all the moisture in underneath the tarp either.
The sunny morning around camp was a hit with everyone, and we took our time eating breakfast and packing up. It was nice not to be in a rush.
Our trusty Coleman stove and cooking gear is basic, inexpensive, and has some great character – just the way I like it.
The stump table also had some character built in.
The rumble of these real big rigs shook the ground as they went by that morning. The drivers exchanged friendly waves with our toddler as they cruised past our camp. It was a nice addition to our great camp stay.
After packing up we completed the route along Mabel Lake, did some poking around the small town of Lumby, then made our way to Vernon to meet with more family. We ended up setting up camp in the dark that night somewhere in the hills above Westwold, and continued west in the morning to scout out some routes for the upcoming Expedition BC group trip to the Cabin Lake area (this trip happened and it was awesome, check it out in the 2017 Trip Report list!). The Spius Creek area looks rugged and the “creek” could probably be called a river instead.
The road into the area turns into a bit of a shelf road and makes for a nice photo.
Due to the off-road vehicle restrictions in place at the time – cased by the bad wildfire season – the road to access Cabin Lake from the east was off-limits (two-track with vegetation between the ruts). We followed more mainline roads to Silver Lake Rec Site. Pretty spot but it was small and overgrown.
We finished off the day with a nice sunset with 8000′ Mt Stoyoma in the background.
Some parting thoughts on taking the kids with you:
1) Start them off young. They will grow up with a love for exploring and for the outdoors.
2) Don’t worry about a little dirt. Kids get dirty, it’s part of being a kid. Just let it happen, it’s probably even good for them.
3) Expect to pack more stuff, have extra work to do, and for things to take longer. This is hard to avoid, but in the end it is so worth it. Your kids will thank you once they are old enough to realize what you did for them. These are part of their formative years. In a time of cell phones and video games, getting out there and interacting with the real world will form some of their best memories. Some of my own personal first memories are travelling through the Canadian Rocky Mountains with the whole family including the golden retriever, splashing in the creeks and looking up at the glaciers and waterfalls.
I hope at least one of these experiences will help you and your family out. Things do get easier with experience and you’ll find you really do enjoy seeing the kids enjoy new outdoor experiences for the first time. Do you remember the first time you saw a bear? Swam under a waterfall? Camped under the stars or saw the northern lights? How about when that mouse snuck into the tent…
Feel free to leave a comment or message us on Facebook page “ExpeditionBC” with any questions or ideas. Better yet, share with us how your family trips have gone and we can share your story on our Facebook page!