Camping with a Toddler: A Survival Guide

camping at goldstream provincial park

We recently went camping on Vancouver Island for two nights with our two-year-old. It was our first time camping with the Beast, and there was much teeth-grinding dread in anticipation of it. Would the Beast sleep through the night? Given that our toddler has a tendency to make a run for it any chance he gets, how were we going to enjoy ourselves while being on high alert 24/7? Was I going to have my sanity intact by the end of the trip?

Fortunately, the Beast did sleep well for the most part. And we ended up having heaps of fun in spite of the challenging moments. Things certainly did go wrong, but in the end it was all worth it.

Every time I’ve gone camping I’m astonished by how at ease I feel being outdoors all day and all night. It’s like some primal part of my being instantly feels at home being out in nature. It was gratifying to provide this experience to our son and watch him enjoy his first camping adventure.

I am no camping expert, but I wanted to share some tips based on our first camping trip with our two-year-old that I hope other parents with toddlers will find helpful.

Here are 12 tips for surviving a camping trip with a toddler.

surviving camping with a toddler

1. Have non-ambitious plans
Our agenda for this trip was to make it as easy as possible. We made no plans to do anything that would require a great deal of effort. We mostly just hung out. Our campsite was right next to a playground so we spent a lot of time there with the Beast.

2. Go with friends
I wouldn’t have done this camping trip on our own, and I’m so glad our friends invited us to join them. It’s gobs more fun to go with another family. We took turns preparing meals and that worked out really well. After our kids went to sleep we sat around the campfire chatting and drinking beers. Speaking of beer…

3. Bring plenty of booze
They don’t call alcohol “mommy’s little helper” for nothing. Booze is a good way to reward yourself after a long day of being hypervigilant and looking after a toddler who has absolutely no regard for his own mortality.

4. Mentally prepare yourself not to get much sleep
Does anyone ever get a good night’s sleep while camping? I felt like I slept no worse this time around than I did on previous camping trips in my pre-baby years. If possible, take a nap in the afternoon to catch up on some Z’s. That’s what I did, and it helped mitigate the wretchedness I feel after a night of poor sleep.

camping with a toddler

5. Find ways to contain your toddler
Our boy is a super active toddler who is allergic to staying still. Being outside 24/7 with no walls to contain the kid proved to be exhausting, so there were times when we were very tempted to tie him to a tree. We gave ourselves breaks from having to chase him all over the place by attempting to contain him occasionally. We brought a portable booster chair in order to strap him down during meals. He slept in a pack ‘n’ play so that he wouldn’t be bouncing around in the tent like a crazed ferret. We slapped on a harness (a.k.a. a baby leash) on him to prevent him from darting into the road after he almost got hit by a car. It turned out that the best way to contain him was to park him in the back of our friends’ SUV. He loved chilling in the trunk with the door open.

6. Prepare food ahead of time
I chopped veggies at home to avoid having to bring a cutting board and knife. I also pre-cooked food and froze it. When it was time to eat, the food was already defrosted and all I had to do was reheat it. For fruit, I packed grapes and blueberries because they travel well. I also brought dried fruit and cheese sticks – easy finger foods.

camping with a toddler

7. Use disposable everything
In an effort to have a hassle-free camping experience, I resorted to using disposable plates, cutlery, cups, and paper towels. It’s wasteful and terrible for the environment, I know, but camping with a toddler is hard enough so I get a free pass, right? I highly recommend doing anything it takes to minimize the number of dishes to wash.

8. Accept filth and dirt as inevitable
I mentally prepared myself to be okay with dirt because that’s part of the camping experience. We did not bother bathing the Beast, and we used baby wipes to clean his hands before meals. I managed to brush my teeth and face once a day and that was good enough. Remember, easy is the name of the game!

9. Go on a hike
We went on an easy 1-hour hike with our toddler. He walked most of the way since we didn’t bother bringing our stroller. It was a great way to tire him out for his afternoon nap! This was our most ambitious activity during the entire camping trip.

10. Try to stick to your toddler’s routine but be flexible
The Beast normally has set meal times, but while camping I let him eat whenever and whatever he wanted to eat since food was always within reach. We pretty much stuck to his sleep routine, putting him down at the usual times he normally goes down for naps and bedtime.

11. Bring warm clothes and blankets (yes even in summer)
Even though it was July and sunny, it was freakin’ cold, especially overnight. We unfortunately were underdressed, and my sleeping bag didn’t keep me warm at night (hence the reason why I didn’t sleep well). We used a winter-weight sleepsack for our toddler but next time I would definitely get a sleeping bag for him. I worried the whole night he wasn’t warm enough even though for PJ’s he was wearing a onesie plus a fleece sleeper over it. But then again maybe he wasn’t that cold because the second night he sprung a major diaper leak that soaked right through his sleepsack and he slept fine the whole night. Anyway, better to be safe than sorry – so take extra blankets and sweaters!

12. Pack extra extra clothes for your toddler
Every parent who’s traveled with their toddler knows to pack extra clothes. Toddlers are exceptionally talented at generating all sorts of liquids from every orifice of their body. So for camping take even more spare clothes because you won’t have access to laundry facilities and your toddler will manage to soil herself one way or another. During this trip, the Beast had more diaper leaks than normal. Given his overnight diaper leak (see #11), next time I would put a pull-up diaper over his normal diaper for bedtime in order to prevent him from soaking his PJ’s and sleepsack.

Bonus tip: Let go and have fun.

Camping with a toddler turned out be more enjoyable than I expected. It’s a shitload of work (literally, as the Beast pooped generously and frequently during our trip), but it’s fun to see your kid have a great time as he explores the outdoors. I hope we do it again next summer!

Have you gone camping with a toddler? Any tips you’d like to add?

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Motherhood, Career, and Finances


Our boy recently turned two, so I’ve been reflecting on my time as a mother. Any honest parent will tell you that having kids is both wonderful and terrible. Personally, the challenging parts stand out in my memory more than the good times (due to the negativity effect). To overcome this cognitive bias, I try to consciously shift my perspective so I focus on the pros rather than the cons of becoming a mother.

Specifically I’ve been reflecting on how having a child has impacted my career and finances. While we were expecting my two biggest anxieties were how having a child would kill my career aspirations and how it would send us to the poor house. I confess that I had a very doom and gloom attitude. Surely a kid would ruin both, I thought. However, while reflecting on the last two years, it became clear that the outcomes have been unexpected.


Having a child has made me more ambitious than ever. Initially, I assumed motherhood would have the opposite effect. But I am now more focused on my career than I’ve ever been before. Having a kid makes you worry about finances all the time, and I want to be able to provide for the Beast, not just with material things, but more importantly with experiences that will make him happy and shape his character.

While pregnant I wasn’t sure whether I would end up working from home so I could spend more time with the Beast or working full-time and placing the kid in daycare. I was leaning towards the former. But while on maternity leave it became very clear that working at home and doing childcare was not the the option for me. To be frank, taking care of a child all day is just not my thing. It simply does not provide the mental stimulation I need. Soon after the Beast turned one, I started making moves to find a full-time job as a graphic and/or web designer. I beefed up my portfolio and hit the pavement applying for jobs in Vancouver. Within four months I landed my current job working as a full-time graphic designer. This was the shortest job search I’ve ever conducted. I was extremely motivated to secure a full-time job because by that point I was fed up with working from home and doing childcare, so I really hustled.

There were two books that really inspired me to pursue my career goals post-baby. I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In while I was on maternity leave. Reading Lean In showed me that I do not have to compromise my career goals simply because I am a mother. I owe to it that book for going back to work full-time. More recently, I read another book on mothers and careers called The MomShift by Reva Seth, which I found inspiring, as it was filled with stories of mothers who achieved career success after having children. And these weren’t Sheryl Sandberg types who have millions in the bank and round-the-clock nannies. They were your typical everyday women.

I feel ambitious career-wise more than ever because motherhood is not the end all be all for me. There is more to my identity than being a mother. Motherhood is just one aspect of my life.


Like I mentioned before, having a child has caused me to fret about our finances more than ever. I worried about financial ruin constantly while pregnant. (Did I mention I have a tendency to catastrophize?). Midway through my pregnancy we became a single-income family so I really agonized about how we were going to afford raising a child, especially in a pricey place like Vancouver.

Expecting a baby definitely motivated us get our finances in order and be disciplined about our money. We paid off our student debt, saved up enough for an emergency fund, started contributing monthly to our RRSP (retirement savings), got life insurance, and wrote our will. We track every dollar we spend and review our budget on a regular basis. There is nothing like the fear of living in a cardboard box to whip me into financial shape. Having two incomes again definitely helps. But financially things remain tight mainly due to the insanely high daycare fee we pay every month and did I mention we live in Vancouver, a.k.a. No Funds City? Amazingly, though, we are able to put money away every month for our future because we live within our means and we carefully consider every purchase that’s not a fixed cost. Every dollar of income is accounted for so no more mindless spending!

Therefore, having a kid, to my pleasant surprise, did not ruin my career nor did it bankrupt us. The Beast motivated us to be more responsible when it comes to career and finances. Of course, he has also brought a lot of good into other parts of our lives. There is more joy and laughter. Yes, it’s challenging being a mother. And there are aspects of motherhood I definitely dislike, but that’s another blog post!

How has raising a kid(s) impacted your career and finances?

The Birth of Arthur Jacob

toesI had a baby. For the first time. Giving birth was a crazy, wonderful experience.

There are many horror stories about birth out there, but I actually had a positive birth experience. So I want to do my little part and share my story so that if perhaps a pregnant woman happens to read my story she will be encouraged rather than terrified.

My water broke on Tuesday, June 17 at around 2:30am. I felt a “pop-pop” sensation in my belly as I turned myself to the left side, and then a small amount of water rushed out in my underwear. I felt strangely detached from this event even though it was the moment I had been waiting for. Even though I knew it was a sign that labour was imminent, I felt rather calm about it. I went to the bathroom to check the colour of the fluid – it was pinkish. Yep, definitely amniotic fluid. I wondered if I should page the midwife but decided to try to go back to sleep instead. However, it was really, really hard to fall back asleep because I kept anticipating contractions to start but all I felt were menstrual cramps, which I’d been experiencing on and off for weeks. Ian was sleeping in the other bedroom, but I didn’t wake him up to let him know what had happened. I wanted to make sure he was well rested in case I went into labour that day. We had been sleeping in separate rooms during my last trimester because of all my thrashing about in bed and the infinite amount of pillows it took in order to prop my pregnant self so that I could sleep comfortably.

Finally at 7:30am I paged the on-call midwife, who happened to be Jasmine, and she told me I was actually supposed to call her as soon as my water had broken because I had tested positive for GBS. Oops! Jasmine told me to meet her at BC Women’s right away so she could put me on antibiotics to reduce the risk of baby getting an infection. She also mentioned that it was recommended that I be induced within the next 24 hours, again to avoid the risk of infection.

I texted my sister-in-law Martha to come pick us up right away, and she drove Ian and me to the hospital (we don’t have a car). Even as amniotic fluid continued to leak out of me, it did not sink in that labour could start at any moment. Also I was worried about being induced. I didn’t know that induction was the protocol if my water broke before going into labour.

When we arrived at BC Women’s, the labour and delivery ward was pretty busy, so we had to wait for a while to get an assessment room. Some time after 9am I was checked in and got the antibiotics. Jasmine talked to us about options for induction. I really wanted to avoid a medical induction and opted to try castor oil to get labour going. All I was feeling were irregular menstrual cramps since my water broke. So on the way home from BC Women’s, we picked up a bottle of castor oil and a carton of pineapple juice at Safeway. I blended four tablespoons of castor oil with a cup of pineapple juice as Jasmine had recommended and drank it at around 11am. I hoped for the best. Afterwards, I tried to sleep but I kept worrying about being medically induced. Even though I had heard how effective castor oil was at starting labour, I was afraid that it might not work for me.

About two hours later, at around 1pm I started to feel strong menstrual cramps. Plus, I felt very nauseous. By 2pm when Jasmine showed up at our apartment to give me another dose of antibiotics, I was in active labour and the contractions were quite intense. I asked Ian to call our birth photographer Megan, and she showed up right away. I couldn’t even say hello to her because by then I was in hindbrain mode – I had crossed over to a more primal state of being.

As labour intensified, I vomited a few times, which was a weird sensation because I hadn’t thrown up since I was a kid. When the contractions finally started to feel very painful, I fired up the TENS machine to help cope with the pain. The TENS machine didn’t numb the pain but it did distract me from it. It gave me something to do when a contraction surged through me. Ian and Martha helped me keep my rhythm and breathe through my contractions, which I found harder than I thought it was going to be. They took turns warming the heat pad, which was very soothing on my stomach. I heard Jasmine talking on the phone. Later I learned she was trying to get me a room at BC Women’s as they were on the verge of being over capacity. Meanwhile Megan was quietly taking photos. Weirdly at this point it still hadn’t really sunk in that I was in labour. I was moving around our apartment changing positions to help me deal with what felt like the worst menstrual cramps of my life. I suppose because I was home things just kind of felt normal and natural.

At around 5pm I was 6 to 7 cm dilated and contractions were 2 minutes apart; it was time to head to BC Women’s again. I had no idea how I was going to walk over to the car as the contractions came over me. But somehow we inched towards Martha’s car, stopping every couple minutes as I breathed through each contraction. Fortunately we live close to BC Women’s so the car ride was just bearable as we went through rush hour traffic. Miraculously, traveling to the hospital and being in a new space did not stall labour. Things were progressing at full throttle.

When we arrived at the hospital Martha went in and brought over a wheelchair to me, and I was appalled by what I saw. The wheelchair resembled a shopping cart. It was made out of wire mesh with no padding. It was extremely uncomfortable to sit in, and I would have preferred to walk instead of riding on the damn thing but I couldn’t talk. Also the whole time as I was being wheeled around I was thinking I need an epidural but again I couldn’t vocalize my thoughts. Even though I wanted an epidural I had some misgivings about it – I was afraid it would stall labour and I just wanted get the thing done. So I’m glad I didn’t say anything about the epidural. I had overheard that Jasmine was going off duty at 8pm and I didn’t want to face a midwife change during labour so I was determined to get the baby out before then.

As soon as we arrived at our hospital room, the bath was started. When it was ready I stripped my clothes off and jumped into the bathtub at around 6pm. When you’re deep in labour you have no qualms about being naked. You’re just like any other animal, doing what we females have been doing for millenia. I did throw on a tank top though because of the photographs that were being taken – no one wants or needs to see pictures of my naked self in labour. As soon I was in the bath I felt so much better. It provided the best relief by far. If it weren’t for the bath, I would have probably asked for an epidural.

bathAt around 6:30pm I felt the urge to push. I found “toning” very helpful during the pushing stage. I literally “moo’d” during contractions as that seemed the most helpful in getting me to relax down there. I was also screaming my head off every time I had to push. I didn’t scream because it was painful but because of the effort I was exerting to push. Jasmine quietly advised me that I would have a sore throat afterwards if I kept screaming like that so I tried to scream “inside.” Eventually I discovered that doing “horse lips” really helped with the pushing. Turned out that pushing wasn’t so painful as it was exhausting.

Fortunately during the pushing stage the contractions were less intense and frequent, or at least it seemed like it. I worried that the baby would be uncomfortable being squished through the birth canal so I was relieved whenever I heard his happy heartbeat when they checked him with the doppler periodically. And so I continued to push and push. I began to feel frustrated that baby wasn’t crowning yet. Seriously it felt like I was taking the biggest dump of my life. With each push I wasn’t sure how I was going to muster up the strength to do the next push. While pushing I was spontaneously changing positions now and then, hoping that a new position would get things moving faster. I think my body knew what it needed to do in order to birth this baby.

At around 7:30pm the bath water had to be changed and I was told that I’d have to get out of the tub. I thought “Are you kidding me?!” It was going to be impossible to do. I noticed that the bath water had become murky. Even though every fiber of my being wanted to stay, somehow I managed to find the will power to get out of the bathtub. I was also reluctant to get out because I was hoping to do a water birth. I sat on the toilet while they cleaned the tub and refilled it. Sitting on the toilet really intensified the pushing, and I wanted to get onto my hands and knees to get some relief. Also I was slightly concerned that baby would be born into the toilet. So I dropped onto the bathroom floor onto my hands and knees, but everyone encouraged me to walk over to the bed which was just four feet away – it felt like miles to me. Again, I somehow managed to walk to the bed and immediately got onto hands and knees. I really didn’t care that I was going to give birth with my ass in the air.

By this point, baby’s head was crowning. I started to feel the “ring of fire” that I had read about and dreaded while pregnant, but surprisingly it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. I was actually relieved because it indicated that we were going to meet our baby very soon. Ian stayed by my side as he wasn’t allowed to be at the “business end.” Everybody in the room kept telling me how close I was and to keep pushing. I seriously doubted my ability to continue pushing but somehow my body managed to do it. After pushing a few more times the baby’s head was born at 7:52pm and the rest of him slurped out at 7:53pm. Arthur Jacob weighed 8 lbs, his head measured 37 cm, and he was 53 cm long. Everyone was surprised by how long he was.

ip_ak_ajJasmine handed AJ to me. I picked him up and laid on my back. Then I took my top off for skin to skin contact. I was completely stunned that the deed had been done. No more pushing! Ian and I looked at our baby in wonder. AJ was initially quiet and then started to cry. I told Ian to sing him a song, hoping it would soothe him, so he sang “Rubber Duckie” and it worked. When the umbilical cord stopped pulsing Jasmine asked who wanted to cut it. Ian didn’t want to do it so Martha did it. Soon after, I birthed the placenta, which involved more pushing to my dismay but I got through it. It was easy peasy compared to birthing a baby with an above average sized head.

aj_ipI couldn’t have asked for a better support team. Ian helped me keep my rhythm, reminded me to breathe, said words of encouragement, and moo’d along with me. Martha, my sister-in-law, who is an ER nurse, was also a tremendous source of help in countless ways. Jasmine, the midwife, was awesome and gently guided me throughout the whole journey. Megan, the birth photographer, not only documented our birth, but she offered her support, encouragement, and guidance throughout the whole time she was with us. The nurses at BC Women’s were terrific. We feel very lucky to have been accompanied by such great people during our birth journey.

All photos by Megan Taylor.