The Trip Report series features real stories from real families adventuring with their kids and babies. Have a story you want to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When my husband and I got pregnant, we immediately had all sorts of unsolicited advice about how children would or would not drastically change our lifestyle. It seems everyone has an opinion, from “you just have to do what you want and bring them with you” to “you won’t ever have the freedom, time, or energy you enjoyed before.”
Our little pre-kiddo family unit was known for adventuring and “weekend warrioring” in our Mercedes Sprinter van, particularly to mountain biking destinations in Colorado and beyond. We were seriously worried we wouldn’t be able to do the same things after the baby came.
A Little About Us
Both Colt and I grew up in families that valued spending time outside in one way or another. He grew up in “dirt church” where weekends were spent with him, his brothers and father driving hours to compete in dirt bike races on Sundays. I grew up as a competitive soccer player with parents who could never be far from the mountains, so time spent outside of soccer involved weekends skiing or hiking, depending on the season.
So, when we first purchased our Sprinter van, we knew it was an investment in our future and the type of experiences we wanted to share with one another as a married couple, and perhaps a family down the road. Facing the arrival of a baby, we had many conversations about what our own opinions on the topic of changing our lifestyle were and we resolved that we would do the best we could to get outside as much as possible and share our passion for being active in the natural world with our children. We agreed that it may not always be easy, but the memories that we both cherished from our own childhoods often involved mountains, fresh air, and being exhausted from long days in the Colorado sun.
Fortunately, we have close family, a brother and sister-in-law, who share our love of biking and the outdoors, and we often take trips together. They embarked on the adventure of raising a family several years ahead of us, so we have had the good fortune of learning from and with them as they bring their four and six-year-old with them. Seeing their successes, and sometimes failures, but always long-lasting memories made with their kids, gave us the confidence that we could follow in their footsteps.
Our First Experience Van Camping With a Baby
Almost exactly a year ago we took our 11-month old daughter on her first true van camping adventure to Fruita, Colorado for a mountain biking weekend. This was our first couple of nights away from home with the new baby. We enjoyed two nights escaping the fickle Northern Colorado spring weather for the moderate temperatures of the Colorado desert with a group of friends and family and a bunch of mountain bikes. Everything went really well and we had a great time! Nevertheless, we learned a lot from the experience.
4 Things We Learned From Van Camping With a Baby
Here are a few valuable things we learned from our inaugural camping trip:
1. Try to maintain a normal schedule, at least as much as possible.
For those of you who have had kids, you know how much better babies and kids thrive when they maintain a predictable daily schedule. This is something it took us a while to learn for ourselves, but we have come to realize just how much happier a well-fed and well-rested baby is, especially when they are being bombarded with new stimuli. We did our best to adhere to our usual meal times and nap times, with the understanding that being on the road this isn’t always possible. We would set up the pack n play (ensuring proper temperature and ventilation) in the van for morning and afternoon nap, as well as put her down at the general bedtime.
I can’t tell you how important we have found this to be in our travels. However, with that being said, we have also learned how amazingly flexible Orly can be when she needs to be. As long as the effort is made to be as consistent as possible, missing naps here and there doesn’t take too much adjustment.
2. Don’t worry about packing too many toys.
We have learned that engaging with the outdoors is so much more important than having a load of toys to occupy their attention. (We have learned that this changes as your baby gets older as well.)
On this particular trip, Orly was most fascinated by the recycling containers we ended up with around camp rather than the few toys we had brought with us anyway. Playing in the sand and dirt, transferring piles from one container to another, occupied most of her time.
Now, bringing a few favorite, familiar toys or stuffies is still important. We have found that Orly has to have her taggies to sleep so those are a non-negotiable, but at this point she wasn’t that into many other toys and that kept our packing light and simple.
Nowadays, a year later we have a small container of selected toys that stays in our van and are only used on camping trips. This way, she is excited to see these camping toys again, they are toys that we know could get damaged, dirty, or lost, and can be shared with campmates.
3. Try not to worry too much, it will all work out how it is supposed to!
With all transparency, this is something I am still working on and will likely be a lifetime goal for me. Since our camping trips aren’t always as regular as we would like, it takes a little bit of a learning curve to get back into the groove of van life.
To be real, I am a bit of a neat freak and each trip packing up the van does come with a certain sense of anxiety. My brain can spin with the endless worrying.“Did we pack everything we need?” “How many times will we have to change Orly’s clothes?” “Will it be too cold at night?” “When will I get my next shower?” Whereas, my husband is much more of a go with the flow, “it will all come out in the wash” sort of attitude, which definitely has rubbed off on me over the years. This helps me to stop and take a breath and consider what is truly important: that everyone safe and is everyone having fun.
4. It takes a village! Or at least a few people…
Again, we are so fortunate to know many like-minded outdoor enthusiasts who are ready and willing to step up to help with kiddos. In order for mountain biking to work out and for us to enjoy our time riding, we take turns, either with my husband and I when we are on a trip by ourselves or with the help of our brother and sister-in-law on a group trip. This way, we both have time to enjoy chilling at camp with the kids as well as a chance to check-out the local trails at our own pace.
Even if you don’t have this support system already, there are so many amazing groups helping to get families outside and ways to meet new people through social media who may share the same adventurous spirit as you!
How Life Has Changed
So, has our lifestyle changed? Yes, it has! We don’t go camping almost every weekend of the summer; we don’t get to stop at as many breweries, or hike as many 14ers, but we do get to experience seeing the love of the outdoors through the eyes of our child And, oftentimes, that is even more exciting and memorable than anything we have experienced before.
*Just as an update: On the eve of her second birthday this little lady has now been on various van adventures, including a month-long trip across the country to follow the BC Bike Race in beautiful British Columbia, Canada this past summer, as well as many short trips closer to home. She loves the adventure, now calls “Mosie van” by name, and each trip is a memorable and valuable learning experience for her and us alike! We wouldn’t trade these opportunities for the world, even as we await our second child, due to arrive in mid-June.
If you have any interest in seeing how we will have to learn to camp with two littles, please follow our #adventuresofmosie on Instagram. Get outside and make some memories!