By Fredrica Syren:
We recently took our kids to Iceland on their first camping trip. With three kids, ages 2-8 years, we already knew that sleeping in a tent was out for us; instead,we settled for a camper van. We spent 8 days driving entirely around Iceland. I have to admit there were times before our trip that we took turns wondering if we were embarking on a crazy idea and how well this would work. To our delight, we both learned that it might be rainy, it might be a long drive, food might not be inspiring and we might have lots of things malfunction in the camper van, but our kids would hardly notice or care. They absolutely loved camping and traveling around in a camper van, and even tried to convince us we should move into one immediately.
A couple of things sure made traveling this way with kids easier—First, we brought new toys that work for a moving van and can entertain for a long time. We got Legos, crayons, light weight and small books, a music tablet, etc., that would be fun for this trip and they could play with on their own. I realized that more toys do not mean more fun, and after 8 days with very few toys, they really appreciated the ones they had.
Bring lots of snacks—Since we would travel for a few hours each day, having healthful and non-sugary snacks helped. (Who needs a toddler high on sugar strapped into a van?) Before our trip, we made homemade fruit leather and veggie chips. I bought Ella’s Kitchen smoothie pouches, which were very popular with the kids. I also packed whole wheat crackers, raisin boxes and lots of apples.
Stop often and get your kids out of the car—We stopped a lot at designated rest and picnic areas so the kids could stretch their legs and explore the environment. Whenever we stopped, they would find seashells, sticks and rocks they wanted to look, examine and play with. Twice we spent a couple of hours on the beach, combing it, throwing rocks into the water and just letting the kids play in the sand. We found that even during the rainy and windy days they enjoyed being outside. We never rushed them back and would even eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at some of the stops. This is the great advantage to having a kitchen with you☺
Pick the perfect spot to camp for the night—There are so many campgrounds in Iceland. Many of them had toilets, showers, an area with running water for washing dishes, and ready-to-go fireplaces and playgrounds. This is where we set up camp so our kids could run around on their own and meet lots of other people.
Let them be part of the planning—Our kids got to be part of the planning before our trip. We brought out a map so they could see where we were going; we looked at videos from Iceland before leaving; and our 8-year-old learned as much as possible about Iceland before the trip.
Let them make memories—Our older kids had a book in which they could draw, write and glue their memories. They took pictures with an old IPhone we have.
Plan activities for bad weather—During one storm we encountered, we did arts and crafts inside our camper van. One day, we went to a bathhouse and played in the water. And on one stormy day, we were lucky to be in a big town, so we went to a museum and then to a coffee shop for a treat.
Movies and games on the iPad are evil…until a road trip☺—Our kids do not watch TV often and never play video games, but on this trip we did bring two iPads with a few movies they could watch during the longer drives.
The fresh air, amazing scenery, glimpses of wildlife and vast starlit nights are almost all a kid needs to have a good camping experience. Nature delivers a full-on sensory experience. But a truly enjoyable family camping trip is in the planning because it is equally important to be flexible, and good planning allows that to happen.