Do512 Family Featured Babymaker, Virginia Woodruff from Great Moments in Parenting, recently went camping with her kids for the first time. Naturally, she learned some things. Check out her tips, and if you’re looking for a place to camp that’s not too far, take a look at our Top 20 Camping Spots around Austin list.


We just returned from our first tent-camping-as-a-family trip, and I’m here to report back on what to do, bring, and avoid for your first family camping trip.


1) Make sure your tent is big enough to fit your whole family and then some. We had five people in a 6-person tent, and I was grateful for that extra space to store lanterns, clothes, books and water bottles away from anyone’s kicking legs.

2) Bring citrus oil if you’re camping in Texas. When we arrived at our campsite, we set up the tent between two trees to face a grassy, wooded field. Everything was idyllic until my bug-loving girl spotted a trail of red ants crawling up and down one tree. We quickly moved the tent back to a less scenic spot and were careful to zip it up every time we left and to keep food out of the tent, but by the morning of the second day they had found their way in. I smashed several as we woke up and somehow no one got bitten. The next time I camp I’ll bring some orange oil to pour down ant holes and to mark out a fire line around our tent site.

3) Ask for the Junior Ranger backpack if you’re at a state park. It contains a book about animal tracks and kid-sized binoculars and a compass. My 7-year-old son went off with the compass and binoculars for a whole afternoon. But the best thing in it: drawing paper and crayons. Because even though you imagine your kids enraptured by the wonders of nature, there are times they just need something to do. The drawing saved us when it was time to pack/unpack the food or make the fire to cook the food.

4) Don’t be afraid to bring a little digital entertainment into your off-grid experience. The first night, one of my four year olds decided to run around inside the tent laughing and screaming hysterically while we tried to sleep. (Was it a coincidence that our neighboring campers were gone the next day?) I don’t know if this was how she was expressing her nerves at the new situation or not, but it drove us to shouting and throwing pillows and threatening to send her to “sleep in the woods.” We solved the problem the second night by popping a DVD into the laptop and winding down the day with everyone on their stomachs watching some good old-fashioned Disney animation. This also came in handy when we had to break down the tent the final morning in the rain–I deposited the kids in the car to watch while the adults did the grunge work.

5) Don’t forget sunscreen and hats! I had plenty of high-SPF, waterproof sunscreen but found only two hats tucked into the car door from last summer. Luckily the camp office sold baseball caps, which saved three of us from sunburn on our 4-hour canoe trip. Not sure how often I’ll go out in a pink cap inscribed with “South Lllano River State Park,” but it served its purpose that day. (Old country trick from the husband: when you get overheated, dip your hat in the river and put it back on.)

6) Speaking of canoe trips, be aware that the “easy” 3-hour journey the local guide describes could end up as a intense work out because you have to get out and push the canoe over rocks at the many low water points along the river. Know also that whatever you bring into the canoe will end up sopping wet, including your food and all your towels, and you will have to dry yourselves off from then on with extra clothes.

7) Store one set of clean clothes and towels per person in the car for the trip home. We planned to stop in the quaint town of Fredericksburg on the way back for ice cream, but on the last day I struggled to find some presentable clothes for everyone. Everything was either muddy or wet (tip: bring plastic bags to hold all the wet things.) We ended up in combinations of swim shirts and pajamas, but it was worth it for a cone of homemade peach ice cream.

8) Although camping with kids isn’t the relaxing gazing-at-the-fire sojourn you may remember from your life pre-kids (the books my husband and I brought never got cracked), there would have been moments of peace if we had brought hammocks to get away to. (Then again, the hammock-hanging trees were covered with ants, so it would have been a tough trade off.) Just as you need “Me Time” at home, it’s a good idea to work on your run-away-now-and-give-Mommy-a-rest enticements before you go camping. Here are a few I scrambled up:

  • “Go see how many Rollie Pollies you can put in this jar!”
  • “Why don’t you check out that that rotting log deep in the woods?”
  • “Is that an armadillo?”
  • “S’mores to anyone who can bring me five different types of leaves… Back already? Make that ten leaves, two animal bones and an arrowhead.”


If you’re headed out on a natural adventure this spring, good luck, god speed, and may the ants avoid you.


— Virginia Woodruff