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  • Ashley

The Four Emotional Stages of Camping with Toddlers

Updated: May 15, 2022

Camping is an exciting time for families and it comes with a range of emotions. There is a reason our blog is called Camping with Chaos. Camping with little ones is chaotic but worth it.

When we go camping with our toddlers, there seems to be a common pattern we fall into. We like to call this The Four Emotional Stages of Camping with Toddlers (although there are many more emotions than just these four, these are the ones we regularly experience).

1. Optimism

The first stage of camping with chaotic toddlers is optimism. This is the stage where you book your campsite or start planning the hike for backcountry camping.

This stage also involves packing for the trip. You are feeling good, getting excited to hit the outdoors, feeling optimistic that you and your family are going to have a great time, and looking forward to the fresh air.

You could also be scouring the aisles at the grocery store for fun camping food, possibly meal planning on paper, or even digging out the dehydrator to make your own jerky or dried fruit. Optimism is at an all-time high, however, lurking in the background is the unavoidable second emotional stage.

2. Doubt

This stage isn’t linear and tends to strike even the most optimistic camping families. One moment you’re smooth sailing in stage one and the next thing you know you're hit with a storm of doubt. You start questioning your capabilities and whether you can get everything prepared in time, or if you will have a good time, if the kids will behave, the list goes on...

As doubt creeps in, optimism fizzles out. Luckily, this stage doesn’t tend to last long and usually you bounce back into optimism once packing is finished or you start driving to your destination. Going back and forth between optimism and doubt is very common and then from doubt you may crash into the third emotional stage which is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Were We Thinking?!

3. WTF Were We Thinking?!

This is when doubt turns to panic! Who’s idea was this to go camping anyway? What in the world were we thinking? Why didn’t we just stay at home where everything is comfortable and the kids are contained!? A day hike for fresh air and exercise would have sufficed.

This stage usually hits shortly after arriving at the campsite while desperately trying to set up camp, the kids are running wild, the dog wants to smell all the smells, and everyone is hungry. Or this stage rears its ugly head when you’re a day or two into the trip, everyone is tired from the late nights and contorted sleeping arrangements, and an epic meltdown ensues because someone ate the last granola bar… cue the WTF were we thinking?

Thankfully this stage usually doesn’t last the entire trip and there will be a lot of good moments that make it all worth it, trust me.

With that being said, the final stage of this emotional rollercoaster ride ends on a positive note.

4. Gratitude

The trip is coming to an end and this emotional rollercoaster is finally approaching its last loop de loop.

You’re feeling grateful that you were able to get away from the daily grind and enjoy a camping trip with your family.

Although there were moments that drove you mad, you are surprisingly starting to wish you had booked more days, or packed more food so you can continue this crazy adventure.

Everyone seems more relaxed and the fresh air has been soothing for the soul. You and your partner might be discussing and planning out the next camping trip already.

As you start to pack everything up, you exhale a sigh of relief. You not only survived but also embraced the chaos and enjoyed yourself.

You’re grateful for your family and for having the means and motivation to make this camping trip a success.

Camping with young children might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you won’t know until you try it.

Although each family’s camping experience may differ, these four stages will surely take one form or another at some point. The highs and lows are all a part of the experience, and by the end of the trip, it’s rare you actually regret going. Your children will have good memories of these trips, and so will you.

So fasten your seatbelt, hold on tight and enjoy the ride!

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