Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.
Last weekend we took our 2.5-year old twins camping for the first time. It was only one night but three days later I’m still recovering from lack of sleep – not due to our kids (luckily) but to a baby in the tent next door, dogs, a train, and a nearby highway. But despite the sleep deprivation, which is pretty normal for camping anyway, journeying outdoors to enjoy mother nature with the kids was well worth it.
Good friends of ours did all the planning and reserved several camp sites at Patapsco Valley State Park in Maryland. From the Washington, DC metro area, it is only about an hour drive away, making it very convenient and doable, particularly for families with kids. And even though my husband and I are more accustomed to camping in more remote places like in the mountains of Colorado or the national parks of Utah, Patapsco’s proximity to nearby conveniences gave us a viable back up plan for the unpredictable demands of two toddlers – like on the following morning when our kids woke up at 6am and immediately realized that they had just slept in a tent for the first time and couldn’t contain their excitement while everyone else was still sleeping. We were able to quietly drive away to grab some coffee at a nearby Starbuck’s. Believe me when I tell you that while this breaks all the rules of genuine camping, we were glad to have somewhere to go to give our friends an extra hour of sleep, and we became sudden rock stars after we returned with coffee for everyone back at camp.
When packing for camping with toddlers, we didn’t bring much outside of the normal camping inventory except that we chose to bring their crib mattresses. It turned out to be the best idea because our kids have never before slept in anything other their cribs or a pack-and-play, and at daycare they sleep on little cots on the floor. So bringing their crib mattresses gave them something familiar to identify with sleeping. I think it helped contain them and soothe them. They knew right away which one was theirs because I brought the same sheets and blanket sets they normally used at school. Of course you would bring their favorite stuffed animal and books.
We also brought a collapsible toddler picnic table and folding chairs, mainly because we had room in the car and thought, Why not? This also turned out to be a good idea because when the kids tried to eat lunch at the picnic table at our camp site, they kept dropping food because they couldn’t sit right up against the table from the bench seat. Once we brought out their little picnic table they were happy eating without the frustration. The folding chairs were just a novelty to them but it also made them feel like one of the adults since we all had one, too. It made them feel like part of the group when we were all sitting around the camp fire.
Hiking with toddlers is something that I think we’ll have to build up over time. Since we had two kids at the same time, we never got into the habit of carrying them on slings or those backpack carriers. Main reason being my inability to carry both at the same time. Sibling rivalry for mom’s attention started early so carrying only one on my body was never an option, and the fact that our kids are big heavy chunky kids, difficult to carry for long stretches of time. Anyway, since they turned two we started leaving the stroller at home more and more to get them accustomed to walking wherever we go, and they do a decent job of walking on their own most of the time when there are interesting things to explore along the way. I’ve also toned up my arms a bit after they get tired and cranky and I have to carry them. Well it was no different when we went on our hike at Patapsco. We went to the Avalon section of the park where we could have easily hiked up to a suspension bridge, but it was hot and humid and our two kids were in no mood for walking so we didn’t make it very far. Instead we explored the little streams along the trail, picked wild strawberries and watched mountain bikers pass by. To the kids it was all still very fun and exciting. For us seeing everything new through their eyes allowed us to marvel at things we often overlook as adults. The experience wasn’t a wash, just different with kids and still fun.
We definitely plan on camping with the kids again and work on their hiking legs as often as we can. Our next hike will be back home in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and after that we’ll be exploring the tropical forests of Laos!
Best outdoor shoes for kids: Keen’s
Best outdoor pants for kids: REI Sahara Convertible Pants (comes in boy’s and girl’s styles)
Our tent: REI Hobitat 4