With summer well on its way, many families might be starting to plan ahead for family outings and special getaways. Since 62% of Americans reported taking a vacation away from home in 2017, it stands to reason that families may want to do the same this year. But if you’re growing tired of your traditional trips or want to see your surroundings in a different way, you might consider a particular type of camping: car camping.

What Is Car Camping?

There are actually a couple of different definitions for car camping. One involves literally sleeping in your car, truck, or van. You could conceivably do this with your kids, providing you have enough room. Others define car camping as having the ability to drive your car onto a campsite and park it right next to your tent. If you’re looking for a real outdoorsy experience but don’t want to give up convenience and transportation, this can also be a good option. In some cases, the latter may be better if you don’t have a large vehicle. But either way, you’ll get a taste of what it’s like to rough it. And since six out of 10 U.S. households can say that someone in their home has gone camping, car camping can be an excellent way to ease into this tradition and eventually make it your own.

What to Bring While Car Camping

If you intend to camp out alongside your car (rather than sleep inside it), you’ll definitely want to invest in a large enough tent that can fit everyone in the family, along with a sleeping pad or air mattress. Sleeping bags or down quilts will ensure your family stays warm on chillier nights, while solar lighting and head lamps will keep everyone safe. If you’re not particularly known for your survival skills, you might also want to bring a camping model stove, cooking supplies, a cooler, and a first-aid kit. Fill up your car’s gas tank, bring lots and lots of water, and take along a good amount of wet wipes to ensure the kids can stay relatively clean. Don’t forget to bring jumper cables and garbage bags. And, of course, you’ll need to provide your own food and lots of clothing layers.

How to Car Camp With Your Kids

  • Start Packing Early: To avoid last-minute stress, aim to start packing for your camping trip at least a few days in advance. That way, you’ll get a good idea of any necessities you still need to buy or realize when you’ve packed too much. You can get the kids involved in this process, which will ramp up their excitement. It may help to reference a packing list to keep everyone on track. Packing early will also give you enough time to do laundry and prepare any food items in advance.
  • Do a Practice Run: If this is the first camping trip for your kids, understand that they might feel a bit anxious about being away from home — not to mention out in the relative wilderness. You can alleviate any fears they might have by doing a little practice run in the backyard. You might also think about the important parts of their bedtime routine and make efforts to replicate it as closely as possible during the camping trip. Trying to sleep in an unfamiliar place can be tough (even for adults!), so the more comfortable your kids are with the idea, the less nervous everyone will be.
  • Stick Close to Home: Although the average car owner puts around 13,500 miles on their vehicle every year, you don’t need to go far to experience the magic of car camping with your kids. The Alaska State Park System is the largest in the country, boasting more than 3.2 million acres of land and water, but you don’t have to leave the continental U.S. to enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors. Find a camping spot within three hours of home to ensure you’ll have enough time to set up and that running late won’t put you too far behind. Plus, too long a trip can make the kids restless. You may also want to reserve a camping spot ahead of time. It’ll be a more relaxing vacation for everyone if you don’t travel very far from where you live and if you plan ahead.

If you’re looking for a way to ease into the idea of camping, keeping your car close by can be the perfect scenario. With these tips in mind, you’ll be in great shape to try out this family vacation idea this summer.

Alternatively, you might want to try backyard camping, and luckily for you, we have a post for that too.