Preparing to Camp with a Big Family

Someone asked me the other day how much prep work goes into camping with such a big family. My only answer was "A lot." I make a plan, and then each time we camp, I make the plan better and better.

My first valuable resource when planning a camping trip is Microsoft Excel. Yes, my darlings! I use this program to make lists for camping.

Here is a list of my lists:

What to Pack
What is Already Packed (left in camper)
The Menu
The Shopping List
The Fun Plan

I seriously keep my brain on my computer. I'm sure there are people that can plan things like this with their own brains and have it all mapped out. But I am not one of them. I am a list keeper and computer planner. I created one Excel file and added a worksheet for each list. (Click here to view mine.)

What to Pack:

The first Excel worksheet is the general packing list. This list used to be really long. Until I realized I should split it in two. "What I need to pack," and "What is already packed in the camper and I just need to make sure it's still in there." (Oh, and we don't exactly "rough it.")

I am a minimal packer (especially when it comes to clothes.) I only bring 1 outfit per day, per person. If they get messy and need to change clothes, they may have to change back into yesterday's clothes. If it is a short trip, one set of pajamas. Two sets for longer trips. I have 5 kids and one small camper. So space is limited. Besides, we spend most of the time in our bathing suits.

I purchased two plastic drawer units. Everyone gets a drawer for shorts, shirts, pajamas, and underwear. I bring everyone one pair of pants and one sweatshirt, just incase it get chilly. (It's only chilly in the early spring and late fall here in Georgia.) I'm sure as they get bigger, the drawer size will have to change.

I bring all the necessities: toiletries, needed shoes (usually 1 pair of sneakers, 1 pair of sandals or flip-flops), vitamins, sheets & blankets, pillows, etc. 

Games... this is a biggy for us. I always bring board games and yard games for the kids to play at the campsite. We can't be at the lake all day long. Mommy needs a nap sometimes! I've found that this now a tradition to play card games as the sunsets and we have to turn on a lantern to see the last game. Each time we camp, there tends to be a game that is played over and over.

Kitchen items are on this list also, at least the stuff that needs replacing or replenishing every time we camp. Aluminum foil, paper towels, wash cloths, garbage bags, paper plates, etc. I include things that I do not have 2 of that I would like to use while camping. I am lost at breakfast time without an electric griddle.

What is Already Packed:

This list should be the easiest to check off. I make sure all the items are accounted for before we pack up. Most of it is kept in the front area of the camper: Dining tent, lantern, camp chairs, wash basins, smores skewers, grilling utensils, etc.

There's even a section on this worksheet where I've made a list of things I would like to buy to keep in the camper. Like an indoor/out/door carpet to keep at the bottom of our camper stairs. That would be cool. But we haven't been able to afford that yet.

The Menu:

I list out all the meals we will be eating at the campground. This list includes EVERY ingredient I will need for that meal (including salt & pepper.) Because if I forget to pack even the simplest thing... it's annoying.

I post it at the campsite. Then the family knows what is for dinner and all the things I brought for that particular meal. I have been known to forget that I brought certain side dishes for a specific meal. We got done eating one time and someone asked, "Hey mom, I thought we were having corn on the cob?" Bummer.

So this list keeps my head screwed on straight.

One little tidbit that helps with food prep is to precook. For example, our family loves Chicken Alfredo. I precook the chopped chicken so that I don't have to deal with raw chicken. And so it doesn't go bad in a cooler. I precook, pour in a giant zip baggie and freeze it. Quick, safe and efficient.

The Shopping List:

I organize all the food according to what it is (meats, dairy, etc) and I add any miscellaneous items we might need like bug spray or sunblock. It's better (for my family) to be over prepared than to really need something and not have it. There is a little red head in our family and she can not be without her sunblock!

The Fun Plan:

This is my newest addition. As we check out different campgrounds, I like to document what there is to do at each one. Whether it is a lake for swimming and boating or a swimming pool, hiking trails, fishing, historical tours, sight seeing or whatever, I add it to our list. (I deleted this list from the public Excel file that I'm sharing so that our camping sites are kept private.)

The Chores

With a big family comes great responsibility. I can not possibly do everything that needs to be done. I would like to feel like I'm on vacation too. So our household chores carry over to our camping trip. Whomever is responsible for setting the table, does it. The dishwasher loader then becomes the "dishwasher" and the dishwasher unloader becomes the dish dryer. Everyone works together to pick up each meal. Everyone helps keep the campsite picked up so that overnight there isn't "the attack of the fire ants." If it is left out. They will find it.

I hope this is a help to someone who wants to start camping with their family. If I am organized, things go smoothly. I don't really plan out our events, but leave that to our vacationing whims. The most important thing I plan on is to just have fun and enjoy being with my family.