Introducing your kids to camping is a great idea. We develop our comfort level for living based on things we are exposed to as children. For example, I’m still scared of dogs, partly because my own Mom is scared of dogs and we never had one as a pet.
While backpacking camping (where you walk with your gear in a pack) is a stretch for families, car camping doesn’t need to be any less comfortable than staying in a motel.
Car camping is also cheaper than backpacking camping as you don’t need to buy nearly as much specialized gear. Since you have more weight and space available to you, you can often make do with stuff you already have. For example, you might be able to use an air mattress you already have at home inside your tent. We usually chuck a regular old duvet and pillows in the car for cooler weather camping, instead of splashing out on sleeping bags.
You can also use gear you buy for camping when you’re back home. If you’re an occasional camper, focus on purchasing gear that is multi use like the air mattress.
If you’re new to camping, you might choose to borrow gear from friends and family the first few times you go rather than buying your own. It makes sense to see if you enjoy the experience before you outlay money on camping equipment.
Don’t be too brand loyal or store loyal when you’re buying camping gear. It’s easy to be sucked in by shiny showrooms and glossy photos of people living an aspirational lifestyle. Make a list of what you really need and stick to it. A good approach is to decide your budget and then say to yourself, “I’m going to get the best tent/camp cot/camping chair etc. on sale that I can buy under X dollars.”
The best types of camping holidays for families are where you find a nice campsite that has some easy walks and, depending on your locale, a beach or lake nearby. You want to be able to enjoy simply hanging out at the campsite, reading some books and playing some family games. Make sure you pack some playing cards! Go for a tent with plenty of room so if you get rained in you can live with needing to be stuck inside it for a while. Or, ideally go to a camping ground that has adequate common areas for people to mix and mingle if it’s raining. Encourage your children to talk to and play with other children staying at the campground. Take things like a ball and Frisbee to facilitate this.
You won’t need a camping cook set if you go somewhere that gives you access to a communal kitchen. Just take along your oldest pots and utensils from home.
Ideally go camping somewhere that’s only a 2-3 hour car ride away. You don’t want to arrive all grumpy when you get there. You’ll also go more often if you find places you like that are close to home. Having some games and special toys that your kids only get to use when they’re going on long car rides will help keep them occupied and content.