Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound… it’s not just Superman! It’s a SuperMOM. And her name is Denise Fanai.
This inspiring woman, along with her husband and a tribe of friends, recently accomplished a camping trip with her twin two month olds and her six year old son. Not only did she survive to tell us all her secrets, she actually seems to feel empowered after taking on such a fun challenge! I was totally in awe of her and wanted to know all about this experience… and I knew you would, too.
Denise happily answered my questions and shared her adorable photographs. I learned a lot of tips for camping with babies from her, and I also found her attitude refreshing. She is a reminder that sometimes you have to go with the flow and sometimes you have to put on a happy face before that happy face shows up organically. She proves to us that having kids enriches our lives-- no need to stop doing the things you love. She teaches us that an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure, family is most important, …and you can never have enough beer!
If you’ve thought about camping with infants, or if you are just totally intrigued by the idea of it like me, pull up a chair, sit back, and enjoy reading about Denise’s latest adventure!
WB: Give us the 5 W's of this trip... that's teacher talk for who, what, when, where, why!
DF: We have been attending a camping trip, affectionately named "Burning Boy" (a wee nod to the "Burning Man"), with four other families from our neighborhood playgroup. This year's trip was over Memorial Day weekend, in Angelus Oaks. We had never been to this campground. It is a small, popular campground for tent and RV camping in the San Bernadino Mountains. It is a 2.5 hour drive from our house in San Diego. The kids in the group range in age from 2 months to six years old. We tent camped and had two sites reserved. This was the third-annual installment :) The last two were at Morro Bay.
WB: How did you decide to go camping with your babies?
DF: We had a long time to think about it! The campsite was booked before we even knew we were pregnant, much less expecting twins. I was pretty sure we would cancel at the last minute with so many unknowns looming. After the twins were born and we survived the first month (with lots of help), I started looking into the campsite and how much effort would be required. I did a lot of Google searches to see how it could be done. We talked about the pros and cons and had a lot of support from our group. They all volunteered to cook for us, so we didn't have to prep or make as much food as usual.
WB: Did you grapple with bringing the babies vs leaving them with family or a babysitter?
DF: We have gone camping with the same group of families for the past two years and did not want to miss this year. Our six year old son really looks forward to it. It is the only time of year he really gets to play in the dirt with little supervision. We are city-dwellers and are not able to get outside in nature nearly as often as I would like. The timing was helpful, ironically, because our six-year old had been getting way too much screen time while all of the adults buzzed around looking after the newborns. There wasn't another option to leave the babies anywhere and I wasn't able to care for them by myself yet. So we decided we would all go, or none of us would go.
There is a lot of work that goes in to camping preparation and we were barely managing our regular household tasks, so we really were not sure how it would all work out. My husband had just started his paternity leave, so that provided some extra days to help us get ready. I figured I was up all night anyways and do the same feeding/sleeping routine with them in my house. Why not have some better scenery while breastfeeding 24/7?
WB: What were you concerned about with regard to bringing the babies?
DF: We had a few concerns:
1. Cold weather at night (into the 40s). Mountain/desert camping can have extreme temperatures at night. We have had to bail twice in our camping experience, once due to the temperature dropping into the 20's suddenly (combined with No Fire restrictions), the second time from windy conditions that made tent set up impossible.
2. Bears! Neither of us had camped anywhere with bear lockers or food litter protocols. We weren't sure how aggressive bears might be to babies (if at all) or be drawn to breastmilk or spit up. On a minor note, I usually eat all night and was wondering how I would make it without any snacks in the tent!
3. Burning the tent down if we had to use the in-tent heater! (More on that below.)
WB: How did you plan for the babies differently than usual?
DF: Our weather in San Diego starts to heat up in May. We did not have super warm clothes for them yet, nor were they easy to find that time of year. I called every second hand store near us and struggled to find two tiny snowsuits. I eventually found them from a nice lady on a local Facebook exchange group that sold us three! Otherwise, most everything was the same for them. They are exclusively breastfed, sleep in a travel bassinet at home (swaddled, together). So not much changed for them except wearing a snowsuit at night.
WB: Was there any gear you are glad you had?
DF: Absolutely! The best things we brought were the following:
1. An in-tent heater (Mr. Buddy) > Very sturdy, no fumes
2. Snowsuits for the babies > Double as a swaddle
3. Snugglenest portable travel crib (for in the tent) >Built-in light
4. Peapod (for outside the tent) > Gave us a place to put them down safely, without getting sunburned bitten by bugs or poked at by curious kids.
5. Ergo carriers > Great for holding babies during their naps and around the campfire
6. Coleman folding cot (for one adult) > Solid sleep
7. Eno Hammock! > This was great for sitting, rocking babies, entertaining a crew of six year olds and just relaxing in general
8. Sears Cargo Rack for our SUV > This was a must for us, having three carseats.
WB: Was there any gear you wish you had?
DF: We wish we had brought more propane, more blankets to layer under the air mattress... and more beer.
WB: What were the highlights of your trip?
DF: In spite of all the chaos of getting there and setting up, we actually had time to breathe. With meals taken care of and our son entertained, we could sit back and relax with beautiful scenery. The tall trees, the mountain air and snow capped mountains in the distance were such a refreshing change. The first morning, while our son was running around playing, my husband got up and made us coffee and oatmeal and we put the babies in the peapod on the table and it felt like a mini date! We hadn't had any alone time since the babies were born. Our son had a blast and that took some pressure off of our new family dynamic. Another highlight was catching up with our friends (who are all parents) and getting a break from constant baby care.
We were not eaten by bears! It turned out there was only one juvenile bear and the camp rangers were very aware of the bear's activities. They were reassuring and it was not too difficult to lock our food up in the car or in the bear lockers.
Oh, and feeling like rockstars when we left!
WB: What was the most difficult part of your trip?
DF: The first night was so scary for me. It was so cold and I was alternately terrified that the babies were too cold, overheating, or about to suffocate from the layers of blankets around them. Any outside noises I was sure were bears. Any inside noises were something wrong with the babies or the tent heater malfunctioning. None of that happened, but it was a really long night!
The other difficult thing was setting up the campsite and taking down the campsite while both of us were holding a tiny baby. It is very awkward to wrangle tent poles and stake down a tent! Fortunately our kind friends in our camping group came to help us out with all of that.
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WB: What advice would you give to families who want to camp with their young families?
First of all, go for it!
Be sure to research weather conditions and whether fires are allowed.
Do a trial run to set up your tent before you go.
Triple the amount of travel time so you arrive during daylight hours.
Have a back up place to stay in case you need to leave and make sure rooms are actually available, especially during a popular weekend.
I always like to look up the closest emergency room as well (our older son is accident prone).
Pair up with other families.
Eat and use the restroom one last time before you get to the campsite. Set up takes forever and everything is harder when you are hungry and in a hurry.
Prep as much food as possible at home. You can bring soup, scrambled eggs, premixed pancake batter, etc.
Remember to be playful, even when things are falling apart. On the drive home we were feeling pretty tired and anxious to get home but had to keep stopping to feed or change the babies. We pulled over and I was about to yell for some reason but decided to put on music and make the babies look like they were dancing. I didn't feel like being happy, but forcing something fun changed the mood and we still laugh about it now.
Keep it simple! The fewer outfit changes the better. Babies do need back up clothes, but it really helped to keep my clothing as simple and layered as possible.
WB: Would you do it all again?
DF: Whatever might seem hard at home will suddenly look a lot easier when you get back! Camping raised our confidence and helped us problem solve as a family. I am already starting to think of what we will need for next year's camping trip!
I think you’ll have to agree that you’ve just been privy to an interview with a true SuperMOM! Have you gone camping with your babies? Or do you have a trip planned? Which of Denise’s tips resonate with you, and what tips for camping with young children do you have to share?