This past week my friend asked if I wanted to take my kids camping (sans husband) and I said yes. We headed up to Potawatomi State Park. It was my first solo trip with Graham (almost 3) and Warren (almost 1) and it was Warren’s first ever time sleeping in a tent. Just prior to setting out anxiety set in. I silently dreamt of all the ways this trip could end in disaster. I left anyway, knowing that I’d have learned a whole lot when I had returned.


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The camping itself was much like the camping I remember as a kid. We pulled into the campsite on Wednesday afternoon. We set up camp, taking turns watching each other’s kids. We got water and snacks to distract the kids while chopping firewood to make kindling. We had a campfire and dinner. It started to rain, so we called it an early night. My kids, lovers of white noise, slept like rocks. Until 5 am. They of course proceeded to wake up the other three families with us. We had planned to hike the section of the Ice Age trail that ran through the park to the Eastern Terminus. We started early and the hike lasted until about noon. We ate lunch and opted for car napping, since tent napping was just not happening. Sure enough once around the campground and they were out.

13840661_10103537622707839_1182022458_o-681x1024 (2)When Graham woke up he refused to get out of the car. He just kept saying over and over that he wanted to go home, see Dada, done camping. He refused to leave his car seat. It’s at this point that all those anxious thoughts that I had prior to the trip came roaring back. As the sole parent, I was responsible for making the call to go home. I knew I wanted to stay. Graham, however, was adamant that we leave. He hadn’t been feeling well and he looked so zoned out in his car seat. So we left. I started ripping down the campsite as fast as I could in the light rain that had persisted throughout the day. My friends held Warren or helped me throw our soaking gear into the car. They would continue to stay while I left. It is this point that felt like defeat. I wanted to know, what had I done wrong?

Our camping trip was successful right up until it wasn’t anymore. I could have chosen to push through with a grumpy, frustrated, and increasingly obstinate toddler. I chose to go home. Part of my decision process included the reasoning that if I ended the trip before everyone was miserable, then I knew I’d be more likely to get them to go with me again.

Here is what I learned on my first solo adventure.

  1. Bring friends- We took turns watching each others kids in order to set up tents, start fires, use the bathrooms, and when both kids and parents needed a change of pace. 4 adults and 6 kids was a pretty good ratio and it helped to have kids for Graham & Warren to play with.
  2. Start close to home– Potawatomi was about 2 1/2 hours from our house. I think 1 hour might have been more ideal, especially if you need to bail out. If we had spent both nights, as we intended to, then the 2 1/2 hours might not have felt so far.
  3. Expect to get dirty– We coined the expression Camp Clean. Also known as it’s as clean as it’s going to be until we get home. I had a hard time with this and Warren. As he is just learning to walk and still puts everything into his mouth, he was filthy by the time we left.
  4. Kid size– I brought the kiddie toilet, a Pack n Play, and another mom brought a super nifty portable high chair and the picnic table from home. Having a place to put baby that was clean was nice and the kids liked to sit at their table and in kid sized chairs.
  5. At one point stop packing– Especially in a group, if you forgot it, someone else will have it.
  6. Make friends– The couple next to us had a great fire, so I asked them how they pulled it off, especially in the rain. Not only did I get a great fire starting method, but the gentleman helped jump one of our cars, and when they were leaving gave us his fire.
  7. Know when to leave– Going home was the right choice for us, even though I had wanted to stay. An hour into the ride home and Graham was happily chatting about seeing Dada and telling his stuffed animals about the bath he was going to take. Pushing him would have meant we were all miserable.

I’m planning to go on more solo camping trips with the boys. I know that with practice we’ll end up being fantastic at it. Our neighbor went camping this weekend and Graham looked up and asked if we could go as well. That’s success right there.

This post was originally published on Walking Towards Less. Photos courtesy of Kate Bernhard

Heidi Schertz lives with her husband (Elliot) and two sons (Graham & Warren) in Milwaukee. When not exploring urban wildernesses she enjoys reading, knitting, and cooking. She blogs at Walking Towards Less and is on Instagram.

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