Minimalist Camping with Kids

Five kids. A minivan. A seven-day road / camping trip. How I organized my stuff in order to stay sane.

I hate tripping over stuff. I hate not being able to find stuff. I hate moving stuff to get to other stuff. So when we planned a week-long vacation that involved setting up and breaking camp almost ever single day, I knew I needed a system to stay organized so that I could stay in my right mind.

I figured there were roughly four categories I needed to think about:

1. Sleeping

I've got four great sleepers and a sixteen-month old that will fuss and cry if there's something going on and she feels like she's missing out. I didn't want to haul around a pack and play, so I found three rubbermaid storage bins that fit perfectly in the trunk of my Toyota Sienna.

Then I laid a foam pad over that and laid her sheepskin and blanket over it and - voila! - noise-reduced baby bed! I could put her down at bedtime (before sundown) and not be concerned about her fussing making enemies of our fellow campers. Since the nights were also unseasonably cold, I slept a little better knowing she was a little more insulated in the car than she would have been in the tent

The one investment we made was a rooftop luggage container and we used it to stow all of our bedding - sleeping bags and mats and pillows. We didn't have to fuss with rolling them every morning, either. Just stuff them in and call it good.

2. Playing

I designated one of the bins underneath the baby bed for our "fun stuff". We brought along a stack of picture books, a few of our favorite card games and some small toys that are kept stored in the bin and only come out on trips. Also thrown in were colored pencils and coloring books and a book each for the parents who dreamed of sitting around the lantern after the kids were tucked in for some quiet reading. Basically, any entertainment element was relegated to this bin.

3. Dressing

I wish I could remember where I hear it, but I heard an interview with a serial traveler who said that the key to packing was minimizing clothes. Having to stop and do laundry in some random spot along the way can be a memorable part of the trip. Keeping that in mind, I put two changes of clothes and a pair of underwear for each day into a gallon-sized ziplock bag and lined them all up inside the second of my trunk bins. Their pajamas were stored in their pillowcases so that they were easily available at bed time. I also brought along two towels in this bin for campsite bathhouses and hotel shampoo and soap (The Engineer makes fun of me for hoarding it, but - SEE! - it came in handy!), and flipflops for showers shoes.

After trying out this method, I would make an important change:

Pack fewer underwear.


Because, yes, they seem small and compact, but seven pairs times six people takes up a huge amount of the bin's available real estate; and yes, we did have to do laundry twice during the week, and we could've just thrown the used pairs in with the rest of the load.

The one other change I will make it to invest in two pairs of convertible pants per boy. They are so much more compact than jeans and more versatile. Must have!

4. Eating / Housekeeping

Food was the biggest space hog, of course. But I planned our meals very carefully (maybe I'll do a blog post about that sometime) and we were left with basically nothing but a half a jar of peanut butter by the end of the week.

Our third bin was designated The Kitchen. And it was everything I needed to make our kosher meals happen.

I purchased a set of these Ikea dishes and designated blue and green dairy and red and yellow meat. They are small enough that I could keep each set in it's own gallon ziplock, along with a small pairing knife.

Also into the bin went:

-Large dairy saucepan

-Small dairy frying pan

-Large mean frying pan

-2 cutting boards (meat and dairy)

-2 Spatula and 2 stirring spoon (meat and dairy)

-Can opener

-Salt and pepper grinder

-Small bottle of dish soap

-2 Sponges (meat and dairy)

Above our three-bin base, we had one large bin of food, a regular sized cooler, and a Housekeeping bin. When it was time to park for dinner, I pulled out those three bins and could have dinner going within sixty seconds. Here's what went in the Housekeeping bin:

-Coleman camp stove

-Propane lantern

-Three propane cans



-Toothbrushes and Toothpaste


-Soap in a nylon stocking to tie next to water for easy hand washing

-Small saw

-A few newspapers for firestarting

-Large light sticks for the kids (perfect night light!)

-First aid kit

-Detergent and quarters for 3 loads of laundry



To keep all of that organized in the bin, I used these mesh bags, which are the bomb-diggity!

The Extras

To top off our load, we slipped a bag of bathing suits and two camping chairs into the space behind our trunk bins, slid our tent onto the floor of the back bench seat, stuffed a pack of diapers by the baby's seat for easy access and put a stroller right inside the sliding door. Ready to go! Everything we could possibly need to make our mini-van a home away from home for seven days.

Did I forget something? What's the one camping item you've found that makes all the difference? Sharing is caring. Let me know!

#campingwithkids #minivanlife #familyvacation #roadtrip

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