How to Camp Without Your Baby

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Step 1: Leave your baby with your wonderful, doting parents.

Step 2: Enjoy.

So much simpler than camping with one’s baby/toddler. Pete and I were lucky enough to finally have a weekend away, just the two of us. We have both had weekends away separately, but this was our first overnight trip together, sans Little C. And it was so relaxing.

We spent two nights camping in Algonquin Park in early July. Since my previous camping posts seemed to be all about lessons in list form, I’m going to continue with that theme here. Here is what we learned this time around:

1) Algonquin Park is beautiful.
I was lucky enough to spend four summers living and working in Algonquin Park. Even though it can be really busy in tourist season, it’s still such a gorgeous place. It’s easy to forget that when you’ve been away. I did a lot of deep sighing on our trip.

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2) We are old.
I bumped into one of my old co-workers at our campground and while we were chatting, he asked me how long it had been since I worked there. Ten years. It’s been ten years. He replied “Whew, I shouldn’t have asked that. I’m getting old.” Me too, my friend.

3) Resist the urge to call the babysitters.
When Pete and I became parents, we swore that we wouldn’t talk incessantly about our baby when we were able to go on date nights. We wanted to stay connected as partners, not just as parents. An extension of this policy was that we wouldn’t call my parents to check on things while we were away. This was our time to reconnect and be together as a couple. This may not work for everyone, but it’s good for us.

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4) Enjoy the little things.
When you aren’t chasing a little person (or people) around, it’s a lot easier enjoy the serenity. You can really experience the smell of the white pines, the call of a loon, and the sound of the water lapping against your canoe. Try to take it all in.

Pete enjoying the serenity, and a roast beef sandwich.

Pete enjoying the serenity, and a roast beef sandwich.

5) Appreciate the trip for what it is.
This was something I learned about camping with a baby, and it applies here too. Even though Pete and I were on our own this time, we were still more exhausted than we were before we had C, and ended up asleep in our tent both nights before 10:00pm.

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We also really wanted to do an interior canoe trip, but my parents were nervous about this and asked that we camp in a campground instead. Fair enough. We will be able to go on a canoe trip someday. It turns out that this plan worked well for us anyway. We did some canoeing day trips and between my aching back and Pete’s bad shoulder, we weren’t able to paddle for more than a few hours anyway. See point #2.

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6) Document the experience.
Even if this amounts to taking a lot of photos, do it. As parents, we tend to document our children’s lives at the expense of our own. This is natural, of course, but I think it’s important to remember times like these. When life gets hectic again (for us, that will be around October 27th), being able to relive a relaxing time like this will be invaluable. Well, that and wine.

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How Not to Camp with a Toddler

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Pete and I took C camping this past weekend. It was not nearly as successful as our trip to Algonquin last summer, when C was a baby. On that trip, we were able to tote our not-yet-mobile ten-month-old around on hiking trips and I was able to enjoy delicious, delicious beer by the campfire at night. Those were the days.

But alas, this time, things did not go so smoothly. Here are some of the things we learned the hard way last weekend:

1) Don’t get sick on a camping trip.

On our first (and ultimately only) night, I started to feel a sore throat coming on, but I figured that maybe it was just a bit raw from sitting around a smoky campfire all night. Oh, no. That was denial. I woke up in the middle of the night with my throat on fire. Soon enough, C was showing signs of being sick as well. Three days later, as I write this, we are both still sick and completely miserable. Why are summer colds the worst colds of all? Ugggghhhh.

2) Don’t let your toddler skip a nap.

I don’t really have any tips on how to prevent nap-skipping, since I employed all of my tricks and C still stayed awake all afternoon. I’m sure there are 22-month-olds out there who can do well without an afternoon sleep but my little lady is not one of them. Bad times were on the horizon.

Helping...sort of

Helping…sort of

3) Don’t let your toddler skip snack time.

After the failed nap, we took C to the beach for some splashy fun. It turns out, the splashing was far too much fun and C would not take a break to have a snack, under any circumstance. This (combined with exhaustion) led to the worst meltdown of her little life (so far!) Luckily, we had her favourite CD (she loves ’50s music, and specifically, my uncle’s band, The Martels) and lots of cheese on hand. Crisis managed.

Splashy fun

Splashy fun

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4) Don’t believe weather apps.

We were supposed to get 1-3 mm of rain on Sunday morning. Instead, we were trapped inside our tent all morning during a torrential downpour. Getting trapped in a tent on a rainy day used to be fun when I was a carefree lady in my twenties with some friends and a box of wine. Subtract the wine and add a toddler and things get real.

This recap definitely makes our trip sound like a disaster, but it was mostly enjoyable. The meltdown passed and C was back to her happy little self. We went for a stroll around the campground in the evening and read books in the dining tent. She fell asleep easily at bedtime and then Pete and I had a quiet evening to ourselves.

S'more o'clock

S’more o’clock

We were both sad to leave early, since Arrowhead really is a beautiful park, but Pete and I consoled ourselves by looking forward to the trip we’re taking in July to Algonquin (a trip we taking alone – thank you grandparents!)

A Cabin in the Woods…With a Five-Month-Old…In February

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Last February, Pete convinced me to go on a cross-country ski excursion to a cabin in Quebec.  I say “convinced me” because I wasn’t ready, with a five-month-old, for a trip like that.  But looking back, I think it’s something I could do (with an older baby, of course) and I’m ready to share some of the lessons I learned on that adventure.

The cabin in Quebec’s Reserve faunique Papineau Labelle

Some backstory: Pete’s friends live in Ottawa, which is about a six-hour drive from us.  His friends, who had two little ones at the time, aged almost-four and eighteen months, had done this trip before and had made it an annual event.  Pete was really looking forward to seeing them and getting away for a long weekend.

Cross-country skiing across a lake in Quebec

The long drive to Ottawa was followed, a few days later, by another long drive to the park in Quebec, which was then followed by a long cross-country ski into the cabin.  It was only accessible by ski or snowmobile.  The park delivered some of our luggage by snowmobile (and a park warden stopped by once a day to check on us) but we towed some of our gear, and kids, by chariot.

The cabin was on a beautiful lake, and it was fairly remote.

C being towed behind Pete while cross-country skiing.

There was no hydro or running water.  We had water filters and propane for lights, so we weren’t roughing it too much.  There were wood stoves for heat.  And although I had to run out to the outhouse in the middle of the night (in February, in Quebec, brrr…) I will admit that I’ve never seen such beautiful stars as I did on those nights.

A beautiful February night

We stayed for two nights, and here are some of the lessons I learned:

1) Don’t push yourself.  This is a good, general parenting rule.  I’ve learned not to push myself too much.  Sometimes I try to do too much, and I always pay the price.  For new parents, it can be hard to accept your new limits, especially if you were very active or very social.  It can be hard to accept that you can’t travel as much or be as spontaneous as you once were.  But things change so quickly with little ones and soon you’ll be able to do more of those things again.

Snuggling in the cabin

2) Travel once your baby is eating solid food.  This is just a personal rule I’m going to follow myself, and it’s related to point number one.  I found it stressful to be the sole source of food for my baby on a trip like this.  I wasn’t ready for it.  I find, now that C eats snacks, that it is so easy to keep her happy and full in a pinch.

Pete filtering lake water while C sleeps in her baby carrier

3) Follow your own schedule.  As a new parent, I found routines comforting, and C depended on them.  Even at five months, our baby had a fairly regular routine.  By travelling with others, we really upset that routine and that meant that our baby (who was exclusively breastfed at the time) went too long without eating, and that stressed both me and her out.

All in all, I would say the trip was a success.  We all survived, Pete got to visit with some great friends, and we all learned to properly appreciate indoor plumbing.

Pete cooking our dinner over the campfire

How to Camp with a Baby

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Pete and I took C camping recently, and we all survived.  We didn’t forget anything (unheard of), the weather was fantastic, we managed to hike 18 kilometres over three days, and most importantly, no one got eaten by a bear (although there was a bear trap set up two campsites away from us!)

Everything fits! Barely.

So now I feel qualified to offer camping-with-baby tips to others.  I’m kidding.  Every baby is different, and every camping trip is different.  But I did learn a few things on our first trip that could be helpful for anyone contemplating a similar adventure.

Pete and C playing in our dining tent.

1) Bring new toys.  Alternatively, take some toys out of rotation for a few weeks before the trip and bust them out at the campsite.  I realize that this is a well-known tip, but we forgot to do it so it stands out in my mind as an essential one.

2) Find as secluded a campsite as possible.  We were car-camping, but we managed to book a walk-in site that was set back from the road by about 15 metres.  That makes a big difference for a baby’s sleep quality.

Where the napping happens.

3) Camp in the radio-free area.  These campground areas tend to be a little quieter, though that’s not always the case.  For instance, there was a group of three 20-something guys on a site across the road from us who retired to their massive tent at about 6:00 pm one night.  They were REALLY loud in there and we couldn’t figure out what was going on, until Pete walked past their site to fetch some water.  He came back and told me he thought they were playing Risk in there, because he heard something about a “clean sweep of North America.”  Good times.

Hiking Booth’s Rock Trail in Algonquin Park

4) Don’t fall for baby tricks.  Our first night, we were worried that the baby wouldn’t sleep well, so we went to bed early.  We hunkered down before it was even completely dark out.  To our surprise, the baby slept through the night and got up, happy and bright-eyed, at about 7:30 am.  Amazing!  We decided that she was a natural camper and that we should probably celebrate that fact with a late-night campfire and some drinks.  Do you see where this is going?  We were up every two hours with her that second night.  And she was up for the day at 6:00 am.  She won that round.  Well played, C.

Doesn’t Pete look exhausted? Lesson learned.

5) Enjoy the trip for what it is.  I used to go on a few interior canoe camping trips every summer.  What we did with C in July was very, very different from those portaging trips.  But that’s okay.  We’ll do those sorts of trips again someday.  And then we’ll probably miss these little trips with baby C.  It’s amazing to watch a baby experiencing the natural world for the first time.