If you're like most modern families with a young
baby, you've got a house-full (and car-full) of baby gear. The very prospect of doing without some of these everyday items may seem a little daunting at first, however as you're soon to experience, so much of what we use these days is completely unnecessary. What's more important when you embark on a trip with your little baby in tow, is providing warmth, food, shelter and ensuring you are able to keep your baby safe. These are the issues that most affect your choices when packing, other than how much space you have available of course. For us, our experiences of camping with our young
babies has been without a camper or van and without using caravan parks or campsites with facilities so the challenges for us has been to pack frugally, but also responsibly so that our baby was not at risk of danger, illness or harm.
For people travelling without the luxury of packing space, you will have to think laterally in terms of what items you can do without to conserve space in your vehicle for high-priority items (food, water, shelter). Some of the most obvious things you can leave behind are: high chair, rocker, change mat, and large teddies.
However, there are some items you may not already own that you will find very useful on a camping holiday, especially if you're touring and 4WDing. Such as:
- a portable cot - for both sleeping and use as a play-pen
- a backcarrier/papousea large vinyl-backed camping rug that easily rolls/folds away
- umbrella pram
- kids camp chair - add a piece of velcro webbing to create a waist-strap and use a plastic scoop-bib and you've created a "high-chair"
- a "Jolly Jumper" - a type of play equipment designed to support a baby or child from a doorway jam, you can hang it off a tree-limb to give a little fun/freedom to your pre-walker yet peace of mind for you that they are "safe"
- a mesh dome-tent is also an option for a freedom/safety zone
The "Windox sox" or equivalent brand of sunshade for covering the car windows is essential for minimising hours of glare. The brightness of the Australian sun, even in winter, in the outback or on long highways can cause baby (and parents) much distress. If you don't get this sorted, you'll be hanging towels on the windows - messy, and dangerous as this also blocks visibility for the driver. Don't do it.
Whatever pram you decided to take, take a mosquito net for it. If you are going to be driving on rough roads, then you're pram is also going to need to be a 4WD model or at least have large wheels - pneumatic tyres are best. Ever tried pushing a pram on a dirt road with rocky stones? You're in for a surprise. You may even ditch the pram idea altogether - that's why we've always preferred to use a backcarrier/papouse.
If like us, you are a very adventurous and have decided you're going to stay in bush camps without any facilities, then sterilisation and bottles etc is still possible - you just need to be organised and patient. We have successfully travelled for months on end with bottle-fed, dummy loving babies in remote deserts, and through rainy, wintry conditions of Tasmania
, camping out in tents and swags and without any special facilities to do our washing and sterilising using just open fires and billies. It's all a matter of attitude and planning.
My best tip for sterilisation is to use cold water sterilisation tablets and soak bottles, teats and dummies in solution in sealed plastic containers whilst you are driving. I actually found the "Tupperware - Pick a Del" container ideal for dealing with dummies on the go. In the evenings after dinner when doing the washing up, I'd use hot soapy water and a bottle brush to thoroughly clean the bottles and teats, and then lots of boiling water. Air-drying is more germ-free than drying with the inevitable dodgy tea-towel (much worse camping than at home!), and if the water has been "boiling" it dries very quickly. Drain upside down on sheets of paper-towel.
Rather than buying the costly single-serve formula sachets, we made up own own single-serves in containers each night in small containers ready for the day ahead. We also used a 1L thermos flask containing boiled water for mixing up formula. If you do this, you'll also need to prepare a 1L plastic bottle containing cooled boiled water for mixing up formula (I use a mix of half hot/cold water) to achieve the right temperature and to avoid any need to "heat" the formula on the go - no need for a microwave! I found a nesting set of 4 forumla containers that had a narrow opening, which avoiding spills of powder when transferring to the baby bottles, but if you can't find containers like that, then you can create your own plastic funnel by cutting the top off a soft drink bottle.
If your baby is taking pureed solids, then pack your "stick" blender. If you don't have 240v power available, a 300W invertor installed into your car will do the trick. You'll also find zillions of uses for the invertor (battery charging - camera, mobile phone, computer etc). If you're thinking of using an invertor, please read our Invertors article first for an in-depth technical overview and loads of practical tips.
Most people we know that don't travel, dread any time over 5 minutes in the car with their young
kids and marvel at our our kids didn't drive us crazy on all the years of day-long driving we endured together. There is no trick, we didn't dose them up on fenergen, and we didn't hire an entertainer. We did however, create 1 "car" toy bag - containing a few "favourite" items and a few "new" items. The bag contained things like books, teething rings, small teddies, and items that could be strung together and hung off the back of the car seat
and we immersed ourselves in nursery rhymes and classical music (all kids respond well to music if carefully selected and used appropriately).
For efficient packing, we also created 1 day-bag for babies daily essentials - nappies, change of clothes, bibs and cutlery. Easy to grab, small and practical for on the go driving days. Of course, this was backed-up with a secondary bag of clothes/spare linen packed in a less accessible area.
For camping out in inland Australia
, you'll have to be prepared for warm days but freezing cold nights. This means lots of layers of clothing and for babies, because it is so hard for them to communicate if they're cold or hot, you'll have to experiment a bit. The best item I've used camping in the outback in winter with my babies is the baby-sized sleeping bag. These are like a front-zipped romper but with a sleeping bag foot. I have always been wary of those outfits and bags with a hood - for fear of suffocation so avoid those altogether. Same with beanies etc - you can't ever be sure the beanies will stay on whilst a baby sleeps so even though they seem cold with their little naked heads exposed - never cover up a baby's head when sleeping. Just like adults, they will stay warm best if you can cover up their feet and perhaps hands in mittens. I experimented with portable cot bedding and found no sheet or blanket would stay on the baby so ditched worry about it. In the evening, I would change baby into appropriate light pjs and when ready to laydown to bed, I would slip her into the zippered-sleeping bag. I also found the zipper the easiest for undressing during night time nappy changes.
All the little necessities should be packed in small "themed" bags for easy use. eg. one bag could contain nappy rash paste, infant Panadol, sunscreen, insect repellent, extra nappy wipes, extra nappy sacks, bath soap, and 1 large and 1 small universal sink plugs - in case you find a laundry tub you can bathe baby in, but find no plug!