How to take a toddler on a trailer camping trip

When my kid was still a baby, my partner and I tried tent camping. Once. It did *not* go well, despite all those hot tips online for making camping ~so simple~ with your little angel. When they were an older baby (six-eight months), we went on a few camper van trips to see if we could still get out there like we did pre-baby….with a few more amenities.

The vans made camping with a little one significantly easier, but we realized the vans were unwieldy for getting around once we arrived somewhere. Plus, we had to take down/reassemble the camping part of the van anytime we wanted to drive anywhere. So we took the plunge and got a travel trailer to give us the flexibility to leave a camper behind and drive around in a normal car to trailheads or into town.

Our kid is now a toddler and we took our R-Pod 176 for its maiden voyage this weekend. Here’s what I learned.

Please keep in mind this is based on my personal experience and I’m not a child safety or other expert, so take my advice at your own risk 🙂 If I’ve missed anything you’re worried about, let me know in the comments and I can help you brainstorm!

PS: I refer to my kid throughout the post as Toddler OB (Outdoor Beginner). “We” refers to my spouse and I.

How to pick your destination

Stay close to home! We went to a state park 20 minutes away from our house that was also very close to civilization. We were a ten-minute drive from a coffee shop (priorities) and not too far from home if we had to pull the plug altogether. AND we went for just one night.

Since we also didn’t have any experience towing a trailer, we picked a campground with pull-through sites (instead of back-in) that was easy to drive to and around. It was also so close that we could go scope it out ahead of time, which iwas an added bonus.

If you’re in the Denver metro area, Chatfield State Park is a great option! It’s right off the highway and the park itself is relatively flat with wide, mostly straight roads. The campground caters to RVs and even has a really toddler-friendly playground on the C Loop!

Toddler bedtime and sleeping arrangements

If you don’t co-sleep, it can be tricky to figure out where to get kiddo down safely for the night. (By the way, no shame in co-sleeping, we just don’t. Do what works for your family!)

After looking at pretty much every floor plan available, we settled on a trailer with bunk beds in the front and our bed in the back (which converted from the dining area). My kid still fits in their Guava Lotus crib at home, so this was our first foray into a “real” bed for them.

We set them up in the bottom bunk and used the top bunk as our changing table/storage area. A bed rail served multiple purposes – we didn’t want them to accidentally roll out, but we also didn’t want them to be able to get out on their own and roam around in the middle of the night.

There are a bunch of different bed rails available, but we used this Munchkin one because it fit the opening of the bunk bed. The models from Regalo and Hiccapop are also well reviewed and less expensive. You can get the Munchkin one on Amazon, too, but it’s less expensive at Target (as of April 2022)!

Depending on the layout of your trailer, you may have windows or the door nearby that you need to block light from. We kept our kid up until it was dark out, but that was only around 7 p.m. in March. For summer, we wanted them to be able to fall asleep before sunset as well as not wake up at 6 am with sunrise!

An easy fix was getting short blackout curtains and a tension rod to put in front of the bed rail. This also had the added bonus of blocking out all the lights from the fridge and other electrical controls that lit up the inside of the trailer once the lights were out.

toddler bedrail and short curtains are attached to a twin bunk bed in an rpod travel trailer

I found these blackout curtains on Amazon and Target had the best cheap tension rod option in a ton of lengths. I used a longer curtain from Target to hang curtains in front of where my spouse and I were sleeping too. FYI – curtains are apparently sold individually at Target, so buy two if you use that link! The Amazon curtains came as a pair.

Getting acclimated to a different bed

The bunk bed was standard twin length, so it wasn’t hard to find a fitted sheet in a fun color to start making their bed feel like home. I also piled in all their favorite blankets and let them bring unlimited stuffed animals, especially because the bed was still huge for them and there was no way they would run out of space.

I printed out some photos from other trips to help them feel at home, but ended up running out of time to hang them up. I put them up after our trip and Toddler OB got really excited to see them, but they weren’t an absolute necessity.

We also ran out of time to sleep in the trailer when it was just parked in our driveway. Instead, we helped Toddler OB acclimate and get familiar with the bed by playing in the bed whenever they wanted to check out the trailer (which was often!).

We also got a tip from our kid’s occupational therapist that a calendar can help them understand what to expect. My partner drew a picture of the trailer on the day we were going camping and every day we’d point to “trailer day” and talk about sleeping in the trailer that day.

Month view of March on a paper calendar with trailer icon drawn on day of camping trip

Toddler OB was still a little uncertain by the time bedtime was actually happening, especially because they hadn’t seen the curtains before then. But they were so tired after skipping a nap and running around all evening that they went right down anyway!

(We didn’t skip their nap on purpose, they just didn’t take one that day at daycare and it ended up working in our favor.)

Our trailer had a propane-powered heater and electricity, so climate control wasn’t an issue. We also could have plugged in the white noise machine right by their bed, but we forgot to bring it. They ended up sleeping just fine through the night without it, even with the door right next to where they slept (my partner had to escape for a midnight bathroom run).

What about naps?

We made sure to head home in time for nap time (Toddler OB only takes one in the afternoon right now) the next day. In the future, I’m banking on the blackout curtain set-up for getting them through nap time while my partner and I either also nap or hang out outside the trailer.

How to safely feed a toddler in a trailer

The Hiccapop Omniboost Travel Booster Seat continues to work really well for pretty much any travel experience. The same went for the trailer. Ideally, we would have had somewhere to strap it in or fasten it to, but since that wasn’t an option, I just scooted the trailer’s dining table as close as possible to Toddler OB.

We did have to make sure one of us was directly supervising/making sure they didn’t tip over. This didn’t feel overwhelming to me because I didn’t have to do as much close supervision/constant holding as I did when they were crawling/rolling/not really able to control their body or understand risk as when they were a baby on the van trips.

a toddler sits in a travel high chair eating out of a bowl, sitting in front of  a window inside a tan RV interior

I didn’t look into proper high chairs since the only place to put one would have been at the end of the table. This would have gotten in the way of the kitchen area, plus we wouldn’t have been able to slide in and out of the dinette seating without also moving the high chair. It just seemed like too much of a hassle. The Hiccapop seat also folds up really small and is nice and light, which made it perfect for breaking down and stowing in the camper.

Having a refrigerator and a microwave made actual food preparation a breeze. We packed leftovers for dinner and fruit and oatmeal for breakfast to keep things super simple. We brought all of their regular meal time supplies like a small bowl, utensil, and their bib. We did forget adult-size utensils so I’m happy to report toddler spoons aren’t that bad to eat with.

How to keep toddlers occupied during trailer set-up/tear-down

It’s not as fun, but basically one person keeps the kid entertained/away from danger while the other does the trailer set-up and tear-down. If you’re the only adult, consider a pack-and-play or some kind of enclosed area for them to safely play while you set up.

I originally hoped Toddler OB would hang out in their car seat with some Goldfish while both adults set up the trailer, but they were antsy to get out and explore so that didn’t pan out (the snacks did generally help keep them occupied though).

I was able to involve Baby OB with a few of the chores so that they felt like they were still helping, which made a big difference!

Toddler-friendly chores included putting the stabilizer pads back in their bag, helping to push the up/down button on the jack, “helping” plug in the trailer by holding the cord, putting the level in different spots to see where the bubble went, and putting the wheel chocks in their bin (after an adult safely removed them from the trailer, same for the stabilizer pads).

a man in a blue hoodie plugs in a travel trailer while his toddler looks on

When they got bored of helping, or didn’t want to be held away from the trailer/out of the road, I brought out a toy for them to pull around since they wanted to be active but also occupied.

Overall first impressions

Trailer camping was WAY easier than tent camping and also more convenient than a van. Overall, we had an absolute blast and I still felt like we were spending time in the outdoors despite all the conveniences we had (electricity, heat, etc).

I was also really pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to modify the regular bed into a toddler-friendly bed. And, I think constantly talking about sleeping in the trailer and building up Trailer Day as a really excited outing helped Toddler OB go with the flow once we were out there. I’m not a parenting expert, but setting expectations and giving them some choices (which stuffed animals to bring, letting them help with chores) went a long way in my opinion.

Our next trip is a week long and five hours from home, so we’re diving in headfirst this spring! I’ll keep you posted as we learn along the way.

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