Make summertime camping a fun, safe experience for baby and the whole family.

For many families, summertime means vacations, and vacations can be packed full of long hours spent riding in the car, heading toward that far-off destination. Whether it’s simply driving to the in-laws, or heading out to a favorite camping ground, being prepared for anything and everything is a must, especially when traveling with baby.

What to pack

Babies have special needs to take into consideration when traveling. They’ll need an arsenal of food, toys and clothes, not to mention a safe place to sleep. Taking baby along for the ride can be challenging, but when prepared, can be very rewarding.

The first thing to pack is sustenance for baby — what you bring depends on the age of the baby, as well as their day-to-day diet. For a child under six months, breast milk or formula will suffice. For a 6 to 12-month-old, packing tubs of baby food and snacks that don’t need to be refrigerated, such as bananas, can save both you and baby a lot of stress.

For babies who are nursing or on formula, moms want to be sure to secure a comfortable place to feed baby, such as a quiet picnic table or uncrowded rest stop, and wear nursing-friendly clothing if breast-feeding. Always remember to wash hands before feeding — alcohol-based hand sanitizer or baby wipes will do if soap and water are not available.

In transit

A long car ride can mean cramped spaces and minutes that seem like hours. Install a safe, up-to-date car seat in your vehicle, pack an infant carrier (such as a backpack, sling or front carrier), diaper gear and feeding equipment. Spoons, bowls and bottles or sippy cups are a must for road tripping with baby.

Keeping baby happy during the drive is key to having a relaxing journey to your destination. Taking breaks every few hours helps break up the monotony of driving, both for you and baby. Get out, stretch your legs and use the down time wisely – change diapers, administer feedings, and play with baby. Bring along new, novel toys and books to keep baby entertained.

The elements

If your trip involves spending many hours outdoors, such as camping, you’ll want to take all the necessary safety precautions to keep baby comfortable and shielded from the elements. Seek shade whenever possible, and find a sunscreen that is safe for baby’s tender skin, as well as bug repellents. A sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher is recommended, and reapply every two hours to ensure maximum coverage. Bug repellents are only recommended if baby is over two months old — many brands make products geared specifically for young skin, so be sure to shop labels that specify.

Try these tips

An important note to remember: Try not to dress your baby in flowery, colorful prints when spending extended amounts of time outdoors. As funny as it sounds, bees and other stinging insects are attracted to the colors, which means your baby becomes a target. Also, don’t use any lotions or sprays that have a fragrance, as these can also act as bug magnets.

When putting baby down for a nap or bedtime outdoors or in a tent, use mosquito netting and screens to keep the pesky bloodsuckers at bay – supple baby skin is often a favorite of mosquitos, as it’s easily bitten into. Be sure to wash baby off before putting to bed, to remove the day’s grime and dirt, as well as to ensure all repellents and sunscreens don’t irritate baby’s skin during sleep.

Safety precautions

Introducing baby to outdoor activities can be fun for both baby as well as mom and dad; however, safety precautions are necessary when spending time outside with your child. Camping can present all kinds of hazards, including water — many times, camping grounds are located near lakes or rivers. Be sure to assess your surroundings, and make your area child proofed if at all possible. When near water, be sure to have an adult remain at arm’s length of baby at all times, and always hold your baby when venturing into the water. Be sure to equip your child with a personal flotation device, and stay aware of your surroundings; currents and undertows can be extremely dangerous to even the most experienced swimmers.

Following simple guidelines when enjoying the great outdoors with your baby can help make baby’s first camping trip a great experience. Whether you’re planning a week-long trek in the woods or a day trip, keeping baby safe and protected makes all the difference.

Jennifer Shu, M.D., FAAP, is a practicing pediatrician and author in Atlanta, Georgia. 
A frequent guest on national and local television, radio and web-based programs, Dr. Shu completed her internship and residency at the University of California in San Francisco, and received her medical degree at the Medical College of Virginia.