During my three years of RV-ing full-time and several years of frequently camping before that, I encountered all sorts of crazy conditions. From below-freezing temperatures to nonstop rain, wildlife encounters, mechanical breakdowns, and madmen on the loose, I thought I had pretty much seen it all from either inside my tent or out the window of my tiny home on wheels.
But then, I decided to take my two-month-old baby camping, and that overconfidence quickly got shattered and the great outdoors felt a little less familiar. Here’s what happened the first time I introduced my tiny human to the world of camping, which ironically coincided with my first time camping during the pandemic.
For Chikoo’s (a nickname, not his real name) first camping trip, we wanted to keep it simple and close to home. So, we booked a campsite in the Grants area of New Mexico, which was about an hour and a half away from home and a place we hadn’t spent much time in before.
Due to COVID-19, travel is sketchy right now to say the least. Any trip outside the home feels like a calculated risk and a balancing act between staying safe and stay sane, especially as a first-time mom of a tiny human with a developing immune system. Yet going on a trip in our own RV where we could use our own kitchen and bathroom felt safer than any other option at the moment. So, we just went with it and took out the good ole’ RV for a couple random weekdays to avoid weekend crowds.
Packing for a Baby
Between my husband and I, I’ve always been the packer for our trips. I have list templates for each kind of trip we take and usually start laying stuff out about a week in advance because I hate scrambling around at the last minute and always end up forgetting something important otherwise. But this was my first time ever packing for a baby.
Even after moving from an RV to a house, I’ve still stayed pretty minimalist with the amount of stuff I have, even with a newborn in the mix. But to accommodate the little guy on-the-go, we recently bought a fold-up travel crib that ended up working really well in the RV. In fact, he slept better in there than in the house and set a personal record of 4.5 hours of straight snoozing! For my first time packing for a baby, I definitely over-packed. But there was plenty of space in our former home-on-wheels, so there wasn’t much harm in having a few extra diapers and drool rags lying around.
Baby-ifying the RV
Little Chikoo isn’t mobile yet (unless you count his non-stop wiggling and kicking) so we haven’t had to truly baby-proof the camper yet. However, for a two-month old, we still did have to make some adjustments to our RV setup to accommodate the little guy.
This involved turning the sofa into a travel crib spot, the workdesk/dinette into a diaper changing station, and the top bunk bed into a storage area for baby gear and breastmilk pumping supplies. Of course, Monkey got to keep her bed on the lower bunk bed and continues to be an awesome big sister to little Chikoo.
Slowing Down the Pace
The main difference I noticed between my old camper life days and camping with a baby was the pace of travel. I quickly realized that I had to scale back my expectations of what we could seriously accomplish in a day and that I’d have to be more flexible around Chikoo’s needs – namely his demanding to eat about every two hours.
Pre-baby, the husband and I would have powered through a hike, checked out all a small town’s local attractions, and drank at two breweries by early afternoon. However, little things now like needing to stop and feed Chikoo along the trail gave us some awesome opportunities to take in the views, give a panting Monkey some much-needed shade, and just let the fact sink in that we are starting to introduce this strange and wonderful creature we made to the great outdoors.
Planning for Downtime
Part of slowing down the pace of travel involved scheduling in downtime at our campground and not spending the entire day out and about. Being out every moment of day was a bit too much for this little guy (and for us with him in tow!), so we spent more time than usual in the campground just chilling out. Being near El Malpais National Monument meant that we had some sweet lava rock landscape views from under the camper awning for a little shade from all that New Mexico sunshine.
Baby’s First 5-Mile Hike
But even with a slower pace and scheduled-in breaks, I’m happy to report that Chikoo did his first five-mile hike on this camping trip! By “hike,” I mean he rode in a front-facing carrier as the husband wore him on the hiking trail.
Our big hike was on a portion of the Continental Divide Trail that wasn’t overly challenging but still really beautiful and interesting to check out. Chikoo was super chill pretty much the whole time until it was time for a snack. However, poor Monkey got bit on the paw by something (spider? ant?) and was limping for a while until my tough gal worked it out and fixed herself back up again.
Our second hike the next day was to the Bandera Volcano and ice cave, which was a little shorter but still a pretty unique and dog-friendly place to check out on an uncrowded weekday morning. We wore masks everywhere we went, including on the hiking trails, just to feel as safe as possible. In my opinion, New Mexico has done a better job than a lot of states at controlling the spread of the virus, which makes me happy to live here. However, this particular area of the state seems to be known for its lack of compliance with public health orders, and even the mayor of Grants is now facing a $5,000 fine for hosting a 4th of July parade.
Avoiding Other People
As a pandemic baby, Chikoo isn’t getting the kind of socialization with family and friends that most babies have by this point in life. While we have been going stir-crazy quarantined at home, we intentionally chose a not-too-touristy destination, traveled on a Sunday-Tuesday rather than a weekend, and brought our own food and bathroom supplies to minimize contact with other people.
Fortunately, after over three years of full-time RVing, one of my greatest acquired skills is avoiding other people in campgrounds. Feeling claustrophobic and being bombarded by strangers at all times was one of my least favorite things about full-time camper life, especially towards the end of it. This skill came in handy now more than ever.
Although our campground got more crowded than I was expecting, people generally kept their distance from each other and most resisted the urge to hover over the most adorable baby of all time. This is about the only silver lining to the pandemic that I can think of right now, but I’ll take it.
Although there were definitely ups and downs, I’m calling Chikoo’s first camping trip an overwhelming success…so much so that we’ve already booked his second camping trip in less than two weeks!
We’re planning to check out the Ruidoso area of New Mexico, a region that we have yet to explore as residents here. Not only will this be an exciting trip because it’s a new place but also because of another BIG CHANGE, which I’ll reveal in my next post!
Until then…stay as cool as this dude, who clearly has camping in his DNA.