Family camping hits and misses: DIY Laundry


My oldest daughter demonstrating the art of washing your own clothes while wearing two camping un-dryables: the hooded sweatshirt and jeans.

When my husband and I planned our summer holidays we decided to make them more than just fun and include a bit of life skills. Since we have 5 daughters — including, to be honest, an infant who still wears whatever the heck I say — frugality in their change of clothes was a survival skill that was sorely lacking. And by survival, I mean mostly my own as the Chief Laundry Matron.

To teach the girls frugality in their change of clothes, we decided to skip the laundromat altogether and make the children wash their own clothes. We purchased a large yellow janitor’s bucket-on-wheel with a mop wringer. We hoped to use it as a laundry-washer-and-wringer. We also went shopping for a proper hand-washing laundry detergent. My first lesson in DIY laundry was to learn that not all gentle detergents are created equal. In other words, there is gentle machine detergent and there is hand-washing detergent. For longer-term use, you cannot get away with repeatedly (read daily) washing clothes by hand in machine detergent. I learned this at the last minute and left with a jug of grocery-store bought Ivory Snow. It did the job but in the future I will shop for something meant to be dumped back into the ground.

The laundry routine got off to a bad start when we realized that the yellow janitor bucket would not fit in the camping trailer. Well, not with our current rate of packing. Fitting 10 in a trailer meant for 7 doesn’t only mean that you will be cozy — read “cramped”– it also means that you are storing more stuff than the trailer was meant to store. Leaving the wringer at home meant hand-wringing and putting-up very wet clothes to dry.

The drying time was a problematic issue. When camping in PEI, where the weather was dry and windy, our clothes took half a day to dry. But in Quebec where the weather was hot, humid and the campsites shaded, drying took at least two days. I say “at least” because we left Quebec City with a basket full of wet clothes that finished drying in the St-Lawrence River wind in Riviere-du-Loup.

The drying issues didn’t stop with the weather. Another challenge came, what’s new, from the size of our family. Even with washing small loads daily, I didn’t have enough clothesline to hang 10-people’s clothes. I relied on a folding drying rack but stacking clothes side-by-side also lengthens drying time. Add the daily load of beach towels and bathing suits and the drying real estate comes at a premium. Last winter as we were planning our trip, I made a list of camping clothes I wanted to find for the children. It included a lot of active wear from MEC in synthetic fibers and nylon blends for quicker drying. I was hoping to find most of it in consignment stores but didn’t follow-through with as much enthusiasm as clothing 8 kids on a budget warrants. We left with our usual canvas and t-shirts. And those take a long time to dry, especially when they sport fancy add-on such as cargo pockets and shelf bras. To top it off, some children — who shall remain anonymous — tossed the carefully crafted list of “Things to Bring” and packed their own duffel bags with enough clothes to bypass the entire laundry exercise. Not only didn’t they learn anything about laundry frugality but we tripped on their humongous kit bags for two weeks, shedding bits and pieces of sanity with every hit.

Laundry logistics was also a concern in the planning of our daily activities. To be kept under control, the laundry monster had to be fought a little daily. But planning daily laundry without interfering with the hot water needs of mealtimes and personal hygiene made it difficult to leave the trailer. I had to face the fact that regardless of the value of the learning experience, 6 people doing a handful of laundry daily was seriously inefficient. In the interest of having a family holiday, I ended-up doing most of everybody’s laundry. Overall, I washed half of our total laundry burden by hand and took advantage of laundromats for the other half.

I’m not giving-up on DIY laundry and the teaching of clothes frugality. Next time, we will bring the wringer bucket even if I have to toss a few overstocked items (like the playpen and my guitar: really, we c0-sleep… in a 26X8 ft camper trailer… why did I think that (a) I would use the playpen, and (b) I would play a musical instrument after bedtime. Why?). I will also carefully oversee my children’s packing to make sure that they don’t bring their entire wardrobe and that their clothes are easy to wash and dry. And I will buy a washboard. That will be the best part.

Camping with baby (ies)


We just left for our 3-week trailer adventure, towing our little house (emphasis on little) all the way from Ottawa to the maritimes with some fun stops along the way. One of the challenges of fitting 10 in a trailer made for 9 (on paper, reality is more like 7) is what to do with the babies. The trailer is either in eat mode or sleep mode with strictly enough room to do one thing at a time: prepare food or sleep. The outside is dirt.

Before going any further, let the record show that camping with babies is a royal nuisance and should be avoided. But if you can’t avoid it because, like me, you have other children for whom the definition of a good time goes beyond napping at regular intervals in their own bed, then you may need to find ways to compensate for the sheer lousiness of camping with infants.

(Some people camp with baby because they love camping and want to share their love of sleeping on dirt with their unappreciative infant/toddler. There is nothing I can say to help these folks.)

(As another aside, my 3 year-old just fell asleep singing “I want to go home to sleep” on the tune of Safe and Sound by Taylor Swift. So there.)

But yes, so you have to camp with infants or toddlers because you have ABSOLUTELY NO OTHER CHOICE and you are looking for tips to make your life more pleasant or at the very least less miserable. My first tip would be to get a cheap wading pool (cheap as in $15 is too much) and bring a bag of toys. The wading pools are the first things out of the trailer and the twins have a clean dry place to play. They can also be filled with one inch of water and placed in the shade at the splash pad on a hot day.

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Sleeping in tents with babies can and will be a pain in the neck. And the lower back. Co-sleeping has been our saving grace. For Lucas especially, home is where the boob is. And it may sound like a drag at home but it’s a boon on the road. Here he is snuggling-up to Sarah in the queen size bed we share.

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Of course, co-sleeping can be dramatic especially when you wake-up with your 3 year-old violently throwing-up on you. This morning’s shower was the best ever and it is with little sleep and some unplanned laundry that we hit the road for the second leg of our RV extravaganza!