How to Have a Sensory-Friendly Camping Experience

If you are a parent with a child who doesn’t like camping, creating a sensory-friendly camping experience might just be the answer. In particular, children with autism or a sensory disorder travelling, sleeping outdoors, having strangers at neighboring campsites may be a sensory-rich experience. However, with simple changes and planning, sensory-friendly camping can make the experience enjoyable and fun for the whole family.

What makes camping a sensory-rich experience?

Are you surprised that camping is sensory-rich? For people who experience sensory sensitivities or sensory overload camping can be an overwhelming and uncomfortable experience. H

As an example, sleeping in a new, unfamiliar location can be a problem. For many people with sensory sensitivities, relying on routine and schedule makes daily life stress-free. Sleeping a a new place can cause stress and anxiety. Notwithstanding the complete change in routine while camping.

Another common challenge is the noise that comes with camping. Being outdoors in nature introduces a whole new set of unfamiliar sounds.

Lastly, simply the unknowns about what camping involves cause stress and anxiety. stressful. However, research has shown that spending time in nature has been found to provide motor-sensory, emotional and social benefits to neurodiverse children. Plan a sensory-friendly camping trip to make your vacation enjoyable.

How to create a sensory-friendly camping experience for your family

There are simple ways to make camping sensory-friendly for an enjoyable family trip.

Infographic highlighting 6 ways to have a sensory-friendly camping experience.

Acknowledge the impact of camping on your 8 senses

The first thing to do to make camping a sensory-friendly experience is to recognize how camping influences each of your 8 senses. Think of what you will see, hear, taste, touch and smell. Also, consider how you move, how you balance and your internal body sense. Therefore, consider the different sensory experiences for each sense below before you plan your next camping trip.

See.

  • Are you staying in an open area or a more shielded, private space?
  • Is there space between your campsite and other campsites?
  • Are you planning on remote camping or more “urban” camping?
  • What will be familiar or unfamiliar in what you see?
  • Bring familiar things to look at, like a favorite book, to help reduce novelty.

Hear.

  • How close is the road to your camp site?
  • Are there other camp sites close by?
  • What about nature sounds around you that could different e.g. a nearby waterfall?
  • Noise-cancelling earmuffs and ear plugs might be helpful.

Taste.

  • Will food be familiar or unfamiliar?
  • Are you able to bring snacks or meals that you know your child prefers?
  • While novelty is fun, sometimes keeping some things the same helps!

Touch.

  • What types of surfaces will you be sleeping on?
  • Where will you set up the tent?
  • Are you packing comfortable or relaxing seating (e.g. a hammock, comfortable chairs)?
  • In fact, practice sleeping in sleeping bags before you go!

Smell.

  • What are the different scents while camping that might be a problem?
  • Will the smell of campfire be irritating?
  • A small fan might help.

Movement.

  • Moving more might be tiring or a great outlet.
  • What types of activities are there to do while you are camping?
  • E.g. swimming, hiking, canoeing.
  • Planning rest breaks or quite times in between activities can hep create a good schedule.

Balance.

  • Hiking along trails at a height might be unsettling.
  • Sleeping in hammocks also might be a little to much.
  • If your child like their feet on the ground, plan accordingly.

Interoception.

  • Interoception is your internal body sense.
  • Camping likely will interrupt your daily routine.
  • Are bathrooms nearby and along the way?
  • Can you plan mealtimes and snacks for “regular” times?
  • Eating, drinking and going to the bathroom at usual times is incredibly helpful.

Practice camping beforehand

The unknowns about camping cause stress and not happy excitement. Especially if camping is not something you have done before or something your family does not do often. Practice camping as a solution. Here are some practice ideas:

  • Set up a tent in your backyard.
  • Play in the tent, too!
  • Sleep overnight in the tent.
  • Practice sleeping in sleeping bags in your own beds, first.
  • Include the whole family in planning.
  • Pull out pictures and videos of past camping trips to review together.
  • Look at pictures and videos about your camping destination.

Look for sensory-friendly campsites

Accessible campsite may offer sensory-friendly features, too. For instance, Parks Canada has accessible camping options. Moreover, Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, Canada, even has autism-friendly options. As another example, the National Parks Service in the United States has many accessibility options, too. Finally, accessible campsites can also be found in the UK. Do your research to see what amenities are a match for your family.

Plan camping activities that are enjoyable for your child

Set your family up for success by first planning activities that you know everyone will enjoy. While the location will be completely different, choosing things to do that are familiar but in a different environment might be enough of a change for your child or family to manage.

Young family sitting on picnic table at campsite eating watermelon.

Bring sensory-friendly devices, tools and toys

Furthermore, it is helpful to pack sensory-friendly devices, tools and toys with you while you camp. They can help reduce the overload of new sensory experiences! Some examples include:

Be realistic: adjust your expectations

Lastly, it is crucial to be realistic about what your child and family can handle. For instance, on your first camping trip, going on a week-long camping trip may be a bit overwhelming. Instead, try to plan shorter camping trips to help your child become more comfortable. Additionally, you may want to plan a camping trip that is nearby to where you live. This ensures that if your family needs to unexpectedly leave earlier than anticipated, being closer to home is a help.

Interesting in learning more about sensory-friendly vacation and travel for your family? Then, check out:

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