Camping road trip: 8 ways our family prepared for 6 weeks of popup camping

A 6-week camping road trip is a not-insignificant amount of time to travel. Especially in a car. With a popup camper. And two kids.

Our plans for a February and March road trip throughout California included a range of climates and areas, from the redwood forests near Oregon, to the deserts of California’s arid southeast. We’d sprinkle in a couple of motel stays too. In order to get ready and plan ahead for having a good time on the road, here are 8 things we did to help us along.

Family travel videos: Preparing for long camping road trips

Along with our tips camping road trip advice below, you can find out more in two family travel videos about how we prepare for long camping road trips:

Camping for 6 weeks! Food, Fixes & Bug Spray! 5 ways our family got ready for California camping

Camping for a month… How to pack the popup camper? – Family Summer Road Trip 2021

8 ways we prepared for a 6-week camping road trip

1. Download music and audiobooks for on-the-road, quiet time, and bedtime listening.

Whether from Audible, Hoopla or Overdrive, audiobooks were a big companion on this trip. Most of our road time was full of music. Since we were traveling to remote areas where any sort of cell or wifi service would be unlikely, we made sure we had playlists and audiobooks downloaded to our phones.

Your local library can be a great source for ebooks, audiobooks, and more, too. For example, through our Eugene Public Library system (shout-out!), we can check out ebooks and audiobooks on Hoopla and Overdrive for free.

Or, if you prefer to buy, Audible is another great option for getting regular audiobooks.

2. Build in “down days.”

Some mornings, afternoons, or entire days we hang out at time, reading, journaling, or wandering about the campground.
Some mornings, afternoons, or entire days we hang out at time, reading, journaling, or wandering about the campground.

Yes, our time is precious when we travel. Yes, there is so much to see and so much to do.

But also? Yes, you can drive yourself crazy and burn out yourself and your family by trying to pack in too much every day.

When we travel, especially for longer periods, we always aim to build in some down days.

For example, after two days of driving from Eugene, Oregon, to Anaheim, California, the following day we relaxed, so we’d be recharged and ready for our first day at Disneyland. After two days of Disney magic, we took a down day to hang out by the pool. Even when camping, we always balance hiking, driving, and adventuring with downtime in the camper. By building in downtime from the start, we are more engaged and energetic for our bigger, more out-and-about days.

3. Get the most out of every stop.

Gas. Snacks. Toilet. Groceries. Anytime you have to get off the road, it adds more time to the day’s journey. However, sometimes you have to stop. Whenever we do, we try to take care of as many of our needs as possible. That way we cut down added time, while still taking care of whatever needs taking care of.

4. Sunscreen options make it easier to prevent sunburn.

While this playground had shade coverings, it’s still in Southern California. We all put on sunblock before heading out for some get-the-wiggles-out playground time.

Creams. Sprays. Even deodorant-style sticks. Today’s sunscreen options make it much, much easier not only to apply sunscreen at the start of the day, but to reapply when needed. And those 3 options for how you can apply your sunscreen? We brought them all. Here’s how we used them:

1. Sunscreen cream/lotion

This is typically the cheapest option and gets the most coverage. We used sunscreen creams or lotions for our first application of the day. Usually this is what we would be putting on while at camp or in our motel room.

Shop sunscreen creams and lotions at Amazon

2. Sunscreen spray

Re-application on the go. Whether at Disneyland or on a hiking trail in the desert, we packed a small can of sunscreen spray in our daypack. Whenever it was time to reapply to any skin other than the face, we’d get out the sunscreen spray. The kids have also gotten really good at applying it to their arms and legs.

Shop sunscreen sprays at Amazon

3. Sunscreen stick

A fave, but we are pretty tactical about how and where we use it. Like the spray, we always had a sunscreen stick in our daypack. Sometimes we might use this for a little spot application, such as some extra sunscreen on the back of the neck during a really sunny day. Mainly, we used the sunscreen stick for ours and the kids’ faces. The stick made it so easy to apply to the nooks and crannies of our faces and heads, while avoiding sensitive areas like eyes and mouths.

Shop sunscreen sticks at Amazon

5. Use Ranger Ready DEET-free pest repellents on skin, clothes, and gear.

A while back, a DEET-free pest repellent company called Ranger Ready reached out to us. The company’s founder has Lyme disease, and he wanted to make it easier for people to use repellents on their outdoor excursions to try to prevent others from getting bitten and infected by pests like ticks.

Picaridin sprays for our skin and the children’s skin

We’ve been trying out Ranger Ready’s picaridin, kid friendly repellents in the field, and so far we’ve been really happy with them. They’re not greasy, they feel good on the skin, and we like their scented and non-scented formulas. Even the kids like putting on these sprays!

For our 6-week trip, we knew we’d be in places where there might be the occasional mosquito, but our biggest concern was ticks. Even in winter or early spring, ticks can be active if the daytime temperature is over freezing and there’s no snow on the ground. The tick we might have to watch out for, the Lyme disease-spreading western blacklegged tick, can be active in winter, so we wanted to be prepared.

Permethrin sprays for fabric

Our Ranger Ready picaridin sprays can go on our skin, and we also like that they don’t have some of the same body or environmental concerns as DEET sprays. Ranger Ready also has another formula, which uses permethrin, that is designed for use on fabric. We packed some of this as well, for spraying on our pants, camp chairs, and even the canvas around the door of our popup camper.

If you want a reliable, family friendly pest repellent that doesn’t have DEET and can be used on skin and gear, we recommend you check out Ranger Ready’s line-up of picaridin and permethrin repellents. It can be a big help—and give you peace of mind—when trying to prevent bites from mosquitoes, ticks, and other pests while you and your family are in the outdoors.

Learners and Makers fans can also save on their order! Enter code LEARNERSANDMAKERS at checkout:

Save 10% off your Ranger Ready repellents

6. Analog nav is still your friend.

Ready to drive, film, write, and enjoy.
Ready to drive, film, write, and enjoy.

When we drive, we definitely use Google Maps and Apple Maps to help us find our way, calculate travel time, and build in stops along the way. But we also carry a paper atlas and maps of wherever we’re going. After all, sometimes apps lose access, you need to change routes while out of signal range, or you need to plan out more that what it’s easy to do from a small screen. By having our trusty National Geographic national atlas on hand, we knew we could always find our way.

7. Reserve when you need to reserve.

On some trips, we are happy to leave some accommodation to chance. California is always busy, so for this trip we preferred to make reservations. Knowing that some of our travel time could coincide with events like President’s Day weekend or Spring Break, having advance reservations gave us peace of mind—especially when we were getting in late to a full campground.

8. Adapt when you need to adapt.

At the same time, being flexible made our trip a success. When we had to pivot and make huge changes to our trip, that took a lot of patience, discussion, trust, and adaptability. It wasn’t easy, but the trip wound up being all the better for it.

You can prepare for big camping road trips too

Every trip and every family is different. But some things stay the same. When you’re getting ready for a camping road trip, some things you do on the road, but some you’ll feel much better about by having them sorted before you leave.

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.