Camping with Your Child Who Is Blind or Low Vision

It’s time to take a summer vacation. If you’re feeling unsettled about staying in a hotel or seeking the serenity of nature, perhaps this is the summer for a camping adventure!  

We will never forget our first camping experience as a family. We bundled up our only child (at the time), packed anything we thought would make our trip a tad easier with a baby, and off we went. It couldn’t be too bad. It could. She cried almost all night. Looking back, it’s likely because we over-bundled her—to this day, she is no fan of the constricting feeling of multiple layers—and because she didn’t know where she was. Regardless, we felt terrible that her every wail was heard by our temporary, tent-dwelling neighbors. It was ten years before we camped again.  

So, why would we recommend camping?! 

Because, as parent, Emily Coleman said, “The public lands in our country are meant to be used by all of us, and there are no exceptions. As parents of kids who are blind and may have additional disabilities, we need to give our kids opportunities to access natural resources too.”  

And, as current avid campers, we have learned a bit since the first epic failure (and, let’s face it, because of it). As a TVI, an O&M specialist, and a mom, here are some suggestions: 

Start in the backyard.

It’s wise to set up camp on your own land (or in your living room) before using your equipment elsewhere. Your family can get used to the space and novel sleeping arrangements—and if it isn’t working, head back to bed! Camping in your yard also allows you to ensure you have adequate gear for the climate. The next time you camp, venture farther, and your child who is blind or low vision will be familiar with the accommodations.   

Give your child the opportunity to explore your camping tools and gear.

Before leaving town, invite your son or daughter to tactually investigate any new-to-them concepts/items: the gas stove and fire pit (while supervised and heat is off—of course), wood to be burned, tent poles, tarps, etc. You can encourage an older child to practice cooking using your camping equipment—providing an opportunity for your child to transfer safe cooking techniques in preparation for the big day. 

Enlist your child’s help in packing.

Let them have a say in food, bedding, clothing (appropriate for the weather), and activities. Depending on your child’s developmental stage, they can significantly contribute to the packing (taking responsibility for their belongings and planning/prepping for one meal) or simply making a few choices (between two bathing suit options and two snack options). The camping experience will feel less like it’s being done for or to your child and more like an experience in which they’re participating. *Little note: Allow them to make mistakes. Direct your children to pack their backpacks with clothing and activities. Items may be forgotten on the first few occasions, but this will teach them the value of creating lists and double-checking important items before leaving.  

Organize personal effects and supplies.

Organization and labeling are key to your child who is blind or low vision having independence in their daily life, whether at home or on vacation. Each item should have a designated storage space. Consider storage tools such as bins and totes, packing cubes in suitcases, toiletry bags with a variety of compartments, seat organizers for the car, etc. 

Orient your child to the campsite.

Explore your campsite and its boundaries with your child. Look for landmarks or cues that can help them understand the area. This could be where grass meets gravel, bushes at the back, or an electrical hookup. Listen for unique sounds, like a nearby fountain. Also, find and familiarize yourselves with the bathroom facilities. Alternatively, consider bringing a portable toilet and a “potty tent” for convenience. While not essential, having these close to your sleeping area could support your child’s independence in using the toilet.

Set up your space.

Your child with blindness or low vision can assist in setting up their sleeping area. They can also organizing gear, like folding tables and chairs. They can also help plan the layout for cooking tools and the fire pit location. A carefully arranged campsite makes it easier for your child to navigate. Plus, this setup can be replicated in future camping trips.

Consider any accommodations which will increase your child’s independence.

Indeed, there’s essential gear like the cane, magnifier, and flashlight (consider a headlamp for hands-free use), along with a talking compass or other assistive technologies. Additionally, look into camping-specific equipment that could help your family. For example, a privacy wind-blocker around part of your campsite could be useful. It creates a tactile boundary for a young child, indicating a safe play area.

There sure is a lot to consider and pack for a camping trip! It may not be the easiest family getaway. But this friendly holiday can provide your family with unique memories and a (literal) breath of fresh air. Hence, ten years and much trial and error later, we love it.