I’ve never considered myself to be a great lover of the outdoors – sure, I appreciate a pretty vista and watching wildlife from afar, but the idea of being coated in bug spray and peeing in the woods never really appealed to me. So, I was skeptical a few years ago when my family was invited to go camping with friends. It turns out, I don’t mind camping, especially with good company, and I’ve found some ways to make it enjoyable.
Adjust Your Expectations
First of all, no vacation is ever as magical in reality as it appears in your mind. Camping is no exception. There will be meltdowns, the weather might not cooperate, there will be bugs (so.many.bugs.), and the raccoons may raid your cooler the first night (true story, unfortunately). BUT, if you maintain some humor and perspective going into the trip, you might surprise yourself with how well you can roll with the punches.
Go With Friends
Some families enjoy getting away into the great outdoors to spend more time as a family unit. I may get there someday, but right now, I enjoy the social aspect of camping with good friends. Yes, we may be outnumbered by the number of kids running around. Still, I will endure a lot of shenanigans if I’m rewarded at the end of the night with uninterrupted adult conversation (and adult drinks, of course) around a crackling campfire. THIS is the best part of camping (if you ask my kids, they will stamp their feet and loudly declare that they HATE adult time! so you know it’s legit).
Camp Near A Water Source
I’ve found that everyone is happier and better entertained when we camp near a water source. Especially since we tend to camp during warm weather, those balmy 80-90 degree days are more bearable if we are able to swim in a lake, play along a river, or simply splash in a creek. Splash time also doubles as a bath, so win-win. Also, your kids will spend HOURS with simple sand toys along a sandy bank.
In the STL Metro area, we are lucky to have lakes, rivers, and campgrounds all around. Last summer, we camped along the Current River, which is only a few hours away, and in addition to being part of a national park, our campsite included an underground spring AND a cave (you can find more details about our trip at National Parks Close to Home).
Have A Plan, But Be Flexible
Once we’ve booked a campsite, I sit down and plan out every meal (down to the snacks even) and make an extensive shopping and packing list. Having a plan ensures you don’t forget the essentials and don’t have to play the “what do you want to eat” game when you get there. Also, do your research and scour the area where you’re camping for family-friendly activities nearby (think hiking a state park, checking out a quirky local attraction, etc.).
While having a plan is great, don’t let yourself be rigid about it. No one wants the Clark Griswold camping experience, no matter how nostalgic that may make you. Be prepared to shift gears if it rains, be a little spontaneous and take the detour when you see a “local attraction” sign, and you will make some memories even if things didn’t go quite according to your plan.
Especially in the time of coronavirus, vacations will look a lot different this year, so even if you think camping isn’t your “thing,” try it! As I type, we are gearing up for our annual friend camping trip this weekend, and I cannot wait.