Our family LOVES to go camping! Now, before you start picturing us as the modern-day Swiss Family Robinson, know that camping for us means an actual camper because, well, Mama needs a bathroom! While we do not own one of those fancy campers that you drool over at the fair, we do have air conditioning, heat, and running water. Those things are certainly not a must for successful camping trips, but I would suggest you find your family’s level of “roughing it” and only go up from there. Once you determine whether you will be camping in a tent, shelter (usually a covered/ closed-in area with no bathroom,) camper, or cabin, you are ready to book your adventure in the great outdoors. We personally enjoy both state parks and local campgrounds, but either way you go, I would suggest that your first experience be semi-close to home, you know, just in case.
Whether you are taking your beginner steps into the Happy Camper life with your family, or even if you are experienced in the art of Bear Grylls, below are a few things we have discovered that help make for a trip with lots of memories and only a few tears (you are, after all, bringing your kids.)
Family & Friends
We have camped with just our immediate family, with grandparents, and with friends. All ways have their perks and create a lifetime of memories! My husband and I love having “just us” time away from the hustle and bustle of life to pour into our kids. We also love when the grandparents are around to fish with, to laugh with, to cook with, and to take the kids for a walk while we parents soak up a few rare moments of peace and quiet. Kids are kids, and being young means emotions change rapidly with little to no warning. We have found that when our kiddos are with friends, there tends to be less down time and fewer tears or whines of boredom. It becomes a weekend-long playdate that they never want to end! No matter what your camping crew looks like, find your tribe and go have fun!
You will definitely want to plan out your meals ahead of time and be sure that what you buy matches your storage or cooler space. We like the occasional breakfast tacos for our morning meal, but in all reality, Little Debbies has everything you could ask for in terms of quick, easy, and calorie-filled deliciousness. For lunch, we love sandwiches, chips, and fruit (think school-lunch level simple). For dinner, we like to step-up our game a bit to hamburgers and hot dogs. If you have a small outdoor electric or gas grill, you can cook on that, but you can also go Expert Level Camper and cook on the fire! Our kids actually love cooking their own hot dogs using the heat and flames technique. The one who has the most fire-kissed lines on their sausage wins and gives that one to Mom! We have a microwave so we often bring microwavable macaroni, baked beans, etc, but if you get creative, you can do a lot in the good ole fire pit. If you have a cooler or a fridge, it also helps to make things ahead of time or buy already prepared (pasta salad, potato salad, fruit salad, etc). Now for the all-time favorite- SNACKS! We pack all the snacks! Camping, for us, is not about dieting; it is about surviving the wilderness! Ok, ok, maybe that was a bit extreme, but in all seriousness, we love to eat! Pick out things you will say, “Yes” to when your kids ask for a snack. If they are biking, hiking, and playing outside all day, they are also going to want to eat, so just be ready for the hundred snack-breaks you will most certainly encounter. To wrap up this section, I know it sounds cliche, but what is camping without smores?! We have all variations of smores makers in our group- no chocolate, no marshmallow, and even no chocolate or graham crackers- which at that point most people just call roasting marshmallows. No matter what your taste buds are, go for easy and remember the good thing about camping food- you can bring home whatever you don’t eat!
The more you have to do, the more you have to do! We bring so. many. games. We have a washers set, a newly acquired cornhole set, a cheap plastic set of camping games we got at Walmart, card games, frisbees, footballs, and basically anything else our children enjoy playing with. Kids have a special talent for getting bored when there are a hundred things to do, so we bring a hundred and one! We also bring bikes, tennis shoes to hike in, and sometimes fishing gear. Keep in mind that whatever you bring, they will want to play with YOU, too! If there is something you don’t particularly like, you might want to accidentally leave that at home. Not all of your play-time has to be with games that require a set up, though. Some favorites of ours include a good old fashioned scavenger hunt (a quick Google search will bring up several), creating “pictures” with nature (grab sticks, rocks, and leaves to make a piece of art and take a picture to keep the memory), and playing games with glowsticks after the sun sets- think glow-in-the-dark football and flight light tag!
I also want to take a moment to mention technology. When you typically think of camping, you think about leaving tech behind, disconnecting, and being one with nature. By all means, you are more than welcome to earn that gold star, but there are a few ways that using technology on your camping trip can actually make for a great(er) experience. I’m a picture taker to the max so I use my phone to take lots and lots and lots pictures. We also use our phones to stream music and sometimes watch a movie before bedtime. It is also fun to use an app like Night Sky to learn about the constellations and point out all the stars that you can’t see at home in the city. One of our favorite uses of technology is to do geocaching. There is an app called Geocaching that allows you to go on a scavenger hunt compass-style to find boxes of “treasures” that people have hidden in your area. Geocaching etiquette says that if you would like to take a “treasure,” bring something to leave. It is also fun to sign the little booklet that is usually in the box to write your family’s name and when you were there. Close up the box, put it back, and then go find a different one! This is one of the best ways to get your kids walking without complaining about walking. Whatever your pleasures, you will surely find that camping really can be so much FUN!
Your kids (and even you) are going to get dirty. Just take a moment to accept that. If you are camping for 3 days, pack at least 6 days worth of clothes, particularly extra socks! Everyone will need 2 pairs of shoes, at least. I find it helpful to pack a complete outfit- top, bottom, underwear, and socks- all rolled up together so that your kids can grab a set and put it all on. If you want to get really fancy, I’ve seen variations of this where you store each outfit in a ziplock bag and squeeze all the air out of it to make packing in a suitcase nice, neat, and organized. After deciding how you want to pack everyone’s clothes, think about where you plan on storing them as they get dirty. We have a camping hamper that hangs up, but really we just end up throwing everything into a corner and then use one suitcase or a trash bag to bring all the dirties home in.
Whether you are camping with your family or your family and friends, be ready to have a great time even if when things try to start raining on your parade. I don’t think we’ve had one single “perfect” camping trip. We have had flat bike tires, an ant take over, bumps, bruises, injuries, and once we even forgot to bring pants for the five year old on a particularly cold weekend trip. Camping teaches you and your family a lot about flexibility, making lemonade out of lemons (both literally and figuratively), and how to just simply love and enjoy each other. Routines are thrown out the window, sweets are a necessary food group, and comfortable clothes are more valuable than brand names or make up. When you are camping with kids, strap on your camera, your sense of wonder, and your patience, and go make some memories!