If you've never taken your kids camping, you're passing up not only the opportunity to make lifelong memories, but to get your kids in touch with nature in a way that too few children have the chance to experience these days. While the idea may seem overwhelming, camping with your kids is a chance to unplug and unwind; and with a bit of planning and a few concessions, the entire experience can be much easier than you think.
When someone says “camping,” it often conjures the mental image of setting up a tent deep in the woods, hanging your food from trees to keep it from the bears, digging a hole in the ground for you-know-what and trying to start a fire with flint rock.
If you have kids, anywhere from toddlers to teenagers, this sounds like the Eighth Circle of Hades. Yet, if you expand your definition of camping, you can easily plan a family vacation that is both budget friendly and life-enhancing.
Not just the forest
While the wooded expanse of our great land is both beautiful and breathtaking, they’re not the only place to go camping. Beaches are a great alternative to the typical camping excursion. Many state beaches even have campsites with beach access. Some even allow RV camping right at the sand’s edge. Beach camping may not fit into the traditional camping imagery, but you will be hard pressed to find a kid that doesn’t think sleeping overnight at the beach is flat out awesome.
Speaking of RVs, if your budget allows for it, taking a trip into the wild outdoors in a motorhome can give you all of the benefits of camping with all of the convenience of home. If figuring out how to cook every meal on a campfire elicits involuntary twitching in you, then having a kitchenette, bed and bathroom on wheels is a great option.
It’s likely that your kids don’t want to use a port-a-potty or an outhouse anymore than you do. Look for campgrounds with running water and flushing toilets because if anything will make you never want to go camping again it’s a bad outhouse experience. Once you’ve become master campers you can elevate to the really gritty nature experience, but it’s best to ease your kids in to the whole leaves for toilet paper thing. (Bring along these portable wipes either way, though!)
Maybe you really thrive in remote locations, bathing in streams while hunting for your own food, but your kids think the Hilton is roughing it. While you don’t have to give in to the “glamping” trend, you can find a happy medium by choosing a lodge or cabin in the area you’d like to explore. A shower and an actual bed can go a long way if you’re having to work to convince your children that the four hour drive and absence of WiFi are totally worth it.
Over-prepare your food
That doesn’t mean cook everything until it resembles shoe leather, rather, think ahead and be prepared. It doesn’t need to be all non-perishable canned food and vacuum packed products. Fresh fruit and veggies like apples, oranges, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower travel well and don’t need to be cooked to be delicious. Nut butters, applesauce pouches, dried fruits, and homemade jerky also travel spectacularly.
That isn’t to say you should forego the quintessential camping treats like s’mores and fire roasted hot dogs, but having a plethora of palatable options will keep your kids happy and your sanity in check.
Flexibility makes for more fun
Don’t be overly committed to specific activities or a timeline. The entire point of camping is to go with the flow and see where the day takes you. Forget your watch at home and guess what time it is by where the sun is in the sky. Stay up to count stars and wake up with the sunrise. Just breathe.
Expect the Unexpected
Kids will complain about anything, so the last thing you want is for them to actually have cause for complaint. Pack a first aid travel kit to be prepared for any aches, pains or injuries that might try to ruin your trip. Start with sunblock, because while lobster makes a great dinner, it's a pretty terrible crustacean to resemble. You want to use something that's at least SPF 30 or better and if you're going to be doing any kind of swimming or sweating be sure it's water resistant.
Something many people often forget is lip balm. If you are going to be exposed to sun or dry air you will definitely want to have a nice moisturizing lip balm with you. Look for something based with coconut oil or beeswax to create the best moisture protection possible. It's also useful to get a lip balm with SPF for greater protection.
It's an exercise in insanity to camp without insect repellent on hand. Pick one that is as natural as possible because the chemical-based repellents that you spray onto your skin get absorbed into the bloodstream and that's just gross. There are many bracelets, sprays, insect repellent wipes and even clothing on the market that can help deter insects and pests. Be prepared for mosquitos, fleas, wasps and bees, or any of those other annoying biting and stinging insects.
It's good to have an ointment, such as aloe vera gel, in case anyone gets a sunburn, bandages and gauze, pain relievers (for kids and adults) and antihistamine. You should also toss in tweezers and alcohol pads because you never know when somebody's going to decide to run across an old rickety bridge without their flip-flops on and end up with a giant splinter in their foot or some other nonsense that is absolutely the entire point of camping to begin with.