One of my favorite childhood memories was going camping as a family. My father was an avid nature-lover and we spent a lot of time together outdoors enjoying the beauty of California’s oceans, lakes, and mountains. While it wasn’t uncommon for us to rent a motorhome for long trips, the most exciting were those times spent outdoors in a tent. Very often, we’d camp in San Diego or Santa Barbara counties, since campgrounds in those locales offered much in the way of family activities. Even simple activities like roasting S’mores over the campfire, fishing on the lake, or taking nature walks were special and memories I am seeking to recreate with my own children.
My daughter was just 20 months old when we went camping together for the first time. To be honest, I was a little hesitant and a lot nervous. We were heading up to Mammoth Mountain where cell reception was weak at best and the nearest anything was at least 45 minutes. But my husband was a former boy scout and he ensured that we were well-prepared with all of the right gear. We ended up having such a good time, that our only regret was not booking additional nights. Since that first camping trip, it has gotten a lot easier, although I still believe traveling with very young children is doable because of their extreme adaptability.
Apart from incredibly memories, camping offers families the opportunity to explore the beauty of the outdoors. Here are 5 reasons why we love camping:
1. Unique educational, problem-solving, and skill-building opportunities. The outdoors is one of the most vast and diverse learning playgrounds. Pitching a tent, cooking over a campfire, and exploring various types of wildlife are just a handful of the many learning opportunities that can be experience while camping. As children get older, they can participate and be involved with basic survival activities.
2. Continued development of resiliency, adaptability, and independence. Whether or not I like it, my job as a parent is to raise children who one day can survive on their own. Many of the activities involved with setting up camp can be applied to life in general. I also believe it’s important for children to be exposed to various life circumstances so they know how to act when challenges arise.
3. Physical activity and imaginative, unstructured play. While I love the fact that we live in such a technologically-advanced age, at times I feel like it is way too easy to replace family time with screen time. Camping outdoors without amenities means families must be creative in the ways they spend time together. When I was a child, my cousin (who was like a sister to me) and I often collected rocks which we colored and then gave away to our fellow campground neighbors. I wonder if we are stifling children’s abilities to be creative by sitting them in front of televisions and iPads (for which I am guilty at times)? Regularly spending time outdoors can help children explore some of their innate creativity.
4. Appreciation of nature and ultimate relaxation. While on this last camping trip, I was purposeful about taking in all of the beauty that surrounded us. The sky was exceptionally blue that day, not a cloud in site. When I laid down inside our tent, I listened intently as the birds sang, the bugs chirped, and the leaves rustled as a light evening wind picked up. Would it surprise you that we were just 20 minutes from our home in the suburbs? I can’t tell you the last time I paid such intentional attention to nature or felt as relaxed as I did without cell signal, deadlines, or the constant ambient noise that characterizes city living.
5. Opportunities for regular, affordable family time away. Most families look forward to their annual vacation as a way to reconnect, relax, and rejuvenate for the coming year. Those days seem so precious and the time in between so great that very often, we’re looking for ways to sneak in one last trip. Camping is so affordable (our latest venture cost us just $20/night), families can make it a regular occurrence. And with many campsites within driving distance, it is a feasible staycation that won’t break the bank.
Once you’ve decided to venture off into the great outdoors, you may be wondering what it is you really need and how you go about realizing such a feat. Here are my 5 best tips for camping, geared towards families with young children.
1. Find the Perfect Spot: One of the easiest things families can do is research their proposed camping locale to ensure it is on par with their desired amenities. Knowing what the campground situation will be like will dictate how you prepare (see point number 2). These days, campers can go as rustic (no running water or toilet facilities) or as glamorous (wi-fi, hot showers) as they desire.
2. Adopt the Boy Scout Motto: Be Prepared: Even if you expect your campsite to have running water, fire pits, and wi-fi, be prepared to adapt if necessary. For my husband, this means bringing toilet paper, bottled water, and a camp stove (to name a few items), regardless of where we camp. And even if there is no cloud in site, prepare for rain. Weather conditions up in the mountains can change rapidly and there is nothing worse than being rained out. Below, I’ll share our essential picks for camping gear. In addition to the essentials, you’ll want to pack everything you would for a standard trip plus a few extras since you likely won’t have access to a store or laundry facilities.
3. Safety first: Will you be camping in the mountains? Be prepared to lock up all food in nearby bear boxes. Hiker family? Make sure you find out whether or not the area you’ll be exploring is known for mountain lions, snakes, or poison ivy/oak. Pay attention to weather alerts (i.e. thunderstorms, etc.) and evaluate whether or not the destination includes risks to children (i.e. streams/rivers, steep mountain drops). Have an emergency plan in place, particularly if you’ll be camping in a location where cell reception is null. Families with small children may opt to camp close to town, particularly for their first venture.
4. Take a test run: If you’re still hesitant, why not pitch camp in your backyard? For families who don’t have a lot of experience camping, this is great way to determine how your children will react to this change in scenery and it will help you determine whether or not you’re aptly prepared.
5. Be flexible and have fun: Your children are intuitive and will pick up on whether you’re stressed or fearful. For young children, this could determine their future perspective on camping so above all, make do and have fun.
As daunting as it may seem, you really don’t need a ton of gear to camp outdoors. And the gear you do purchase will likely last for many, many years.
Here is a list of my must-have camping essentials:
Portable Camping Stove
Plates, cups, utensils and napkins
Antibacterial Hand Soap
Many of the items above can be purchased at Walmart.
Do you enjoy camping as a family? What tips would you add to make the experience enjoyable?
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