It was four years ago, shortly after I'd remarried, moved my kids to a new state, and we'd barely begun the process of blending together our new family. I remember it like it was yesterday: Why not take a quick camping trip? It would be an adventure! The kids would have a blast!
Well, that may not have been the greatest recipe for success, anyway -- the kids were young, our situation was new, and I had never taken them camping before -- but my husband and I realized our biggest mistake after a day of fun when we returned to our tents: It was Georgia in July. Being northerners, we'd been camping in the summer before, sure. It cools off at night. But Georgia in July? At 11:00 at night it was still 85 degrees and muggy. The kids whined and complained; we all dozed in fits and spurts, finally calling it quits very early in the morning. We packed up and hit the nearest Waffle House, relieved to sit in the air conditioning.
I said I would never go camping again.
Later, we talked about it. I amended my stance: I said I would never go tent-camping again. I'm not really a rough-it gal, myself, and the whining children kind of pushed me over the edge. My husband has fond memories of a childhood that included towing the family camper around the country every summer, so he suggested we look into buying a little pop-up, or something. But as soon as he started talking campers, I knew what I wanted: air conditioning.
It was a long search and a lot of time spent at camper shows and on Craigslist, but we finally found our baby about a year later. Thanks to a bank repo, we got our hands on a pre-owned hybrid camper, kind of cross between a regular trailer and a pop-up. And yes, it has air conditioning. (And a kitchen, and a bathroom.) It's tiny -- our bed folds off the front, and the kids sleep in bunks in the back -- but it allows us to "camp" anywhere we're willing to drive, basically. (If you consider air conditioning, a tiny but full kitchen, and your own shower real camping, that is. Hush.) And now? I love camping!
We have favorite spots we return to every year, and try to go to at least one new campground each season, too. It really doesn't matter where we go. What matters is that we get a change of scenery, a change of pace. What matters is that we stay up later playing board games and watching the dog chase a tennis ball from one end of the camper to the other. What matters is that when I put the little kettle on the stove in the morning to make coffee, my son's wild bedhead peeks around the curtain shrouding the bunk beds and he yawns and says, "Good morning, Mama!" before rolling over and snoozing for a few more minutes. What matters is that we take hikes instead of mindlessly flopping down in front of a television, and that s'mores just taste better when you make them over an open fire.
Our rules for family camping:
- 1) Bring plenty of snacks. All that fresh air and exercise requires extra popsicles.
- 2) Bring a pile of books. The only thing better than exploring is sitting and reading.
- 3) Close quarters require extra patience. We parents will relax the rules a little if the kids show cooperation and patience with each other.
- 4) This is family time; no reasonable request will be denied. As a freelancer, I often have to bring my computer and continue working, but I do my best to limit those work hours and focus on the trip. And on saying "yes" as often as possible.
I'm not saying we couldn't do all of this from a couple of tents... but... it turns out that we all find it a lot more enjoyable when we have real beds and a temperature-controlled environment to retire to at the end of the day.
Bloggy love for camping with kids:
- Jean Davis just did a "dry run" with her kids, to gear up for future trips.
- Jenilee at Our Goodwin Journey just went "cabin camping" with her family.
- Laura at Life's Greatest Adventures reports their first "real" camping trip was a rousing success!
Have you gone camping with your kids? Do you think I'm cheating with our camper? If you haven't done it, yet, what would it take for you to try it?
BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir Kamin doesn't mind if her camping is fake, because it's still tons of fun. She blogs near-daily about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and all day long about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.
Photo Credit: ericncindy24.