The first time I ever camped was doing the Inca Trail in Peru, where you trek from Cuzco to Machu Pichu in four days. I was in my twenties. It sounds exotic and rough, and though exotic there was nothing really rough about it – quite the contrary. We would arrive at our campsite and the tents were pitched, sleeping bags rolled out, food cooked, table set, and even a bathroom tent was up. That was as rough as I could go at that time in my life. I understand; it’s unimpressive.
I didn’t grow up camping. It wasn’t part of my culture and no one I knew did it. My husband on the other hand, though by no means an outdoorsman, has had his fair share of camping stories. He lived in Europe and backpacked extensively. He even spent over six months with a backpack and a tent in Egypt, and is a constant source of fascinating stories.
We have two boys, and when some friends asked if we wanted to go camping a few years ago, there was no way I could resist my kids’ pleas. We took a boat to an island in Biscayne Bay, you could see Miami so we were by no means in the middle of nowhere, and there was a bathroom. But if you saw or heard me, you would think I was having the greatest outdoor bound adventure ever. That was as rough as I could go … for sure.
Fast forward a few years and we are now planning to DRIVE from Miami to Lake Placid where I will be competing in Ironman. The plan is to road trip up through the Appalachian trail and wait for it, wait for it … CAMP along the way. Maybe not every night, but weather depending, many of them.
Admittedly I am not 100% sold on the idea. I can imagine bugs, bears and heat and it won’t be fabulous for my Ironman preparation either. However, my family is going to Lake Placid to see me compete, I get to do my thing, they should get to do “theirs” too – so I am going along with it.
How I got from my not so humble start in Peru to here is through a series of weekend camping trips all done in South Florida. Sometimes we’d head out with friends, others on our own. I’m by no means an expert and certainly not a roughing it kind of girl, but here is why you should go camping with your children, wherever you are.
- Kids love adventure … and camping provides an easy way to have one. Camping takes children away from everything they are used to and everything is new and exciting: searching for wood, setting the tent, telling stories by a campfire or hiking on a trail. Everything about camping is literally “extra”ordinary.
- Liberty and independence. There is a lot of sitting around and chilling. My boys don’t necessarily enjoy that so they ride their bikes, climb trees, throw a ball and choose where to go and what to do. After certain safety parameters are determined, there are many more opportunities to be creative and independent than a regular Saturday at home.
- Family time. One of my best memories was in a recent trip when it was just the four of us in a rather empty campground. We sat around the fire at night, listening to music, telling stories, and roasting marshmallows. Those are memories I will treasure forever.
- New friends. Eventually the boys get tired of hanging out with us, and they head out to explore the campsite meeting other children. Soon enough, a friendly kid gang is formed as they all look for ways to play together. They are usually children my boys would never get to meet at home. At a recent trip, my boys met Aurora, an adorable seven year old girl. My boys still talk about her as if they had known for her years after hanging out all weekend as the three musketeers.
- They ask for it. Every year when I get the boys journal from school, there is mention of our camping adventures. And at a particularly difficult moment with Dreamer, that I considered canceling a weekend trip, that was the hook to get him on track for the week. The boy who lives by a minimum effort wrote me an extended essay.
But there are some cons as well:
- Bugs, ticks, fleas, and bruises. Things happen. Fearless cut himself with a pocket knife, Dreamer scraped his leg getting down from a tree, I had a tick stuck to my back. We need to be careful of attracting bears with food, and one time we woke up to vultures attacking our food table. We spend the weekend covered in DEET, and making sure the tent is closed so the mosquitos don’t get in. The boys rarely shower and come home two shades darker between suntans and dirt.
- Packing nightmares. My getting ready for a camping trip is equivalent to planning an expedition to Everest. Although I always forget something quite important we never run out of what we do have because I over shop. That makes camping a lot of work.
If you do choose to go, here are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way that has made camping with children a lot easier.
- Take half the clothes you need for a road trip. Chances are much of the clothing will stay in a suitcase. Showers are optional that weekend, baby wipes become your best friend.
- Put all your supplies and food in big plastic bins. SO much easier to carry around, store, and protect from animals.
- Don’t forget the first aid kit and anti itch cream … chances are you will need it at some point.
- Bring entertainment in the form of bicycles, balls, cards and board games … and a good book!
- Keep one bag of ice closed for drinking ice. You will be grateful towards the end of your stay.
- Arrive at daylight, pitching a tent in the dark can get tricky. And while you are at it, spend $4 and bring a rubber mallet … oh how does that make life easier.
- For me, coffee is mandatory … I’ve become friends with the instant variety.
I doubt I’ll ever turn into the “real” camper and outdoor bound type. I still must have a bathroom and running water but even like that, there are so many amazing places to explore. So bring it on road trip to Lake Placid. I’ll be fashionably over packed.