No doubt about it, camping is challenging. Packing and unpacking is brutal. Sleeping in a tent is uncomfortable. Bathroom cleanliness is questionable. Food is floating in the coolers. Mosquitoes and flies are after us. Sooner or later the rain will come to soak with water everything we brought. Still, we challenge ourselves and Mother Nature and we go. We go because being close to nature is healing and because memories created during camping trips are priceless.
I can’t even count how many camping trip I have under my belt and I remember each one of them vividly. Even those which someone else would call disastrous stayed with me as a memory of good times. Now, looking back, they are simply funny.
There is no way to control nature but with the right approach, making a camping trip a success is possible. Like with any trip, the key is the right preparation. Over the years, I developed helpful strategies to a successful camping.
Invest in your camping equipment
Proper equipment is crucial when it comes to camping. Most important is a tent. A leaking tent can ruin your trip. I highly recommend the Eureka brand. It is not overly expensive but delivers high quality. I currently own four Eureka tents, from a light tiny tent for backpacking to a five person “lodge” for longer trips. None of them ever failed. In general, when buying a tent, make sure that it has a fly going down to the ground. It will provide extra protections against the rain and also it will provide heat and cold isolation.
Chose your location wisely and make your reservation early
Make sure to make your camping reservation well in advance especially around long weekends. Some popular campgrounds are sold out almost a year in advance. Water front sites usually disappear on the first day they are available for booking.
I suggest state parks over private campgrounds because a majority of them are located in unique areas. They deliver natural playgrounds with boulders to climb, river or lakes to swim, waterfalls, hiking trails, and fishing. They offer nature program for kids, canoe and boat rentals, and large fields to play sports.
My favorite campground in the Northeast are Wellesley Island State Park, NY and Letchworth State Park, NY. There are also many great parks in Pennsylvania that offer camping facilities. More expensive private campgrounds can also be fun because they offer organized activities for kids, pools, hay rides, movies etc. In general they deliver higher standard facilities. They are not my favorite. I prefer more nature oriented locations and activities.
Before making reservation, especially for longer trips, make sure that there is at least limited grocery store nearby. Buying as you need will make your packing easier and make keeping food fresh less challenging. It is also a good idea to stay within a half an hour drive from some kind of town where you can take a little break from camping to go for a fresh pizza, ice cream, or even to see a movie a on rainy day.
Make your unique packing list
There are so many items you need to take on a camping trip, it is easy to forget a few. One young blogger shared once that he and his brother forgot something so insignificant as a tent! You do not want to do it, especially if you are camping with kids. These two guys ended up sleeping under the skies but this is not a solution for everyone.
It is extremely important to have a good list of things to take. I suggest to follow one of the camping packing lists widely available on internet and modify it to your family’s needs. Save it on your computer for future trips.
Go over your packing list way before you actually start packing
You need to go over each item to make sure that you have them all at home. Most likely a shopping trip would be required. Items like batteries, fuel, flashlights, paper products, garbage and Ziploc bags will probably need to be restocked.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a large number of Ziploc bags or Ziploc boxes in variety of sizes. They will keep your food relatively dry and separated in the cooler. If you go for a hike, they will keep your sandwiches and other foods organized. They will also keep your cameras dry if you get caught by the rain.
In the same category, make sure that you have variety of garbage bags, including huge ones. They are perfect to keep your wood dry, to protect your belongings from elements on the boat, and often to pack wet tent for the way home. It is also essential to bring a canopy that could be placed over a picnic table. It will give you a shade from the sun and, in case of rain, a shelter to play a game of cards or eat your meal.
Select the Number of Participants According to the Length of Your Stay
Weekends are perfect for single family trips. The goal is to spend time together, without interruption of electronics, to reconnect, play games, talk by a fire, or catch up with the topics that need to be discussed among family members.
I prefer longer camping trips mostly because there is more time between setting a camp and putting it down and of course packing and unpacking, but on longer trips it can be challenging to keep children entertained day after day. For that reason, longer trips are perfect for groups. Kids can play together so parents do not have to be involved all the time. Multi-generational escapes also work well. Surprisingly, many grandparents still will go camping to spend more time with their grandchildren and reconnect with nature. Parent and grandparent can take turns watching children.
Let go of the rules you have at home
Let your children get dirty. You did not bring them to the spa. You brought them to the woods. They will not get any diseases from not taking a bath for a day or two, especially if they go swimming during the day. No major dental problems will develop if they crash to sleep before they brushed their teeth. For us adults, the thought of falling asleep with traces of s’mores in our mouth is not appealing but most kids would not even notice.
Let them be. Let them run wild. Let them remember this feeling of freedom far from electronics, TVs, and organized sports. If at night they are exhausted, it means they had a day full of adventures and go to bed happy. What else matters at the moment?
Let them stay up into later hours if they want to sit by fire longer. Their bodies will take care of the rest. They will not develop sleep deprivation. Instead, they will remember those special moments of closeness with family and friends.
Keep your cooking simple
Bring food that is securely packed so the water in your cooler will not penetrate it. Nothing is less appealing than a floating hamburger! Bring potatoes, cereal, breads, granola bars. They do not need be refrigerated. Important to remember: keep those items in a car, otherwise you might not see them again. They are an invitation for a feast for animals.
Hobo meals are a perfect solution for hot meals during camping. Get tinfoil and cut or tear it into decent size square sheets. Throw everything you think will taste good together into one square. For example, onions, sausage, potatoes, peppers, and carrots can be thrown together on your square. Add your favorite seasoning. Put another square on the top and fold up the ends to keep everything inside. Cook on the grill for 15-20 minutes. When done, eat straight from the foil. No plates required.
Come with positive attitude
The is an essential skill in life – and also in travel. Very rarely things run smoothly, in life and in travel, so do not sweat over little things like two days of rain in a row. Have plenty of board games and spend time with each other. With just pencil and paper come up with new games. Be creative!
Know when it is time to quit
If it rains a few days in a row and everyone is miserable, pack and go home. Good thing you did not spend a fortune. No need to be brave if there is nothing left of enjoyment. Otherwise it could be your last camping trip.
Unpack like your next trip is just around the corner
The idea is to keep thing organized in anticipation of your next trip. Keep all your kitchen items in one box. Do not remove any garbage bags, Ziploc bags, paper products, tinfoil – they do not go bad while waiting for your next adventure. Put all sleeping items (mattresses, pads, sleeping bags) in large garbage bags so they stay together securely in one place.
If you have a luxury of space, keep everything in one visibly isolated area. When the next time to pack for a camping trip comes, you will have everything in one place. It will make it easier to pack and also easier to see if anything was left behind.