Here in the United States it’s that time of year where the camping season starts. I noticed it first last Wednesday when it took me an extra couple of minutes to be able to pull out of the parking lot due to RV after RV and the ensuing traffic that backed up after them. After twenty-five years of camping trips with a family, I’ve learned a few things about how to plan a campout and how not to.
1. Choose your location based on your family’s interests.
For our family, we love returning to Jackson Wellsprings in Ashland, Oregon. It’s a place that has reasonable camping, electricity if you need it, WiFi, and a wonderful pool fed by a hot spring. We first found the spot twenty-five years ago in August wen my husband and I were on our honeymoon. Being young college students, we didn’t have a ton of money to spend so the hot spring was the perfect location for one of our stops on our way back to school. Since then, we’ve camped there on numerous times with the kids when we’ve gone to see the Shakespearean Festival. Several years ago as I finished up my master’s program, I had classes in Ashland for five weeks. Jackson Wellspring became my home away from home from Monday through Thursday. I took the kids, and we enjoyed the pool, WiFi (to keep in contact with home), and Ashland together.
So, whether your family likes swimming, hiking, kayaking, woods, rivers, or cabins, look for a place that has something everyone will enjoy. That way, you won’t be hearing, “Mom, I’m bored!”
2. Do research before staying.
Last summer, my nineteen-year-old and I traveled back to the Mid-west to see my family. We camped along the way; so I researched the first two spots on our journey. Those few minutes on the internet saved us time and gave us a pleasant experience–nice grass, inexpensive places to stay, and hot showers. However, if I would have researched the return trip, it would have been better. Our night’s stay in Grand Teton’s could have been less stressful, instead of not knowing if we were going to have to sleep in our car! (You can read about it in my blog post.)
Years ago, my husband and I made that same trip and camped along the way. Some research would have saved us on two different occasions. The first our campground really was an RV campground with no tenting spots, and we ended up sleeping on rocks. Another spot had a great location, but we didn’t check the weather out. Our poor little six-month-old who never could keep blankets over him when he slept, stayed under the sleeping bag and woke up with blue lips!
3. Plan your menu accordingly.
When camping, you not only have to pack your sleeping gear, but your food and food equipment. Make sure you plan so you can enjoy your time as well. We’ve had several camping events that I forgot to pack food that was easy to snack on or that would help me deal with heat. I remember one memorable event where I ended up in a friend’s tent laying down eating cheese and crackers and drinking water because I had overheated and ended up with a hypoglycemic crash.
Camping can be fun, but if you’re left washing up dishes or with dried on food when you return, it can ruin the fun. Some simple planning can help. Choose foods that are easy to clean up and disposable. Our go to for camping events are cup of noodles, instant oatmeal, and sandwiches with chips. However, if you have the whole portable kitchen, there’s nothing better than the smell of eggs and bacon mixed with the scent of the great outdoors.
Take into consideration your activities you’ll be doing. The one year, my teenagers went on a hiking camping trip up the Rogue River. I packed lightweight food for them like we would take to our medieval events. What I didn’t plan for was their activities. The cup of noodles and instant oatmeal didn’t fuel their bodies enough.
4. Pack according to your family needs.
Yep, having a checklist of what all you need is very helpful. I’ve found I usually divide my list into kitchen, food, clothes, and bedding. It’s no fun to show up at a campsite and not have a pillow or enough blankets to stay warm. Don’t believe me? Just ask my fifteen-year-old. Be specific with your checklist and take into account the type of campsite you’ll have. One time, I packed everything for pancakes the next morning, including the electric skillet. However, when we arrived at our site, there was no electricity to be had. Thankfully, I have a MacGyver for a husband. He rigged two pop cans into a skillet over a fire. Download a printable camping checklist and one to hand to your child for packing.
5. Remember the point of camping.
Whether you’re camping in a cabin by the lake, in a yurt on the ocean, or under the stars in your own backyard, the reason we camp is to spend time with family. Make sure to put the electronic devices away and enjoy the great outdoors. I know I touted Jackson Wellsprings for their WiFi, but the point of that was for certain hours a day, I could work on my homework, and we could Skype home instead of paying for a phone call. If everyone’s engrossed in their own devices, then we’re not building memories together nor are we doing anything differently than what we could do at home. We might as well be in the house instead of camping.
Did I leave any special tips out? Let me know in the comments. You can download a printable checklist for your next camping trip as well as a kid friendly packing list, and you can save this “Don’t Leave Home Without” list.