“Camping was like childbirth.” I explained to my friend after my husband and I decided to give camping as a family a try this January. I am already planning our next camping adventure in my head, even though just a few days ago I was lying on a freezing air mattress, with a four year old as physically close to me as possible without crawling back inside his first home, and swearing to myself, “I will never do this again! Never!” Yet, somehow I am pretty sure we will do it again, and possibly even make it an annual thing.
We have three kids; two boys who are six and four and a two-year-old daughter. My husband, who is from upstate New York, grew up camping, and has very fond memories of it. He has been looking forward to family camping since I was pregnant with our first child. I am a Jacksonville native, and my family never once even attempted a camping trip. My experience camping includes once with a friend and her family when I was 10. All I remember from that trip is eating egg salad sandwiches and throwing them up in the middle of the night. My husband assured me that family camping was well worth it for the quality time together, the lasting memories, and that it would get easier with each trip.
So, when the opportunity arose to go camping with a group of other young families, I said yes, with excited apprehension. Our boys were thrilled. They had an idea of what camping would be like from things they had seen on TV and stories from their friends with much more adventurous parents. Their top priority was that we had all the necessary ingredients for s’mores. For this trip, we did have the good sense to leave our two year old at home with my parents.
Our campsite was the Fort Wilderness campgrounds at Disney. Before you start thinking, “They went to Disney! That is not really camping or roughing it in the least!” Yes, it was Disney. There was a lot to do, and the campgrounds were very well maintained, which made the daytime easy. However, once that sun went down it was dark, cold, we were in a tent, and the bathroom was a good football field away. So, no, it was not the most roughing-it “wilderness” adventure you can have, but it was camping nonetheless.
The nights sucked! Let’s just put that out there, and make it clear. So, why do it again? My kids had a blast! It was 48 hours with no technology (for them, not me, I made sure to Instastory the whole thing), no homework, lots of treats, and physical activity. We got tons of fresh air and made lasting memories. We stayed up late, ate too many s’mores and Oreos, we cuddled close for warmth, and told hilarious ghost stories only little ones could appreciate.
From one novice to another, here are some tips for planning a family camping adventure:
Get a group together. Going with other families who have children of similar ages helps keep everyone entertained. There is nothing worse than being on a family trip where your kids are whining the whole time because they are bored. It also gives you people to commiserate with in the morning after the long nights of poor sleep. Misery loves company, so grab a few fun friends to join you.
Borrow as much gear as possible. Even if you think your family was made for camping, I suggest borrowing a tent, lanterns, sleeping bags, etc., for your first go at it. It is totally worth posting on Facebook to see if anyone has items you can borrow for a few days. I have a feeling there are many families out there with barely used tents, bought when they thought they could be a “camping family” only to find out they are not.
Research your campground. See what activities there are to do near and around the campgrounds. Most family friendly places have all sorts of rentals. Plan out what you will do each day. We brought the kid’s bikes and rented two for my husband and I. This was a highlight of the trip. We had a great time riding our bikes around as a family and exploring the area. You can even rent camping gear at some sites, which is great if you are unable to borrow stuff. Fort Wilderness campgrounds will provide a tent and cots for a daily fee. The best part about that is, they have it set up when you arrive and take it down for you when you leave. The Disney campground is an excellent place for first time campers. It is a good way to ease into it.
Don’t underestimate the elements. We packed our entire house into our car for this trip, at least that is what it looked like. I am sure that means we did it wrong, but that is what we did. And, although, we brought an insane amount of things, we were still not prepared for how cold it got at night. I mean, it is Florida, how cold could it possibly get? The answer is, COLD! Especially for Florida born-and-raised blood. Next time we will pack extra blankets, hand warmers, extra socks, extra layers, an outside heater, an industrial freezer suit, a sauna… Ok, I am getting a little carried away, but next time we will just over-prepare for whatever the forecast calls for.
Wet wipes to the rescue. As a family of five, it is rare that we do not have wet wipes somewhere near our person at all times. Even long after diapers, these things are magical when it comes to sticky, snotty, gross kids. They came in handy while camping too. There was never a shortage of melted marshmallows, crusty noses, and dirt (so much dirt). Wet wipes came to the rescue over and over again.
Let there be light, and lots of it. Bring lots of flashlights and lanterns. The campgrounds we were at had no light, other than the one outside the bathrooms. Because we went in the winter, it got pitch black early and fast. Thankfully we each had a headlight to wear, and some extra flashlights, but next time I would bring even more to place around the campgrounds. Our son, while playing tag in the dark, ran face first into a metal grill. So, some extra light would have been nice–and maybe a tad more parent supervision.
Lowered expectations = Higher Spirits. Assume that you will be uncomfortable. You will not sleep. You are going to start to smell a little funky. Just be prepared to be okay with that.
Going on adventures and making memories with our kids has become a priority to my husband and me. We want to try new things with them, show them it is ok to be uncomfortable or not certain about something but still do it. Most importantly we want them to make fun a priority in life. That is why we will give this “family camping” thing another go. Like childbirth, I know it will not go as planned, it will be misery at moments, but the outcome is totally worth it.