My family and I have been camping lots of times: in the backyard, in our nearby national park, and even on our small boat (yes, that counts as camping.) But this summer, we will embark on the big enchilada of family camping: a road trip and camping excursion to Yellowstone National Park.
To prepare for our venture, I hit up my favorite eco-bloggers for tips their families have used when camping. Here's what they suggested:
Plan. Before kids, my husband and I were spur-of-the-moment campers. We could decide to go camping at 5 p.m. on a Friday evening, grab our gear, and be out the door in a jiffy. Even if we set up camp in the dark, we still enjoyed the adventure. But camping with kids just isn't meant to be a spontaneous adventure. There's nothing worse than arriving at a campground late in the evening with a car-full of excited kids and backcountry gear only to find there are no spots left to camp. Plan ahead when camping with kids to ensure a smoother trip for everyone.
Research. After you've planned when and where you're going to camp, spend time researching the area and alternative plans in the event of bad weather. One day of playing cards in the tent is doable, but by day three, you're going to need to find something else to do!
Stay positive. The best way to get kids excited about camping is to show them how excited you are yourself. Even if you're nervous about how the kids will get along or whether or not your new tent will leak, keep your jitters to yourself and show your kids a positive and excited attitude about your trip.
Make a list. Even if you've taken a thousand family vacations together, it pays to make a list when packing for your family camping trip. If you forget your towel on a beach trip, chances are you'll be able to pick one up easily. But if you forget your flashlights on a camping trip, it might just ruin the whole night. And let your kids pack their own clothes and gear, as long as you double check to make sure they have what they need. Diane MacEachern of Big Green Purse let her daughter wear whatever she wanted when camping, adding "which meant my daughter hiked in a red and white tutu, lace socks, and white patent leather shoes. Really."
Get the kids involved. I won't lie. There is a lot of extra work involved in taking a family camping trip as compared to staying in a hotel. Get kids involved, and make the planning and setup part of the adventure — the whole trip will be more fun for everyone. Lori Alper of Groovy Green Livin' advises, "Involve your kids in the meal planning and cooking on a camping trip. If they're involved from the get-go they're more apt to help out when it's meal time." Speaking of meals, check out Lisa Nelson-Woods post on healthy eating while camping over at Condo Blues.
Get organized. Make an effort to have a place for everything when camping so that everyone knows where to find the forks at mealtime and the toothbrushes and flashlights when it's time to hit the hay. And try to streamline what gear you bring so that you're not searching through bags and bags of toiletries trying to find the bug spray. As Brenn Burke from Almost All The Truth put it, "I think the best advice is to pack as light as possible while staying prepared for all circumstances." Extra batteries for the flashlight? Definitely. Extra knick-knacks for the campsite? Leave them at home.
Stay loose. Shane Shirley Smith of Environmental Booty said it best, "Camping is all about letting go and just enjoying where the experience may take you." I can still remember the first time we took our girls camping. I had a list of all of the ranger programs and hikes that I wanted to try on our trip, but my girls were so engrossed in drawing pictures in the dirt that they never wanted to leave the tent. I could have dragged them away, but instead I picked up a book and enjoyed the quality time at the campsite. It's good to have a plan — and even better if you never have to use it.
Do a trial run. If you and your kids have never been camping before, do a trial run with a backyard campout to shake out any issues you may have with gear or freaked-out kids before you venture too far away from home. As Gretchen Sowers, a.k.a Healthful Mama, noted, "The sound of a squirrel rustling through leaves sounds a lot bigger at night. It's good to know what to expect. ;)"
Don't know where to go? No problem. MNN has created user's guides for dozens of state and national parks, so find one near you to visit.