We've said it over and over: getting outside with your family is one of the best things you can do for your mind, body and spirit. That said, we also understand that camping—that age-old ritual of packing the car full to capacity with gear, food and reluctant kids and driving off to an outdoor paradise full of biting bugs, far-off bathroom facilities and, again, those reluctant kids—can be, quite frankly, the worst. Camping with kids can be challenging (to say the least) but it's so important to get outside as a family. Outdoor family adventures can be enjoyable with a just little planning.
But here's the thing—it can also be the best. No, really. Despite the work that goes into packing and unpacking, the unpredictability of outdoor living/sleeping/cooking/pooping and the pressure to have an Instagram-worthy experience, it's totally possible to have a successful camping trip with your whole family… and actually enjoy yourself in the process.
How can you achieve such an extraordinary feat? Pull up your portable chair, put a relaxing beverage in the cup holder and treat yourself to our handy tips on how to hate camping less:
- Be prepared. It's no coincidence that this particular motto belongs to an organization that does a lot of camping. So when you're planning your own family excursion, think like a Boy Scout. Do a practice run in your backyard first to work out the kinks. Research the campsite beforehand to make sure it's a good fit (no burn bans if you're hoping for a campfire, no sheer cliffs or picturesque rivers a few feet away if you're camping with a toddler you want to keep, etc.). And above all, pack thoughtfully. If you're car camping, don't worry about bringing an obscene amount of stuff since it isn't going on your back! Make each camping trip a learning experience to discover what stuff you really use and what you don't, from what you'll need for outdoor cooking and cleanup to how to keep things cozy and well-lit when the sun goes down. It may take some time, but the better you've thought through every detail, the more relaxing your trip will be.
- Make yourself at home. Camping is pretty much the definition of "roughing it," but it shouldn't be that rough. Make room for the creature comforts that make will your trip cozy and fun.
- When it comes to sleeping, the goal is to make things as comfy as you can. Take the time to find a flat, smooth spot for your tent (you will feel—and obsess over—that slight incline or small rock that seemed pretty insignificant earlier in the day). A good air mattress and pillow make all the difference, as do warm hats and layers so you won't be uncomfortably cold. If you're camping with a toddler and your tent is big enough, bring your travel crib to give everyone their own space. And speaking of kids, make sure they have what they need to make the experience feel festive and familiar, like cool flashlights or glow sticks for when the sun goes down and favorite blankets and stuffed animals for setting up a home-like spot to snooze.
- On the subject of eating, be sure not to skimp on plenty of good food. Skip the cold beans out of a can and plan to eat things that actually taste good. It doesn't have to be a big gourmet meal (remember, you'll likely have to wash all those dishes in cold water… in the dark)—think yummy pre-made foil packet meals, pigs in a blanket on a stick and, of course, s'mores. Even if it's simple, somehow everything tastes better cooked over a campfire. A good meal (along with a much-deserved adult beverage) can create a tremendous amount of happiness when you're away from home. The best camping trips take advantage of what's cool about vacationing outdoors without losing sight of that fact that you're still on vacation.
- Get (even more) outdoors. Since your whole trip is taking place outdoors, you might as well get outdoorsy right along with it. Plan a family-friendly hike to get the lay of the land and investigate what kind of cool trees/bugs/birds/flowers your new surroundings have to offer. Use the opportunity of living outside for a few days to review some pointers for how to poop in the woods (200 feet away, buried in a hole, no TP left behind). Pack bikes (space permitting) for a family ride or to give your kids a little freedom during downtime. Find a spot to swim or an overlook where you can catch the sunset. A little outdoor adventure—even if it's just skipping stones or counting stars—will keep everyone entertained and remind you why you came in the first place.
- Keep calm. Things might go wrong. Mother Nature's plans won't always align with yours (even when you ask really nicely), which means it could rain, or you could get eaten alive by mosquitoes, or your hiking boots could get eaten alive by marmots. But even if it all kind of feels like a disaster, remember to keep things in perspective and stay positive. The important thing is that you're together as a family, tackling challenges and having adventures outdoors. And that's what's going to make the biggest impression on your kids, helping them learn to love everything the outdoors has to offer and become gritty, resilient people (who now also happen to have a great marmot story).
And if you've done all the above planning and accommodating and adventuring and deep breath taking and still hate taking your kids camping? No worries—we'll take them for you. They'll get an authentic overnight backcountry experience while you stay happily, cozily, calmly at home. Now those are some impressive survival skills.