I am a pretty big fan of going camping, but I haven’t always been this way. In fact, I would still mostly describe myself as a person who appreciates the outdoors … especially when I can sit comfortably outside with a good book and not do much else.
I like to see the outside and feel the outside, and I am sometimes open to taking extra-special adventures outside, but generally, I am an indoorsy type of person. But no matter! Going camping with the family is almost always a good time.
If it’s your first time camping with your family, you might totally be at a loss. There is a lot of advice out there! And the truth is, like many things related to parenting and families, you don’t actually need all of the advice that you could find.
My adventures in camping have escalated over the past 10 years or so, and I now feel that I can reasonably offer a good deal of advice to most families who want to integrate camping into their lifestyle. After all, they say few things are as good for kids as being outside, and camping is a wonderful way to open up your child’s mind to a world of endless possibilities.
1. You can totally practice ahead of time.
If you’ve never camped with your children before and you’re not sure where to begin, I suggest practicing at home (or somewhere nearby) ahead of time. This test run could happen in your backyard, at a local campground, or in the backyard of a family member or close friend. Bring everything you know you need, everything you might need, and then all the extra stuff that you’re worried about not having.
Once you arrive with all that stuff, don’t rush to get everything set up completely. I suggest setting up your basic site with your tent, sleeping bags, and so on, and leave the extras in your car. If you find that you do actually need everything you brought, then you can pull it out as needed. But you might just surprise yourselves and discover that you don’t need nearly as much as you thought.
2. Put the phone (and all devices) away.
As I already noted, I am pretty into the inside world. I love computers, I love TV, I love my phone. But I also love putting those things away and fully unplugging, and it’s a gift that I don’t give myself nearly often enough.
There are sometimes very solid reasons for at least keeping your phone on (maybe you need to be in touch with another kid, for example), but I advise you to consider unplugging as much as you can and just sinking into the outdoor experience you’ve created for yourself and your family. This is true whether you’re tucked away near a remote mountain or you’re at a campground 15 minutes from your house. Just enjoy being together, listening to the birds, and falling asleep when the sun sets.
3. Don't make it too hard on yourself.
As much as I am a fan of primitive camping, also known as camping without any amenities or hike-in camping, for the first few times you’re camping with your kids I definitely recommend spending your time at a traditional drive-in campground. There’s absolutely no reason to make the experience extra challenging unless you just really live for the thrill of not having a great time.
Campgrounds will have running water, toilets, showers, and garbage cans. It’s super likely they’ll even have a grill right there where you can cook your own food. Take advantage of these amenities. Love them! If and when you decide to level up your camping experience, you’ll have built a solid foundation from the start.
4. Don't overplan it.
It can be tempting to feel like you need to fill in all the time your child will have on their hands with a list of Things To Do, but trust: You don’t! Give your children the gift of being able to idly wander their environment, to be a little bored, and to come up with their own creative solutions to finding something to do. Even drive-in campgrounds are exciting and different, and there are plenty of opportunities for kids to let their imaginations run wild.
5. Let them get dirty.
This might be obvious, but one of the whole reasons people take their kids camping is so their children can enjoy the fun that comes with running around outside and getting good and dirty. If you have certain clothes or shoes that you don’t want wrecked, don’t pack them. Make sure your kids have sturdy sneakers that don’t have holes, pants that can withstand running through a briar patch, and shirts that can be permanently stained. Once they do, just enjoy it.
6. It might be hard.
As much as I’d love to tell you that you and your kids are definitely going to have the best time ever camping together, you might not. It could be that you picked the wrong time of the year (for example: camping in the Southern United States in the thick of summer is not advisable unless you just like getting bugs in your eyes). It might be that your kid isn’t really an outdoorsy kid to begin with (don’t push it — some of us are like that!). It could also be that you’re under a lot of stress, that you forgot a favorite blanket, or any number of things. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to create a perfect, magical experience. You can always try again.