Over the years we have learned a few coping strategies for squeezing all the fun out of a family camping trip. That could be taken two ways, I suppose. The year we were in tents in a deluge that lasted for days? No fun. At all. The ancient cabin on a lake in the UP? Charmed, every minute of the time. If you do your strategizing ahead of time, even the dreaded unpacking is not so bad.
Strategy number 1. Pack a camping/picnic tote that stays packed in storage whenever you are not out. This has been a game changer for me. A few years ago I bought a large, sturdy, lifetime-guarantee tote with a lid that locks down tightly. In it I packed all the things I always ended up packing every time we went for a day at the lake or on overnight jaunts.
- dishpan, ratty tea-towels and dishcloths, bottle of Palmolive
- paper towels, roll of trash bags, ice cream bucket
- clothesline and clothespins, firestarters
- mosquito spray, hand sanitizer in a pump, matches
- aluminum foil and assorted aluminum pans, gallon ziploc bags, coffeepot
- flexible cutting mat, old cooking utensils that I won’t stress over losing
- mugs, (we hate drinking out of styrofoam) plastic cups labelled with each person’s name, plastic spoons and forks sturdy enough to be washed
I customize the cookware stuff before each outing. Sometimes we just need roasting sticks, or a stockpot, or maybe a frying pan. We eat off paper plates, but the rest gets washed. Labelling the water cups eliminates a lot of washing. I went so minimalist this time that we didn’t have enough drinking cups when we got company. We pull a trailer behind our Suburban, usually for the bikes and fishing gear, but this time I packed everything except clothes in totes. They were in categories and labelled clearly: towels and sheets, games and activities, food stuff, snowpants, etc. etc. I liked how shipshape this kept the cabin. Well, sort of shipshape. One tote, emptied, became the hamper. This made homecoming and laundry sorting really easy. Do you have any idea how many dirty clothes can fit in a tote?
Strategy number 2. Let the children each pack one backpack/duffle bag. This is for clothes and treasures and it is ample. If they protest, I tell them that I once did a 6 week international trip with just a carry-on bag. What doesn’t fit doesn’t go along. If you think you can’t live without the stuffed puppy, you are going to have to leave something else behind. It’s helpful to make a list of how many outfits for how many days, and just chill with their choices. The more camo, the better. Pj’s can be worn day and night. Nobody cares. Camping is not a fashion show. Once they think they have everything they need, a parent does a cursory luggage check. Each child is responsible for his own luggage the entire time. Load it, unload it, keep it out of harm’s way, put your stuff back in it, zip it up. You people with small children, just wait. It’s coming soon! I helped my little girls pack their clothes, but they did the rest.
Strategy number 3. Provide some activities for rainy days. It will happen, especially if you are depending entirely on sticks and rocks and sand to entertain the children. While we are pretty free-range in our parenting style, (if you tell me you are bored, I will find something for you to do and it might not be fun) we try to remember that camping is not just for adult relaxation. It’s a great chance to bond and play together for hours away from pressures and technology.
Strategy number 4: Keep it simple. Remember my food menu? 🙂 Keep it local. Try to become well acquainted with the area you are camping in and milk it for all it’s worth: trails, geo-caches, nature programs, scenic overlooks, birdwatch areas, swimming, boating, whatever. If you think your people need theme parks and ice cream to be happy, fine. But remember that if you go out and about you are going to have to shower the people and hope to goodness they packed a decent outfit.
Strategy number 5: Do not complain about lack of comforts. Just do something about it. My brother once installed an air conditioner in his tent’s doggy door. Take what you need to feel prepared, but if you miss something obvious, it’s best not to articulate it. I tell you, if you voice unhappiness, every short person will pick it up and join you in the chorus, loud and clear. I was deeply disturbed when I thought of an unheated outhouse, modern or not, in 20 degree weather in pitch dark, on a trail in the creepy bushes. It was not something that I was going to be able to cope with well. That Luggable Loo seat saved the nights. Installed on a trash-bag-lined 5 gallon bucket, with a layer of Feeline Pine kitty litter in the bottom to absorb moisture, it worked like a charm and I have to say, I felt quite proud of my foresight. Gabe and I no longer enjoy sleeping on the ground, so we camp in cabins with bunks. We like sites with electricity and running water. If there is something you dislike about camping, there is probably a solution for you. (Have you seen those folding recliners?) It just depends on what you are willing to schlepp along.