For many of us, some of our fondest memories of growing up come from camping with our families. You just have to smile when you recall the fun of jumping into a cool lake on a hot summer day, chasing fireflies under a starry night sky, or making S’mores around an open campfire.
Even if you’re not a hardcore outdoors person, you can make those same memories for your family. The key is to put some effort into planning your camping trip so that it will be memorable, fun for everyone, as stress-free as possible, and safe. Here are 10 tips for taking a successful family camping trip.
1. Make a Dry Run...or Two
It can be a little frightening for children to sleep outside of the cozy confines of their bedroom, especially if they’re really young. If your kids have never been camping, it’s not a good idea to suddenly pack them up, grab a tent, and head out for an overnighter. Instead, do a dry run first.
Pitch a tent in your backyard and spend a night there. Teach your children about the sounds of the night and point out stars and planets in the night sky. After the kids spend a few evenings in your backyard campground, they’ll be excited and ready for the next step—a real car campout.
That’s right, a car campout where you drive your car to a campground and set up your tent and gear. Before you involve the kids in a rugged backwoods experience you should allow them to get accustomed to camping in a more controlled setting where there’s a bit of civilization and some facilities. Remember, small steps.
2. Planning is Key for a Successful Outing
Planning is one of the key ingredients to ensure that your family will enjoy a fun and successful camping trip. Before your first campout, consider the following things:
When you choose a campground for car camping, determine what activities are available there. You want to ensure that the kids will be entertained, and not just the adults.
Check the campground rules and regulations. You’ll have fewer headaches if you know important details, such as whether pets are allowed.
Put together a gear list (see Packing for Success below), and give yourself ample time to acquire things. If you wait until the last minute, you’ll be stressed and forget things.
Plan every meal you’ll prepare during the campout.
Determine whether water will be available at the campsite, or whether you’ll need to bring your own.
Review emergency and safety concerns (see Keep Them Safe below).
When you’re researching campgrounds, check to see if the campground offers ranger talks about nature, or if there are special events going on during your planned visit that would interest your family. For example, it’s great to camp at Moundville Archaeological Park in Moundville, Ala., during the weekend of the Native American Festival in early October.
When it comes to food, you should plan each meal well in advance. Keep the meals simple but delicious. It’s best to prepare something you can make quickly that everyone will like. Also, opt for meals that require minimal cleanup. Wherever possible, pack the ingredients for each meal into separate containers or zip lock bags to keep them organized. And don’t forget plenty of the family’s favorite snacks!
As you gather your gear, carefully consider the type of tent you’ll use. With a small family, you may be fine with a three- or four-person dome tent. Larger families, or those that might want a little more space, might be better off with a seven- or eight-person cabin tent. If you have older kids who would prefer to have their own sleeping space, you could take separate small tents for them.
3. Packing for Success
What should you pack on a family camping trip? Well, that is a very subjective topic that depends on you and your family’s needs. A good list is available from the Boy Scouts of America.
As you’re prepping for your trip, you’ll probably pick up some new gear. Before you depart for the campground, become familiar with new things and test them to ensure they function properly. It’s especially helpful to pitch the tent in your backyard a few times. There is nothing more frustrating—and embarrassing—than flailing around with aluminum poles and canvas in the middle of the night.
4. Packing for Fun
Don’t forget to bring along the fun! Pack fun games and toys based on the ages of your children to help them pass the time. A few examples include:
Glow in the dark or lighted flying discs
Ice Cream Maker Ball (toss it around and make homemade ice cream)
Water Pistols and Super-Shooters
Telescope and star chart
5. Little Helpers
No matter how old or young your children are, make sure they have a job to do around camp. Whether it’s gathering firewood or helping erect the tent, any job big or small will make kids feel like they’re an important part of the adventure.
6. Shut Off the Tech
You’re doing your family and yourself a disservice if you let electronics distract you from the natural surroundings of your campsite. Because adults and kids spend so much time connected to devices, a campout will seem much more special when everyone powers down and devotes time to each other. Plus, the outing will be more interesting if you pay more attention to the surrounding animals and bugs, the trees, the water, the sky—everything that makes the outdoors unique and different. While you should leave most of your electronic devices at home, keep at least one cell phone handy in your car in case of an emergency. Just keep it turned off so that you and your family will have each other’s full attention.
7. Try A Geocaching Treasure Hunt
Geocaching is becoming more popular because it challenges you mentally and gets you out and about in nature. Geocaching is a treasure hunt where you use GPS coordinates to find hidden caches, which can be large or small containers that hold trinkets as well as a log book where you record that you found the cache. When you’re planning your campout, make sure to look for campgrounds that have geocaches either in the campground or nearby, and don’t forget the GPS. (You can also use a geocaching.com mobile app.) At CacheGeek.Com you’ll find a list of online websites that identify geocaches throughout the country.
9. Keep Them Safe
Needless to say, safety is your prime concern when camping with your family. The adults in your family should all know the basics of outdoor safety, and you should pass along the knowledge to children. Keep in mind the following:
When children aren’t with an adult they should keep away from lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams.
Learn how to spot poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, and stay away from them.
Don’t eat anything you find in the woods. The berries might look good, but they can make you sick.
Never touch or feed any animals, big or small.
Have children carry a loud whistle, and teach them how to use it if they become lost or in trouble.
Teach children campfire safety.
10. Begin and End With a Positive Attitude
Your camping trip will be more fun and memorable if you keep a positive attitude. If you’ve been camping before, you know that even the best-laid plans can go awry. People can get frustrated by something as simple as failing to start a campfire. Or, the weather could take a turn and force you to deal with rain all day. A million things that can go wrong on a campout, but if you always keep a positive attitude and brush it off, your family will pick up on your vibe and it will still be a fun trip.