Wanted: an affordable family vacation minus encounters with typical vacation disasters.
This, undoubtedly, is always easier said than done. However, the answer might be a more traditional vacation than some new vaca-fad—a camping trip. “But wait,” you caution, “I remember the terrible time I had as a kid soaking wet in the middle of the night in a leaky tent, the terrible food, unexpected visitors of the animal variety…” Stop right there, because here a few tips on making a success out of a family camping trip.
Hold a rehearsal: Sometime within a month in advance practice, with your children, setting up the tent in the backyard or living room. Spend the night in the tent with all the gear you plan on using. Make sure the sleeping bags are warm enough (or cool enough as the case may be!), and the bedrolls provide enough protection from cool/damp/hard ground.
Food = Fun: Make food fun. Adults often forget that meal times can make for great memories whether it’s the kids roasting marshmallows, making jiffy-pop for the first time, or the fact that dad makes some awesome pancakes. Also remember, just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you have to eat like a caveman. Look up and plan time-tested camp recipes before you go, even try cooking them at home on the grill or on a fire. Lastly, bring two coolers: one for snacks and drinks and one for meals, that way kids can grab what they want without a fuss.
Get The Kids Involved: I don’t mean plan a bunch of typical, banal activities such as they are used to; instead, teach them to camp! Have them help set up camp, prepare meals, etc. If things start to go wrong admit you’re having trouble and ask for their help. Even if something goes amiss, these little blunders will be memorable if everyone can laugh about it as it happens and after (not to mention it’ll be a valuable learning experience).
Local is Lovely: Many people believe, for some reason, you have to first annoy and stress the family with double-digit hour long car rides to ‘exotic’ parks half the country away to have a beautiful and worthwhile camping trip, when most people live less than an hour from well-maintained and gorgeous public forests and parks. You’ll reduce stress, increase quality time, and save money on fuel.
Be An Early Bird: I know, I know. The last thing you want to do on vacation is get up early, but everyone else is thinking they’ll just sleep another hour too. If you get up early you’ll have a better chance of having facilities (including nature) to yourself. Also, many animals are much more active in the cool morning hours as opposed to the middle of a 95 degree afternoon. Plus, if the camp offers swimming you’ll be to the beach or pool soon after lunch for a quick dip and relaxation while the kids (hopefully) amuse themselves.
Indulge: No one said camping had to be utterly minimalist. Bring some extras like pillows; everyone will have a much better time if they can get a good night’s sleep. A bottle of wine can turn a typical camp dinner into what feels like a five-star meal.
Over Plan, Under Worry: Call the camp manager in advance, visit the facility’s website if they have one, ask about activities such as nature hikes and children’s programs. Explore local businesses and tourist opportunities. Plan both sunny and rainy day activities. Plan more than you need too, but most importantly remember not to be over strict in trying to fit in everything, let the vacation unfold on its own. Search state-government web sources for listings of state parks and amenities
Kampgrounds of America (KOA), www.koa.com
National Park Service, www.nps.gov