Camping Ain’t What It Used To Be

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I am an Eagle Scout. I have over 100 nights of camping logged as a Boy Scout. I know three different ways to make a camp fire without using matches or lighters. I can build a shelter out of branches and leaves. I backpacked in the Rockies and participated in survival campouts in upstate New York in the middle of winter. I am capable of using a map and compass, giving first aid, and I know how to tie several different knots and when you would actually use them. Do you want to know how much of this matters to my wife? None of it!

Camping compromises
When I first met my wife, she had never really been camping. The closest she ever came to camping was her family renting a cabin in the Ozarks. After we were married, I asked her if she wanted to do some real camping. Initially, she said no. I was finally able to convince her by telling her we could camp on the beach (she’s a sucker for beaches). She agreed to go camping if I would make a few concessions, and off we went. We pitched a tent and slept by the Gulf of Mexico. But she didn’t want to deal with all of the other “stuff” involved with camping, like cooking. So we ate our meals at restaurants.

So began out morphed sense of camping. Our version of camping became a compromise of real camping (using a tent) with some of the comforts of home (getting a site with electricity and bringing an electric skillet). While it wasn’t backpacking or high adventure camping, it was getting out into nature, so I learned to live with it and even came to enjoy our new brand of camping. That all changed after kids.

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Camping with the whole family
When my son was about 6 months old, we tried to go camping. It was OK, but not great. We had a good time, but we were limited as to which activities we could do, because he was so little. On top of that, sharing a tent meant early bedtime for everyone, which meant no campfire, no s’mores, and no gazing up at the stars, three of my favorite camping activities.

We tried it again after my daughter was born and my son was two. It was a disaster. We narrowly avoided a trip to the ER, somehow all the sleeping bags got dirt in them, and no one slept at all between the baby waking up crying to be fed and the toddler’s middle of the night bathroom trips.

So it became clear that if we were to go camping, it needed to be something entirely different. Gone are the days of real camping, family camping is it’s own breed entirely. We started by renting those little KOA Kabins. Enough beds for everyone, but you had to walk to the bathroom. They even had electrical outlets to plug in our electric skillet. On longer trips, we started renting full cabins. It felt more like staying at a hotel, but you bring your own food.

Camping for the future
Recently, we bought a small travel trailer. The beds are made, there’s a refrigerator and stove, running water and flushing toilet; it’s a regular home away from home. It doesn’t feel like real camping, but honestly, that’s ok with me these days. I don’t have to spend time setting up a tent. Using a lighter and fire starter means we’re only a few minutes away from s’mores. Cooking meals is not a time consuming activity (we even have a microwave!). The end result is that I get to spend more time with the family doing outdoor activities away from home. There’s swimming in the lake, and short hikes, and playing catch, and roasting marshmallows, and looking up at the stars. These are the important parts of camping, and we still get to enjoy them.

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And so I’ve accepted that real camping just isn’t something my family does. Maybe someday when the kids are older, I may teach them some of the basic skills of real camping, like how to build a fire without matches while surviving in the wilderness during winter in a shelter built out of sticks and leaves. Then again, maybe I’ll let the scouting programs do it while my wife and I rent a cabin in the Ozarks.

Do you have any thoughts on camping with the family? Feel free to share.

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