There's more to going camping than gathering the gear. Or plotting your route or reserving your campsite.
Veteran camper Tammerie Spires began her forays into the out-of-doors as an eight-year-old, continued as a teen and young adult, and is still at it with her husband and their two preschoolers.
What keeps her camping-- and has enlarged her enthusiasm for it-- is discovering that "Camping with kids is laugh-out-loud fun." So is this book!
If you want to camp but don't know how to start, Spires lays out the plan in bite-sized steps. Each one is clear and good-humored.
If you are camping with kids, A Guide to Happy Family Camping will help you get them-- and yourself-- ready to go.
What to do when you get "there," what to eat, when and where to sleep, and who does what-- Spires covers it all as a buoyant, yet experienced, friend.
She wraps it all up with an exhaustive directory of lists to make (Planning, Packing, and Preparing), of magazines and websites to consult, and of U.S. and Canadian Parks and Wildlife Departments to visit and contact.
Maybe you've never camped before but think it might be something fun to do with the kids. Maybe you used to camp with your spouse, but you're just not sure it's going to work out with an infant or toddler. Maybe you've camped quite a bit with your kids, and you're curious to know if there are better ways to handle the tricky moments.
This book's for you. In it you'll discover bright ideas and basic necessities that will help novice and pro alike have more fun and less fuss outdoors. We'll cover six Happy Camper Principles, 90 handy tips, information about places to go, some stories about where we've been, and a few lists of stuff and things to remember, get, do, or see (in the real world and on the Internet). Check Section 8, Resources, for these.
What you won't find is any preconception about the "right" way to camp. If Madison Avenue has its way with you, you may think you have to be a senior citizen in an air-conditioned rolling palace or a Gen-Xer, hanging your ultra-light, four-season tent off the side of a glacier.
The fact is, you don't have to go to either of those extremes to get out of your house and out of your norm and have a great time doing it, especially if you have the nerve to take your kids and a little infrastructure with you.
What kind of infrastructure? Well, that depends on you. Which leads us to Happy Camper Principle I: Camping happily requires determining what you need to camp happily./ Back seat of a car? Tent? Truck bed? Van seat? Pop-up trailer? Hard-side trailer? Big-league RV or motor home? There's a continuum here, ranging from sleeping under the stars to sleeping under the TV aerial. You decide where you need to be. And if you hear somebody snickering over how little or how much you have . . . laugh back at 'em in the secure knowledge that you have what you need to be happy.
There are lots of us in the generations between the Rolling Retired and Gen-X who sort of camped when we were kids, and who really want to sort of camp with our/ kids. Jim Shahin called it "Camping in Quotes" in an American Way/ magazine column.
My husband and I both "camped" as kids: Dave in his grandmother's back pasture with other neighborhood hoodlums, during the formative years when Dinty Moore and Dr. Pepper satisfied all major food group requirements; Tam in various Girl Scout and non-Scout girl camps, with roles ranging from bookish Brownie-sized bug-tracker to quasi-adult waterfront counselor.
We started camping again soon after our daughter was born (Harper, 1993), though we didn't take her with us at first. Our first serious Camping Trip was intended to give a couple of new parents a break from the beloved four-month-old. But with a few successes under our respective belts, we soon wanted to share the fun with Harper and the new rug-rat, Chandler (1995). That's when we started learning the lessons you'll find in this book, about everything from planning to food to fun to gear.
I hope this book kindles your desire to camp with kids. If you're ready to hit the road and pitch camp, then read on, head out, and let us hear your adventures!
Chapter 1 -- Planning
Most parents know that living with kids is the Great Multiplier. You're twice as late . . . or you've learned to start getting ready twice as early. Well, add camping to the mix, and you've got the Mucho Multiplier. You need four times as much underwear, but you're having four times as much fun. How can you make the Mucho Multiplier work for you? Here you go . . .
1. The key to happy camping with kids can be found in the three Ps: Planning, Packing, and Preparing. Think through where you want to go, what you'll do when you get there, and what you'll need to have with you to enjoy the experience.
Write it down as you go, because the secret of successful planning, packing, and preparing is . . . The List. This one is important enough to be Happy Camper Principle II: Make and use lists. Lists save lives, hair, and marriages!
2. I put my master list together in three columns, headed: Week Before, Day Before, and Day Of. I fold it to the appropriate time frame, and it all gets done.
Put an underline, dash, or hollow bullet next to items on your list, and check them off as they are packed or performed. Don't just cross things off by drawing a line through them. You'll forget what those items were and peer at them to see what it was you've already done.
3. Be sure everybody is clear on who's doing what. Mark it on the list if you need to. My list also includes some blank lines at the end so I can customize my reminders for each specific trip.
Do take your list on the road with you, so you don't forget what you forgot. (When diapers are what you forgot, once is enough!)
4. While a computer is a very expensive list-making device (in the way that a microwave is a very expensive popcorn popper), an easily revisable list is an eminently useful list. My list is on the computer, but I'd write it by hand if necessary. It's that important. (See Resources, pages 71-75 for sample lists; chances are I've already missed much of what you need!)
5. Equally important is what not to take. Don't take crap. No brain drains (TV, video games, and pretty much everything else requiring batteries, except your flashlights and weather radio). No junk food for the body (tell the kids it's their first spa weekend). No attitudes. This is the tough one. Babies don't like schedules to get out of whack . . . toddlers are bored by the drive . . . kids miss the TV . . . 'tweens think the great outdoors is geeky . . . teens believe a weekend with their parents is time off in hell. You name it, they'll whine about it. Unless they are busy.
Everybody gets a little responsibility, everybody pitches in to get the chores done, and everybody has a whole lot of fun. Keep it easygoing, and a little latitude will help the attitude.
6. Dave and I have found that the buddy system works well; we're a good team. If you're a single parent, think about doubling up. There's not much a couple of moms or a pair of dads flying in tandem can't manage. You can certainly manage everything in this book.
Even pairs of parents may want to partner up. We have several friends we like to camp with . . . because we like them, because we're compatible campers, and because they love us and our kids enough to baby-sit during the occasional nap while Dave and I get a rare chance to mountain-bike or swim together . . . alone!
7. Scheduling is a big part of camp planning. This makes some of our childless friends and relatives crazy, since they want to go and do at any hour of the day. Well, we used to do that, but we've learned it's not really fair to the kids, and it can pretty much ruin your day. (Just try setting out on a three-mile hike at nap-time.)
Nowadays, serendipity is what happens when well rested families with sufficient snacks, diapers, and dry changes of clothes meet a stream crossing to an alternative trail. Serendipity, yes, but with planning and room for error.
8. Speaking of scheduling, if you've developed a Fear of Five O'Clock, hang on to it. You need a healthy respect for the time between 5:00 p.m. and bedtime. This is not the time to schedule a hike, swim, or even a side trip in the car.
Don't try to do anything but have fun doing what must be done: make dinner, feed kids, clean up kids, rig for nighttime, put kids to bed. The fact is, if you can get through the Fearful Five O'Clock hour intact, you've got it made.
9. Routine helps, but be flexible. Our system of putting both kids to bed together at the same time had to be adjusted when the youngest, Chandler, got to the gonzo giggle stage (11 months old). He and his older sister, Harper, kept each other up for hours, rocking the trailer with their laughter. We finally had to keep her up long enough for him to fall asleep first, at which time we snuck her into her bunk. Now that Harper is four and Chandler is two, the only technique that works is to wear 'em both out before bedtime so they're too tired to giggle for long.
10. Packing is another big part of camp planning. After all, The List is primarily to help you remember what to pack, and then to actually pack it, preferably where you can remember to find it.
A little practice and forethought will help you pack efficiently enough to justify bringing everything you know you'll need, and most of what you think you might want. Think flexible and reusable. Handy Tip #74 below explains our multiple uses for big Rubbermaid tubs, for example.
11. Stay packed and you'll go more often. We keep our trailer loaded with what we call permanent stocks: camp bedding, hiking boots, child carrier, camp chairs, towels . . . and replenishable stocks: non-perishable food staples, RV toilet paper, spare set of toiletries . . . You'll find other ideas in Resources, pages 72 and 73.
We've found that the easier it is to go, the more often we go, and the more often we go, the happier we are. And the happier we are . . . well, that is the point, isn't it?
12. Work with your kids to plan and pack their backpacks: for car trips and for each hike. Help the kids load their packs for the car trip, so each has his or her own books, blocks, and other anti-road-boredom devices.
Then, prior to the first hike, reload with hiking requirements, like water, snacks, dipes and wipes, Band-Aids . . . whatever the kid needs, within reason.
13. Pack foods you know your family likes to eat, and which you'll be equipped to cook and clean up after easily. Some kids like hot dogs. Ours don't. Your kids may love roasted marshmallows. Well, one of mine likes 'em raw as a foam pillow, and the other won't go near 'em (yeah, the same kid who won't eat cake icing). But they both love pasta with pesto, they'll pick a chicken clean, and they'll snarf S'mores ingredients a la carte.
We'll talk more about food in the next section, but the key point here is: Pack foods you know your family likes to eat.
14. Finally, a side benefit to family camping is how much more you will appreciate camping without kids. Yes, occasionally you should invest in a baby-sitter for a long four-day weekend and take your mate out for a spin.
What does this have to do with planning? Well, if you're doing the planning, sneak in a few nice surprises—a fly-fishing guide for a day, steaks instead of burgers, a luxury shampoo to wash her hair a la Redford in Out of Africa, Ghirardelli truffles instead of S'mores—whatever your beloved would prize.