We began looking at camping trailers in 2005. I was the sales manager for a computer manufacturer with a focus on the defense industry, so much of time during the week was spent on the eastern coast of the United States; a work-schedule that was cutting into the time I could spend with my family. Camping would be a way to stay connected with my family, without the distractions of our modern lifestyle getting in the way. Looking back on it now, I wish we would have grabbed a tent and some sleeping bags and just started! As it was, my time as a Paratrooper in the Infantry had soured me on “roughing it,” which is why we were looking at trailers. I figured if we could be warm, dry and have a refrigerator, the rest would take care of itself. We had no idea what we were looking for, though, and we knew even less about what our family vehicle at the time, a 2002 Dodge Durango SUV, was capable of towing. We spent almost a year searching for the perfect trailer, which ended up being a 26-foot model with bunk beds for the kids and a slide-out queen bed for mom and dad. At the same time, we also traded-in the Durango on a vehicle capable of towing our dream trailer. It took nearly a year, but we finally had our camper!
When we took our first camping trip, our kids were 1, 4 and 5 years old. To say they were excited would be an understatement. The campfire, the s’mores, the bunk beds, the stars – everything was a new adventure for these toddlers and the fact that mom and dad were experiencing this right there with them made it all the more exciting. I think as adults we tend to underestimate children’s ability to enjoy nature for nature’s sake, without the electronic stimuli that has become such a big part of their lives, these days. The television will always be there, but how many times do you get to walk through the woods and see a doe and her fawn, or try and skip rocks across a stream? Those kinds of experiences cannot be reproduced at home, which is why they are such enduring memories for the kids. For mom and dad, too, a weekend of camping is one of the best ways to decompress from the work-week. Monday will always come, but for at least a day or two there are no schedules, no agendas and no appointments. It is important that camping with the family remains an event, and not a destination. There is certainly a place for “destination camping,” such as a trip of one of the major national parks during summer vacation, but for every national park in the western United States, there are thousands of state, county and municipal parks that offer everything required for a weekend getaway. The key to weekend camping is keeping it close to home, because camping with the family is a lot more fun than driving with the family.
Camping with the family is one of the few activities that the entire family can participate in together. Even sports, that other great American family pastime does not provide the same kind of family togetherness as camping. Contrast the simple act of building a campfire, in which the entire family can participate in gathering wood, make kindling, build and feed the fire, etc. with the typical sports activity in which the children participate while the parents watch from afar. Not that organized sports do not have a beneficial impact on our children’s development, but it is no replacement for family-time. Camping places everyone on an equal footing, with certain responsibilities that enhance everyone’s camping experience. Kids might not initially understand the importance of keeping the campsite clean, but when everyone suffers through an ant-invasion or waking up to garbage strewn about the campsite by raccoons, it is a lesson the children will not soon forget! Fortunately, most lessons do not have such negative consequences and, the fact is, mom and dad will be learning right alongside the children – which is the best way for our kids to learn how to problem-solve. Parents and children doing things together, this is what family camping is all about and it is why camping is such a great activity for families.