There's something about sleeping in a tent that gets kids excited. Maybe it's the chill in the air, the sound of the wind in the trees or the fun with flashlights. Maybe it's the cozy sleeping arrangements with parents and kids all lined up in a row.
Camping is a great way to spend time together as a family away from everyday distractions. My family has been rained out, windblown, too hot to move, and frozen solid. Still my kids ask for more. Along the way, we've learned some secrets for a successful camping trip.
1. Go e-free
Leave the phones and electronic games at home. Bring one phone for use in an emergency, but don't spend time texting or checking messages. This is a chance for your family to engage with each other instead of their devices. My kids have never had more fun than they did playing charades with Mom, Dad and Grandpa all waving their arms around like crazy people.
2. Scout your location
One campsite where my family stayed advertised it ran on energy from its own windmill. That should have given us a hint it wasn't a good place to pitch a tent. We tied our tent to a fence to keep it from blowing away. When the fence blew down we had to cut our trip short. Good Sam publishes an extensive annual campground directory that includes detailed descriptions and campground ratings from campers who've been there.
3. Check the weather
Nothing can ruin your camping trip faster than bad weather. Before you book your campsite, check the weather for that location at the time of year you're planning your trip. You can find out the best time to visit some popular locations at the National Park Service website. Check the weather forecast about a week before you leave and make any adjustments to your plans you need.
4. Make sure you have the proper equipment
Once you know the weather conditions, pack appropriately. Check the temperature recommendations on your sleeping bags and make sure to bring extra blankets. Pack jackets or raincoats. Make sure you have sunscreen. Bring extra wood, drinking water, toilet paper or any other items that may not be readily available at your camp. Make sure you have the gear you need for any additional activities you plan on doing. On one trip, my family arrived at the lake only to discover we had no paddle for our kayak. Also, don't forget the bug spray.
You might want to hang around in a hammock all day, but your kids won't. Plan excursions away from base camp like a hike or a fishing trip. Bring art or basic craft supplies to give your kids something to do while you cook or set up camp. Fill the days with stories you can tell for years to come. (Like the time we went swimming in a river. Our daughter got a freshwater eel stuck to her leg and became hysterical. Older sister just walked up and ripped it off.) Fill the evenings with s'mores, stories and songs around the campfire.
Relax and Enjoy
You'll never be able to plan for everything you may encounter on your camping trip. That's what makes it an adventure. Nature has a way of refreshing the soul. Let it work its magic.