I grew up in a family that enjoys camping. I married a man who likes camping. Every year we gather to camp and have a family reunion. I can’t decide whether I like camping. I love the outdoors and exploring the world, but if money were not an issue, my ideal vacation might include a cabin with modern conveniences nestled in the woods. I could enjoy all nature has to offer, but I could take a shower, sleep in a regular bed, and easily prepare meals. Alas, my family does not have unlimited funds, so we camp in a tent. My kids love it. Sometimes I love it. Sometimes I tolerate it. Sometimes I look forward to going home, but I continue to camp. Here’s why:
Camping is work, especially with young kids. You lay your baby on the ground to change diapers. You stoop to get in and out of your tent. You follow the kids to make sure they don’t dash into the woods or rub themselves with three-leaved plants. There’s no easy access to soap and a sink after you’ve handled raw meat you’re grilling for dinner. You hike to use the bathroom. After hiking to the bath house, you may discover you left your toothbrushes, feminine hygiene products or towels for your shower back at your camp site.
Showering presents special challenges with young kids. I have two choices. I can have my two daughters shower together while I stand to the side of the stall and dodge the daddy long legs on the cinder block wall and assist in hair rinsing. I’m usually damp by the end. Sometimes I throw privacy to the wind and all three of us crowd in the shower and clean up in one fell swoop. I call it a shower party.
Camping requires a lot of stuff. Camping requires so much stuff it may not all fit in your car. Packing and keeping track of it all isn’t easy, bringing me back to my first point about how camping is work. We bought a rooftop carrier for our Subaru Outback and still have to be judicious about how we pack.There are overnight bags or suitcases; air mattresses or cots, blankets or sleeping bags and pillows for our whole family (you would not believe how much space minimal blankets and pillows for four people take up); coolers for perishable food as well as boxes or bags of shelf-stable food; water coolers or bottles; marshmallow roasters, camp stoves, portable grills, matches and lighters; lawn chairs; tents; bug spray; sunscreen; lanterns; towels for showering and swimming; and toys for the kids. You may or may not have room for luxuries like bikes or a canopy tent to set up over your picnic table, unless you own a giant SUV or fifth wheel or have no children.
Camping is unpredictable. You can’t control the weather or what kinds of neighbors you’ll have. I’ve been rained on, half frozen, and once woke in the night to a flooded tent. I’ve had to put up with loud neighbors at night. This summer two middle-aged men who camped across the road from us played classic rock all day. That music is fine in the proper setting, but I don’t understand why people immerse themselves in nature and then play loud music so they can’t actually hear the sounds of nature … and others around them can’t either. We avoid some trouble by not camping during holidays when the crowds swarm and drunk rednecks crawl out from under rocks. I’ll never again camp during the Fourth of July.
Camping is dirty and buggy. My clothes are perpetually dirty when we camp. The front of my shorts take a beating when I pick up toddlers with muddy shoes after the previous night’s rain. Dirt and wet leaves get tracked in our tent and we get a few dirty footprints on our beds. I could require that everyone take tennis shoes off before entering the tent, but I refer back to my point about how camping is work. I’ll take dirt over helping multiple young children put shoes on and off repeatedly.Then there are the bugs. We recently camped at a Missouri state park with friends. One afternoon I heard bloodcurdling screams issuing from the bath house and ran to find out what was wrong. A tearful young girl explained she had an eight-legged visitor in her stall. I sort of sympathized with her. The daddy long legs that congregate each night under our tent’s rain fly still creep me out.
Despite the inconveniences and creepy crawlies, I am becoming convinced that people who camp are better for it. Especially kids who grow up camping. Posh vacations – on the beach, at resorts or on cruise ships – are nice and certainly not bad things, but they don’t build character like camping does. Camping with my family helps develop valuable traits and abilities.
Camping promotes resourcefulness and flexibility. Camping is an opportunity to learn to roll with life’s punches. If it’s raining on the day you planned to go hiking, you can decide whether to don ponchos and hit the trails anyway, or perhaps spend a dry day in the wildlife observation room at the nature center. Other challenges include figuring out how to set up a tent, managing encounters with local wildlife like raccoons, keeping your food supply out of reach of animals, drying out a leaky tent and wet bedding, managing extremely hot or cool weather, starting a campfire, preparing food without a full kitchen, and not having easy access to a bathroom just a few feet away.It’s obvious looking at wealthy celebrities that people who have it easy don’t always turn out to be happy or well-adjusted people. The inconveniences and the things I dislike about camping are exactly why the experience really is good. Kids who camp learn basic survival skills and healthy ways to deal with challenges.
Camping encourages minimalism. This goes back to one of my earlier remarks about how much gear camping requires. Whenever we camp, we know our packing space is limited so we only bring the necessities. Only as many clothes as we can wear. Just a few toys for the kids.It’s also a time to slow down our daily pace and not over schedule ourselves. We are entertained by simple things like hiking, canoeing, splashing on the creek bank, making fairy houses out of dirt and sticks at the campsite, or gazing at a nighttime sky full of stars.In addition, camping is a time to be minimalist about appearance. I leave what little makeup I wear at home. I don’t worry about slightly dirty or messy hair. It’s a healthy example for my daughters in today’s ultra-girlie girl culture that’s obsessed with pink frills and all things princess.
Camping teaches understanding and appreciation of nature. I still don’t like spiders, but I’ve become more tolerant as long as we have the rain fly between us. I love learning about our beautiful and complex universe, and I love passing that knowledge down to my daughters. This summer we hiked in a canyon along a shallow creek, getting our feet wet and climbing among rocks. My oldest was thrilled to catch a few toads outside the campground bath house, and we saw snakes when we joined friends on a fishing expedition. We attended a nature center presentation on constellations. My daughter also learned about moths and butterflies and is beginning to identify various songbirds, trees, and the ever-infamous poison ivy.
Itchy plants aside, we live in an amazing world. Unless I come across a large sum of money and can afford to rent wilderness vacation cabins, I will continue to camp as long as my family enjoys it. There is no better way to immerse ourselves in our world, and hopefully my children will be better citizens of our world for having camped.
Do you participate in activities you don’t always enjoy for the sake of your family? Leave us a comment!
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