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Camping: One City Family's First Time
(and Why You Should Try It, Too)

By Sherry Crawley on November 12, 2014

brussels sprouts-camping 557x372

The first time my family went camping, we ate burnt, raw Brussels sprouts (yes, that's possible) in the dark.

I was not sure how to react when my husband suggested a camping trip. I liked the idea of camping. It was the reality I struggled with. It took a couple of hours and multiple bags of assorted supplies for us to get out the door for a play date. How was this going to work exactly?

Then he threw down the enviro-guilt gauntlet. "You keep saying you want our son to experience real nature more often. So put down the iPhone and the hand sanitizer and let's do this." 

We live in a city suburb, and although our kid spends a lot of time outside, it is mostly on playgrounds and in neat parks. Not many dirt under your fingernails, stick-finding, bug chasing sort of experiences. 

My dearly beloved had a point. I hate it when that happens. 

So we bought a used tent and got ready to push the limits of our citified comfort zones. On a fine Saturday morning off we went in a Prius packed to the roof for two whole nights of wilderness bliss. At a state park. With water and electricity at our campsite. And just across the path from the bathhouse. Backcountry camping this was not. But give us a break - it was our first time. 

I'm not going to lie to you. We had our struggles, like the afore-mentioned Brussels sprouts. We checked the weather for the closest town, but did not factor the mountain elevation into our wardrobe planning. And although he suggested the trip in the first place, my husband's outdoor skill sets did not include building a fire without the use of a lot of lighter fluid.  

But that trip truly represents a shift in our family's culture. We snuggled by the fire, explored in the mist and ate undercooked food together. And we loved it. Even as we go through our daily routine in the shadow of skyscrapers, far from the night sounds of the woods, we are affected, addicted to the peace and renewal wild places offer.  

We have had other camping adventures since that first trip, but we are by no means experts – clearly you see that we were starting at a pretty low baseline. But here are a few points we have picked up along the way. 

  • Until you are sure your family will be camping regularly, don’t buy a lot of stuff. Borrow from friends, rent big items from an outfitter, or check out first-time camper programs offered by many state parks, like this one in Georgia. 
  • Choose a destination that isn’t too far from home, and keep the first trip to a couple of nights. Stay somewhere with amenities that will enable your family to be comfortable. 
  • This is vacation after all. Explore the area. Get to know your camping neighbors. Take advantage of programs like guided walks or story time offered by the park, and plan activities like swimming, hiking or a walk to the park’s visitor center to break up the time.
  • Retain some elements of your family routine like reading books at bedtime. Our kid gets a little range-y if we get too far off the norm.

Camping, like many parenting experiences, is all about state of mind. We could have decided we were cold, hungry and miserable. But because we chose to embrace the adventure, we had the time of our lives.

That first camping trip is now part of our family’s lore. My son brings it up regularly, connecting other experience to his time on the mountain. He can’t get enough, and neither can we.

Sherry reading to her son-camping 557x372

[Top Image: Brussels sprouts over the campfire; bottom image: the author and her son reading a bedtime story by the campfire; photo credit Jason Crawley]

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