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Thursday, October 1, 2009

How to Enjoy Camping with Kids

Fall is bittersweet for me. I’m ready for the change of seasons, but it is also the official end of camping season. Given our crazy schedule, we only had the opportunity to camp once last summer. It was enough, however, to remind me that camping is rejuvenating for all ages.

We’ve camped with our now 6-year-old son since he was 3—it is now one of his favorite summer activities. The s’mores are a highlight, but he also enjoys the ultimate boy experience of the endless supply of dirt, rocks, trees, bugs, and more dirt.

For those of us that are clean freaks at home, camping can be a unnerving. I’ve learned that the key to enjoying camping is to let go of the usual “at home” rules and expectations. On this past trip our son showed up for dinner with so much dirt caked to his face that all we could do is laugh hysterically.

Here are my tips for enjoying camping with kids:

1. Everyone in the family is going to get very, very dirty. Know and expect that this will happen and enjoy the freedom of not worrying about it.

2. Camping is work. Make a list and check it twice, but just take the essentials. There is a fine line between what you need to be comfortable and so much stuff that the set-up/clean-up is a huge hassle.

3. Plan meals carefully. It’s amazing what people can bring when they car camp. Elaborate meals are possible, but not necessary. That said, in many places getting groceries is not easy, so bring more than you think you’ll need just in case. Camping seems to be a hunger producing activity.

4. Make reservations for weekend camping. Many of the best campgrounds are first-come-first-serve. This is a huge challenge for those of us that can’t get out of town on a Thursday. Some campgrounds allow you to reserve specific campsites up to 6 months ahead of time. Reserve America is a comprehensive reservation resource.

5. Understand ahead of time what there is do with kids in the area. By nature, camping is very kid-friendly, but it helps to have age-appropriate activities within easy reach—short hikes, fishing, shallow lakes, and safe bike riding to name a few.

Amie O’Shaughnessy is the Editor of Ciao Bambino, a family travel blog and guide to the best places to stay with kids on vacation.

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