Summer is here and that means camping for lots of families. When we camp, my domain is the food, first aid and other domestic chores. (I’ll leave the subject of feeding the troops to another post.)Everything else falls to my husband. He grew up camping with his family, so he’s taught me how to camp over the years. I bow to his expertise and let him do most of the planning and am grateful to do so. My husband created a packing list we use to get ready. He prints it off and checks off the items as we pack them. He also brings it with us and leaves it in the van with a pen so he can write down anything we discover would be helpful for the next trip. After several years camping, there’s still usually at least one new entry on the list every trip. The list changes from year to year. It used to include diapers and bibs, which have fallen off the list; last year we added a leash and water bowl because we took the dog. Here are my husband’s lists if you’d like to download them: Tent Car Camping Checklist and the Pop up Camping Checklist. Don’t forget your camera– you’ll treasure these pictures someday–and a sense of humor and adventure. Something will always go wrong, but if you have the right attitude, you can still make the most of your time in the woods.
Jonathan has also created a list of jobs for everyone to do to help set up camp. We use his parents’ pop up camper, and it takes a bit of doing to get camp set up, regardless if you’re using a pop up, a camper or a tent. It seemed tempting when the children were smaller to just send the kids to the playground, but we decided everyone needed to take part in the set up as well. It creates a sense of ownership and plus, it (eventually) is faster if everyone helps. Before the trip he sits down the kids and they each read off their list of chores and he goes over their responsibilities. Some are really important, like checking to see if the water and electricity sources are close enough to the camper (my job), some are safety related, like my four-year old’s list includes stay on the campsite, stay out of poison ivy and watch out for people carrying things. They love having lists of jobs so they know exactly what to do. It cuts down on arguments of who is doing what and in what order. I’m sure you never have that problem at your house, but it happens all the time at our home, campsite or anywhere there are at least two of my children at any given moment.
We are usually quite active on our camping trips. The families we go with like to hike and bike and swim and our days are filled with these activities, unless thunderstorms stop all that. Because we camp in the south and it’s summer, it pretty much is a guarantee we’re going to have at least one thunderstorm in a week. We all bring a stash of card games, board games and even stuff like play dough and coloring books for those rainy afternoons or just downtime. Because we started camping when our children were young (Happy Girl was about 2 the first time we took her), someone has always needed a nap in the afternoon while we camp and sometimes the activities are just not designed for preschoolers. I usually stay in camp with the wee ones while my husband goes on the afternoon adventure, but by day 4, we’re both vying to stay in camp and just read a book or lay down with Doodlebug to “help” him rest:). He outgrew naps long ago, but these trips are so vigorous, it does everyone good to have some down time. We also encourage the kids to bring a few books to read before bed, and I always have one as well. I do not encourage stuffed animals because camping is too dirty and messy to keep them safe and clean. If they insist, the stuffed animals are kept in that child’s pillowcase until bedtime when it is removed and kept on the bed.
Our favorite campground also includes laundry facilities. I simply can’t pack enough towels and clothes for 6 people to not do laundry for 6 days. We string up a clothesline to dry swimsuits and towels between uses, but one almost always falls in the dirt or it’s so humid they don’t dry, or it rains and it gets all wet and rainy smelling. I have resigned myself to having a laundry afternoon around midweek. It’s really not bad at all. Last year one of my friends needed to do laundry and we spent a very nice afternoon catching up on each other’s life and enjoying the solitude–there were at least 20 people on that trip, so for a semi-introvert like me, being by myself or with one other person is quite refreshing. If you don’t want to pay a fortune for detergent, pack some of those little individual load packets to bring with you.
Don’t forget first aid supplies. A week outside means insect bites, scrapes, cuts and all kinds of booboos. I always bring pain reliever/fever reducer for adults and kids (don’t forget a measuring spoon for liquid medications), as well as cough medicine, Vick’s vaporub to rub on feet of anyone with a cough, sunburn aloe lotion, hydrocortisone cream for insect bites, hand sanitizer, and loads of bandaids and antibiotic ointment. Also, if you’re in a tick prone area, remember tweezers and rubbing alcohol to get those suckers off as soon as possible and do tick checks every night before bed. You can get most of these in the camp store, but not at 2 am when someone wakes up with a fever. Insect repellent and sunscreen are givens as well. Also take your doctor’s phone number. Doodlebug fell into hot ashes a couple of years ago and I had to call the pediatrician to see what I needed to do for the burn on his arm. It wasn’t a big burn, but it was scary for both of us and I wanted reassurance I’d done the right thing to treat it. Fortunately the number was in my phone, so as soon as I found a place in the campground with phone service, I called.
A couple of things we’ve learned the hard way: if you’re borrowing a tent or it’s a brand new one you’ve never used, set it up at home first to make sure you have all the pieces and nothing needs to be mended. Once my husband borrowed a tent from his brother to take backpacking. He didn’t put it together at home, and after lugging it several miles into the back country, discovered some of the really heavy poles he was carrying didn’t even fit in that tent. Another time we didn’t check to see how water repellant our tent was. We had to abandon camp after an after dinner shower flooded our tent and soaked all our beds and clothes. I don’t think any of the seams of that tent kept out the water. We piled all three of our kids (at the time) into the car with masses of wet pillows, sleeping bags, clothes and stuff and drove home–about 2 hours–exhausted and damp. Not fun.
Sometimes you do have to cry Uncle and leave. One trip we had 3 1/2 inches of rain in 24 hours. Two families had severe leaking and everything was totally soaked. One trip I had a child with croup and another started throwing up. Go home and live to camp another day. It’s not the end of the world to leave. Just don’t get so miserable no one ever wants to come back! Camping is too much fun and creates too many wonderful memories to spoil like that.