Our family loves all sorts of outdoor activities, and camping encompasses a lot of them, so it goes without saying that camping is one of our favorite things to do together. My husband and I have spent weekends camping since we have been dating. Our son went camping for the first time when he was 6-months-old and our daughter was only 6-weeks-old on her first trip. Last year, we even went so far as to buy a lifetime camping membership to a group of campgrounds near our home so it is very convenient for us to camp whenever possible. There is something about waking up to the sunrise with the sounds of nature around you and spending the day outside enjoying God's creation that just puts you in a better mood. Oh sure, "disasters" happen when we are camping all the time (like the time we got 2 hours from home and realized the crank for our pop-up was locked in the garage at home), but it's all part of the experience and just like anything else, it doesn't have to ruin the time if you don't let it.
While camping can be an enjoyable and relaxing time, it does require a bit more work than some other vacations. However, much like I am always saying, as long as your plan ahead, it can significantly ease the amount of work you have to do at the actual campsite. Before I share my best tips for a successful family camping trip, I should let you know that we camp in a pop-up camper. I enjoy tenting, but my husband hates how everything tends to get "moist" from the ground, so this was our compromise (and that's what marriage is all about, right?).
Tip #1: Use a list to make sure you have all of the necessary supplies.
While I had always used a list before the missing crank incident (because I am a list-maker by nature, in case you haven't noticed), after that trip, I sat down at our computer to make a master list of everything we have ever needed for camping. Now, before every trip I simply print one off, cross off anything we don't need for where we are going, and add grocery items and any other miscellaneous items on the back. As everyone chips in to pack, items can only be crossed off once they have been placed in the camper or vehicle to avoid items getting left at home.
Tip #2: Plan a menu and pre-cook/prep as much as possible at home.
Camping food for our family is always easy to prepare with minimal prep and clean-up so that everyone can enjoy the trip without being busy with extra work. Veggies and fruit can be chopped ahead of time. Pasta salads can be made at home. Meat can be cut or formed and marinated and shredded or ground meat can be cooked. Noodles can be pre-cooked so they are al dente and only needed reheated without dealing with draining at the campsite. Rather than hauling a lot of equipment with us to cook meals, we try to either do all one-pot meals cooked in our electric skillet or things that can be cooked over the fire. Some of our family's favorite camping meals include hot dogs cooked over the fire, spaghetti reheated in a jar of sauce, nachos/tacos/walking tacos, breakfast burritos, chili, goulash, pizza sandwiches (cooked like grilled cheese but with a thin layer of sauce spread on one side with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni), sausage gravy with pre-cooked biscuits, and foil pack dinners consisting of burgers or sliced smoked sausage with potatoes and veggies.
Tip #3: Pack more clothes than you think you need (especially for your children).
Camping, by nature, is messy. Clothes get dirty, muddy, and wet quicker than you may realize. Even children who don't go through extra clothes on a regular basis at home very likely will when they are outside all day. On this same note, don't forget to pack clothes for different weather such as rain and a few warm items such as jeans and sweatshirts in case it is cold at night around the fire or in the morning cooking breakfast. Speaking of clothes, always have somewhere to put your wet/dirty clothes in so they don't ruin the rest of your clothes. We use one of those lawn/leaf heavy duty paper sacks to save space, but a small tote would probably be even better.
Tip #4: No matter what the weather forecast, always have a few rainy day activities on hand.
We have one small cupboard in the camper designated for these types of things that my children know they can't play with otherwise. This includes travel board games, small craft kits I've found at the dollar store, and coloring/activity books and crayons. If rain is forecast, I also pack the portable DVD player in the glovebox and a few of their favorite movies. If the rain persists for multiple days of our trip, we will often leave the campground and take the kids to a movie or to a restaurant for appetizers/desserts for a break.
Tip #5: Make it a point to enjoy yourself no matter what happens!
When you are out in the great outdoors, anything is bound to happen. Just go with it! Forgot your camper crank? (lol) Drive home, get it, set up later than planned, but then relax around the campfire with your husband and play a game of cards once the kids go to bed. Rain ruining your plans? Make new ones. If you're in a new town, go exploring. Use those rainy day activities. Make friends with the neighboring campsite and go to the lodge to have some sort of family competition with them. Camping is no different than real-life in this respect... Attitude is everything! And remember, your attitude can affect the attitude of the rest of your family, so if you make it an adventure instead of a burden, they will likely follow suit.
So what about all of you? What are your best tips for a successful camping trip?
Happy Camping Everyone! :)