Looking for a Family Vacation Close to Home? Why Not Camping?

Tips for camping with family.

Posted Jul 09, 2020

Brooks Rice on Unsplash
Source: Brooks Rice on Unsplash

"Dr. Laura.....We're going crazy at home. I want to get my kids away from screens. But we don't have money for a vacation and I wouldn't feel safe with airplanes or hotels anyway. How can we make it through the summer?"

If you've been sheltering in place with your family, you need a break from home. Wouldn't it be amazing if that break also helped you hit the reset button on screens with a "dopamine fast," got everybody in the family moving, facilitated some nice family bonding, and gave your kids a chance to climb trees, chase fireflies, and roast marshmallows? 

Camping has all the ingredients for a fun, safe, and meaningful family vacation. It's also a great learning experience for children of all ages. In one large study, parents said that camping benefitted their children by giving them more freedom, independence, confidence, and responsibility (within a safe setting), as well as the opportunity to appreciate nature, escape from technology, and bond with family.

Yes, it takes some planning. But that's part of the fun and it's a great learning experience for your child! 

1. Find a campground close to home using the National Park Service website or Reserve America. Hopefully, you'll be able to drive there in a few hours with minimal stops so you can keep your family safe. Prioritize campgrounds close to water for swimming, tubing, boating or other activities your kids will like. (No car? New York and many other cities have campgrounds that are available via public transportation, or consider renting a car just for the trip.)

2. Make planning part of the fun. Remember, anticipation builds excitement and kids learn a lot by taking responsibility for making a project happen. Brainstorm with your family about how to make this super fun for everyone. Empower your kids to do some of the planning about where are you'll go and what food you'll eat. Come up with a list of camping games, like camping bingo, scavenger hunts, and flashlight tag. Stress that everyone's contribution will be needed, and everyone will work together.

3. Work with each child on a list of things for them to bring and let them take the lead on their packing, checking off the items on the list. (Let them show you their list and assembled items before they start packing.)

Be sure to pack food that your kids like, and some surprises they don't expect, like glow sticks, bubbles, and kiddie headlamps.

Kids can also take responsibility for part of the "family list." Don't forget matches and newspapers to start a fire, ingredients for s'mores, water bottles, drums and other musical instruments, messy art supplies, board games, cards, flashlights, a festive string of battery lights, extra towels, wipes, sleeping pads, magnifying glass, baggies for cool leaves, and rocks, snacks to keep kids happy while they're hiking, and of course bug spray and sunscreen.

4. If you don't have camping equipment, try to borrow it. Practice setting your tent up before you go. Consider a test-run camping weekend in your backyard, to help your child become more comfortable sleeping outside. 

5. Think low-tech. What your kids will remember is lying on a blanket looking at the stars with you, singing around the campfire, or floating down the river with you in an inner tube. Keep devices off except in emergencies.

6. Be flexible! For instance, if you're hiking, plan for something fun at the end of every trail so kids can look forward to it, like a waterfall or snack — but don't worry if you never make it to the end of the trail. What matters most is the fun everybody has along the way, so your good mood is the key to a rewarding trip for everyone. Focus on the fun of the journey with your child, not the destination. You'll almost certainly find that unplugging for some time in nature is as good for you as it is for your child.