jackie-with-the-baby-walking-through-a-very-cold-river-2015You’ve heard that going camping as a family is a great way to bond and create memories with your loved ones that last forever. So you rent a campsite, load up your gear, and hit the road running with the hope that you, the kids and your special someone will have the time of your lives braving the great outdoors.

But what happens when you or a family member is a creature of the great indoors instead? How do you plan that perfect camping trip to satisfy diehard campers, the reluctant couch potato who’s missing Netflix, or the outdoor-anxious whose thoughts of bugs crawling up their legs at night have them running for the five-star hotel?

Find Your Family’s Happy Place

In this case, choosing the right camping style can make all the difference. Exactly what it means to “go camping” has changed a lot over the years, and the options are wide and varied. You no longer have to pitch makeshift teepees in the middle of nowhere, cut off all communications with the outside world, and live like a quasi-caveman to enjoy a camping trip (Though you can – if that’s your thing).

Modern camping has options for all families with diverse personalities and tastes. You can go camping in an RV/trailer, car camping, “glamping” (camping in glamour), or my personal favorite – tent camping.  (Not rugged enough for you? Backpacking is calling your name, then, baby.  Check out our backpacking article, coming soon)

Though I find it impossible to believe that something with a name as ridiculous as “glamping” even exists, I’ve heard some say that glamping is basically God’s gift to mankind (don’t ask me where I heard it, though).  You can customize tree houses, yurts, safari tents, campervans, and tents so you never miss your treasured amenities while pretending you’re an expert on the constellations. Isn’t life grand?

The perfect camping trip for your family will likely change over time.  Right now, some of my family’s favorite spots are those in quiet campgrounds, next to a river.  We love spots like this right now for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, we still have young kids, and sometimes our baby and three year old love to cry as loud as they can.
At 2 a.m.
For a long time.
To other campers, that may not be the most peaceful sound, so the rush of the nearby river definitely helps drown out the sounds of cranky littles, nearby campers and any traffic passing through. The last thing we want is to be worrying about how our noise affects others, or how their noise affects us.  We want to feel like we’re in our own little world.   Another reason why we love camping by a river or stream is because it’s easy entertainment! Splash, play, throw sticks, cool off– it’s a great addition to any camp experience.

Dad and his son camping and enjoying time together. This article is from a father's point of few on how to get away from the busy world and go camping with you family.

Dad and his son camping and enjoying time together. This article is from a father’s point of few on how to get away from the busy world and go camping with you family.

Remember Why You’re There

-or you may as well have just stayed home.  No matter how cushy you camp, don’t let distractions keep you from creating beautiful memories. You’re outside! You’re away from your normal routine!  Make it different than it would be at home.

For example, turn off those smartphones, and resist the urge to keep the iPad or portable DVD player on standby when you want to give up on your ornery offspring.  You’re there to enjoy your family and the great outdoors, teach your kids about the stars at night, and to show them how to love and respect the outdoors at an early age.
Have they ever carved wood with a pocket knife?  That was a surprising discovery for us, as our 9 year old daughter spent hours carefully carving a large stick.  As we watched her, we could see how meditative and relaxing it was for her to focus on something so different from her usual activities.
Do your kids know how to wash dishes in the river?  Fish for trout? Have they learned to set up a tent? Identify plants and bugs? You’d be surprised just how into it they are, because it’s so very different from the giant menu of on-demand entertainment and convenience they have in their everyday lives.
Help your family learn to love the outdoors and respect it for what it is each time they take in the scent of the surrounding pine trees; the crackling fire; birds chirping; the warm sun; the tickling of the breeze; and the sound of each other’s voices or the surprisingly loud sound of solitude– not ringtones, incoming texts or any other typical daily distractions.

Vary Camping Entertainment

Luckily, when you cut off kids from their cell phones, something really delightful happens. They remember you exist and actually want to talk to you!
This is your opening. Make use of it.
Small hikes and explorations, group storytelling, singing songs around the campfire, or even playing a game of guess-the-hand-shadow led by Daddy on the tent wall, or whose floating stick is the fastest in the river are great ways for everyone to enjoy a family camping trip.  One of the activities my wife set up during our last camp was a scavenger hunt for the kids to work on throughout the weekend.  They were tasked to find things like heart shaped rocks, leaves that had been chewed, three different needles, something red, a mushroom, a feather, and it kept them busy for hours.   We took clear packing tape with us and blank journals, and the kids began putting leaves and flowers in to start a plant book, labeling when and where they found them.  They even created artwork using the needles, sicks, bark, leaves, and flowers they found while they were hiking.   Meanwhile, my son spent many an hour perfecting his bb-gun skills and learning gun safety.

Even better, why don’t you try personalizing the entertainment? Camping doesn’t mean you have to be tied to your campsite. Get out and explore.  Trevor (my oldest son) has a neurological degenerative disorder called Fahr’s disease that is deteriorating the use of his legs, so our ability to hike to the top of the nearest peak isn’t going to happen– but hikes still can!  We found short ones, took hiking poles for him to use, kept his walker nearby, and had lots of fun.   No matter how, we get out of the campground and explore the wilderness, taking every opportunity to enjoy the time with our kids. After all, let’s be honest– in everyday life, things are just so busy that it’s easy to forget to sit down and get to know your kids.  That’s why we love to take them camping.  It forces us all to focus on each other and relax a bit.

Prepare Camping Meals around the Campfire

trevor-roasting-marshmellowsAnother way to bond as a family on a camping trip is to cook your meals using lots of different methods like open fire, gas camp stove, or dutch ovens,  and get everyone involved with meal preparation. “But my kids won’t help me cook,” you say, “and neither will my husband.”

They will … outdoors.

Yes, they’ll never help you slice as much as a tomato at home, but get them outside in front of an open flame and the camp magic kicks in. Watch your family quickly turn into iron chefs and help you whip up just about anything– seriously, give it a shot. You’ll see a whole new dinner dynamic.

With all the options in front of you that you can imagine,  camping trips can be a really enjoyable experience for everyone when you customize them to your family. No matter how you set it up, you’ll see that camping with your family creates funny stories, shocking surprises, and lasting memories that no one in your family will soon forget.