Last weekend we got back from a 4 day 3 night tent camping trip where it rained for hours on two of the four days. Actually the trip was supposed to be 5 days 4 nights, but we decided to forgo the first day due to heavy rain and tornadoes that hit Northeast Pennsylvania. Despite the weather the trip was a blast and we wished it was longer!
I have talked about how inexpensive it is to go tent camping before and this time was no different. My estimate of about $60-$70 a day for our family of 4 was right about on target including entertainment. We know that tent camping is a great frugal vacation, so I wanted to give my top list of tips to help make tent camping more enjoyable. I don’t claim to be a camping expert, but I have been camping a couple of times a year since I was a baby. Here are my favorite tent camping tips:
- Attitude. Attitude is everything when it comes to vacation and camping is no different. Attitude is the number one factor that will effect your enjoyment of your vacation. You can camp in your backyard, but as long as you bring your go with the flow, relaxing, happy self it will be a blast. If you have trouble relaxing or let yourself be bothered by little things, camping can be a terrible nuisance. It is imperative that you enjoy the small walk to fill up your water container not be annoyed by it. Relax, slow down, and embrace whatever comes your way.
- Be Friendly. Campers are a really friendly crowd as are most of the locals. The only exception is when you go very backwoods area; you are often seen as more of an intruder rather than a welcomed guest. Don’t be afraid to make friends with the neighbor campers. Ask to borrow the can opener you forgot, or ask around to find the great places to visit. Those relationships can positively change the direction of your vacation. Sometimes you even find yourself waving at every car that passes, because they wave at you and there just isn’t that many of them. It is a weird feeling for someone who is used to city and suburb living, but it part of the camping charm. Having the simple relaxed attitude from tip #1 really helps make you more approachable and makes you more willing to share with others.
- One Pot Meals. This is the Rockette’s area of expertise and this is her number on cooking tip. Make meals that can be mixed in one big pot. It helps save fuel, time, and hassle. Keep it simple and prepare it at home if you can. Some of our meals from the last trip were Moroccan Chicken and Veggies with Couscous premixed and brought in a large freezer bag for the first nights meal. Rice and beans. Marconi and Cheese with broccoli. Oatmeal with the cinnamon and raisins and sugar premixed. The one exception would be meals that you can cook on the fire/grill like burgers and corn and potatoes.
- Don’t Sacrifice. Camping doesn’t have to be all about sacrifice. If you are miserable or complaining then you aren’t doing it right. Just pick and choose the things that make you the most happy and make sure you bring them. One of The Rockette’s is an air mattress. I like a dining fly so that you can eat and play games without being bothered by bugs too much. Some people like to bring their bikes. We have a special lounge chair that is bulky, but really makes chilling and relaxing by the fire amazing. Maybe it is a special meal that is hard to prepare, but just brings a smile to your face. You will find your things with some experimentation. Just remember not to overdue it, because all excess adds stress.
- Organize. I am not an organized person, but a little organization can go a long way. Things like packing a dirty clothes bag or having a special food box so that everything can stay in one place. Currently we use a camping box for all the odds and ends like knives, can openers, cutting boards, clothes line, etc. We also have a crate for dry food like snacks, bread, and the like. The cooler keeps pretty much everything else. The boxes make it easy to move things around and into the car at night. Just make sure everyone is on the same page and things will be where you expect when you need them. We also created a packing checklist for camping to help make sure we don’t forget anything. We also bring the checklist and add to it if we realize there is something that isn’t on there or there is something that we need to buy. Having the list removes a lot of the stress and mental gymnastics required when packing.
- Leave It Behind. For us this means almost anything that has ties to home. Laptops, work, TV, PDAs, etc. It also means that you need to mentally leave the bills, deadlines, and stress at your door step too. If you aren’t good at this, try visualizing leaving all the ‘stuff’ behind while you drive to you destination. It can be a great de-stresser. Camping is a change in pace and you need to let it change you rather than try and control it. That submissiveness to whatever happens it part of the freedom that makes camping such an enjoyable activity.
- Make It Special. Special goes way beyond don’t sacrifice. It means bringing the box of Swedish fish or your favorite soda that you don’t often get a chance to have. It means bringing your favorite board game or a new family game that you can enjoy. Special food(smores and the like) is often a big part of this, but it can really be anything. If it is the laptop to watch a special DVD that may be your thing. Just make sure it is something that is worth it. Last trip we took a journey to visit an awesome free admission family amusement park called Knoebel’s in central Pennsylvania which was the experience that the kids remembered most.
- Dirt. Let dirt be your friend. You will get dirty, just embrace it. Go play in the rain. Swim in lakes. Play in waterfalls. Dig holes, whatever. The key is to not only accept that you will get dirty, but embrace it. Most parks have showers now a days, so just bring some shower stuff and a towel and you can still get clean. Often times with proper attitude you might even skip shower, because the dirt doesn’t bother you. Not much feels more satisfying though than the first shower at home after a long camping trip. Bonus Tip: No shoes in the tent. The floor of the tent is where you are sleeping take extra care to keep it clean. It will also reduce your cleanup time when you leave.
- Weather. Be prepared for rain. Bring an extra tarp. Bring extra clothes and bring rainy day back up plans. Again the only choice is to embrace it and prepare for it otherwise it will make you miserable. On our last trip it started to pour as we pulled into the amusement park’s lot and wasn’t stopping anytime soon. We made a call or two and found a bowling alley and waited it out. It finally stopped 6 hours later and we were able to run the amusement park from 6 – 10 for only $6.50 a person. Because everyone had a great attitude we ended up bowling and going to the amusement park for the same price as a day at the park and it was a blast.
- Research. Research can take a few different forms. Talking to friends and family that have been where you are going. You can even scour the internet for suggestions or tips on your particular park or area. You can talk to the locals or other campers once you are there. Finally, note the lessons learned for next time. One of our most useful tips is to walk new campgrounds before you leave and mark the good campsites on map so that you can get great site next time you come.
- Car Rides. You can’t do too many things to make your ride shorter other than avoid traffic, so just take a great attitude. I know The Rockette got a special bag of goodies(snacks, games, and toys) from her mom on long road trips. Bring a deck of cards. Pack some good snacks. Plan a scenic stop along the way. Play eye-spy or the alphabet game. Make it fun. For younger kids try and plan the ride at nap time or bed time which usually buys you a few extra hours of ride time. Finally, don’t forget to bring a map. GPSs aren’t as reliable in the back country.
- Go With Others. Find some camping friends or invite people who have never been camping. Usually the more the merry assuming they all understand tip #1. Sharing meals and supplies and fees also helps cut costs. This last trip there were ten of us, four adults and 6 children under 8 all in on big tent. All the people just multiplied the fun.
- Attitude. Yes, this is a repeat but only to help reiterate how important it is. It is your attitude that really makes or breaks a good camping trip, not the weather or the campground or even what you do. External things do effect your trip, but attitude will trump it all.
If you have your own special tips or additions I would love to hear them in the comments.