With our oldest child about to graduate from grade 12, and our youngest having only one more year of high school, it is time to reflect on what we, the adults, have learned. We have been camping since our children were 4 and 5 and with each school grade they passed we too have advanced in our camping knowledge, camping gear and camping stories.
Stage One – Camping with kids:
When were started out we would not have called ourselves campers, but our friends camped, so we tagged along. In fact before my husband and I got married he made it clear he would never camp. What a difference marriage and a couple of kids make!. It was either camp or be left alone in the city. We started in a tent and quickly learned on the Wet West Coast tenting makes for a challenging family trip. By challenging I mean, mom is going to kill someone. It was at that point that we bought a truck and tent trailer. At the time it seemed like luxury, we had a heater, fridge, outdoor stove, beds off the ground and a table to eat at. It felt like we had so much room and boy did we use it. For those of you that have camped with kids you will understand when I say “it would have been easier to have just hooked the garage up to the back of the truck and towed it.” I am not sure what we were afraid of but for some reason we thought we needed every item the kids ever owned to come along with us. Every sand bucket, bike, game, toy and craft somehow made it into the vehicle along with 2 kids, 2 dogs and us. I also felt it was important to have a nutritionally sound trip. I would bake muffins, cut up fruit and vegetables, prepare salads and make homemade trail mix just so my 2 precious campers kept their food groups in line without packaging or preservatives. It is amazing to me that we still camp but we stuck it out and as the kids got older my expectation and preparation changed.
Stage 2 – Camping with teenagers:
As we moved into the teenage years the camping trips became shorter, closer and warmer. They were nearer to towns, showers and restaurants. It would have been easy to have just found a campground with WiFi and enjoy some peace and quiet but that’s not the route we wanted. Instead we took their friends. Yes, we added more mouths to our picnic table, and we also added the experience of packaged foods, frozen burgers and late night spider dogs. We also made a point of camping with other families. This encouraged the kids to come along and also provided another husband to park trailers and rig up tarps. It is interesting how a job I once found stressful can be a great source of entertainment while sipping wine with girlfriends. We also learned to pack light. Gone were the days of a bike for each camper. We took one bike for everyone to share and were told by my husband that if it was not used it would not make the trip home. All the games, toys and sand buckets became bocce, marshmallow sticks and air mattresses. Other than the endless teenage appetites and constant trail of dishes, camping was easier now. The kids helped, they slept in tents, we didn’t have watch their every move and they were great company around the late night campfires.
Stage 3 – Empty Nest Camping.
We are not exactly empty nesters yet because our kids are still in high school but when it comes to camping we are heading that way. First, our new trailer only sleeps 2 comfortably and second, our kids have jobs, studies and friends so it is difficult to get all four of us away. We still have the occasional family camping trips as mentioned above but we are heading into weekend trips with just the two of us or other couples.
I have never been one to go away without my kids. I tried it once on a trip to San Fransisco and I sucked. I thought about them all the time and on the day we were leaving I made my husband arrive at the airport a half day ahead of time just so we didn’t miss our flight. Now in fairness the kids were much younger then and far more dependant on us but I would still rather have them along than not. I realize however that the feeling is not always mutual so last year we camped as a kidless couple for the first time.
It was a very different and enjoyable camping trip. Grocery shopping was simpler. We needed less snack food, variety and planning. The big camping breakfast that took 2 pans and a tin for bacon grease became muffins and coffee. We had more time to enjoy the views and quietness of camping so we were able to walk and hike more. On this trip we also left the dogs at home to keep the kids safe and I have to say it became apparent the dogs are more work then the kids. Without dogs we didn’t have to organize the miles of leashes, didn’t have to worry about early morning pee walks and didn’t have to control barking each time another dog walked by our site. The level of relaxation was very noticeable without our 4 legged companions so we will make a point of having them take care of the kids whenever we can. What we missed was the late night campfires, the group games and the constant activity. We both agreed that local camping alone without kids and friends was nice and will be great to do once in a while just to reconnect with each other but we are much more social campers. We like having our friends around and whenever possible our kids. The funny stories and activities that come with camping as a group is a part of why we camp so I still see my campground reviews including the best sites to book when camping with others.