I was a reluctant camper. A fashion-loving, urban-living editor, the outdoors were not my strong suit. "But there's no WIFI! Or Starbucks! How is it a vacation if I have to SURVIVE it?" I would cry, obsessively checking the forecast for days before we left, and being horrified at the site of cloud icons with lightening bolts over top.
Then last summer, it occurred to me that I now loved it. It hit me out of the blue, looking out over the lake with my sleepless daughter (who always wakes at 5:30am when we camp). I realized that I was a pretty good camper too! When did that happen?
Here are some tips to help you enjoy camping as a family.
The first year we camped as a family, we had my husband's "camping with the boys" gear. No good. You need to be comfortable. (Read: air mattresses and a tent that fits two more bodies than the number of people sleeping in it — kids have a lot of gear!) And you need to be able to cook for many. (Read Coleman stove, not single burner from his portaging trip through Algonquin.)Photo: ArtmannWitte/iStockphoto
If point #1 made you see dollar signs, don't fret. The reason families love to camp is that it's affordable. Most campsites in Canada range between $25-50 per night. If you're trying it out to see if it suits your style, borrow from experienced friends, who will likely have their gear down to just what you need (no one likes multiple trips to the car). If you find you like camping, check out the message boards on MEC.ca (members sell their gear all the time) or try Craigslist or Kijiji. Build your gear list slowly.
For example, the moms take kids to beach while the dads set up tents and do the lugging. Dads are at beach while moms make meals, etc. Everybody gets a turn washing dishes. The kids are over the moon at waking up to see their friends at the breakfast table. It's a win-win.Photo: kali9/iStockphoto
Portaging with a newborn can be done, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you like throwing yourself extra curveballs. If your family has kids under age six, stick to car camping for a while. When they're old enough to help carry a canoe through a forest, you can consider adventure camping again.Photo: Mike_Kiev/iStockphoto
We first camped when Lucy was 11-months-old and crawling. Crawling and forest floors don't mix, unless you don't mind finding rocks and twigs in a diaper. Also, you couldn't pay me to sleep in a tent when pregnant. (But I'm kind of a princess like that.) You know your kids and yourself. Listen to the little voice in your head that tells you when something might make you uncomfortable. (a.k.a. don't let your partner goad you into camping when you know you'll have a lot of work to do with keeping the wee ones out of harm's way.)Photo: omgimages/iStockphoto
Everyone will be filthy until you come home. There will be mosquito bites. But there will also be s'mores, campfire and tent snuggles, and "I saw a loon Mom!" I never thought I'd say this, but there's something about being outdoors 24-7 that is so good for the soul. By the end of 2-3 days, your city girl fancy ways are so broken down by dirt, sand and smoke that you discover who you really are underneath the layers. And being a family around the clock like that, sleeping so close, swimming all day, well, that makes for a special trip indeed.
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