We spent last week camping. Seven days, in a tent, cooking over a Coleman stove, peeing in the woods—and I loved it.
(Look up: See that herd of pigs flying through the sky? Who knew?)
Those of you who know me well are likely a bit surprised to hear me use the words “love” and “camping” in the same sentence. Until recently, I’ve never really been that keen on hauling all my stuff out into nature. What was the point, when I had a perfectly good house, with a perfectly good kitchen and bed and bathroom already in it?
We took Rowan camping once he was a toddler, to a music festival. I’d been so excited to see some of the musical acts, but what I remember is trying to catch the faraway strains of Sarah McLachlan playing to an adoring crowd, as Rachel and I desperately tried to get our son to sleep. We finally got him down, in a portable crib on the other side of the enormous tent we’d purchased precisely so that we could camp with kids. But later that night, and the night after, he woke, inconsolable, until we finally pulled him onto our double air mattress, where he bounced around and played in the dark and finally fell asleep splayed across the middle of the bed. I wasn’t sold.
But now Rowan is older. And he has a brother. And I’m discovering that camping is pretty much my favourite way to vacation with my kids. In no particular order, here’s why:
1. Other children
We shared our site with friends, who have two boys the same age as ours. Even if we hadn’t, though, the entire campground was teeming with children, who entertained each other for hours and hours while the adults got to do things like HAVE CONVERSATIONS and READ NOVELS (and DRINK WINE). A highlight was the day several families spent gathered at the beach, playing soccer and baseball, taking turns on the kayak, and feasting at a communal snack table.
2. Nothing to buy
Too often, I find that travelling with kids becomes all about the gift shop at the end of the zoo, the souvenir at the end of the attraction, the ice cream at the end of the day. Rather than enjoying whatever we’re doing at the moment, the kids are focused on what they’re going to get. While the boys were definitely excited about each evening’s marshmallow roast, the overall level of consumerism was just about nil. I loved it. (Related: Once you have the gear, camping is about as inexpensive a holiday as you can get.)
3. Our own food
Travelling with kids often means a week of the dreaded “kids’ menu” at restaurants, otherwise known as an expensive nutritional wasteland. And while the week certainly had its share of chips and cookies and marshmallows, I loved being able to feed the boys (and us) real food.
The kids are old enough now that we could let them roam on their own throughout the site. They knew not to go in the water, and they knew to check in at regular intervals, but otherwise they were free to do mostly as they pleased.
5. No screens
We left behind all electronic devices, and—after the initial protests—I didn’t hear any complaints. What a treat.
I’ll admit it — this wasn’t hard-core camping. We had a car. We had pillows and mattresses and a stove. We had potable water. We had showers and flush toilets available. And we were at a site an hour from home. Maybe one day we’ll graduate to a full-on canoe trip. (And maybe we won’t.)
7. Family time
At the end of every day, all four of us crawled into the tent together and fell asleep, the kids cuddled up on either side of me and Rachel. And while I’m happy to be back in my own bed once more, it was pretty sweet to fall asleep holding hands.
So apparently I’m a camping convert. Trust me, I’m as surprised as you.