Family Tent Camping 101: Managing Expectations

If you could go inside my head to the little room labeled “Camping,” you would find a pleasant room with pictures of my smiling happy children roasting marshmallows and singing “Home on the Range” around a roaring campfire.  There is a soothing voice assuring me, repeatedly, that camping is fun.

Happy children going camping.

Dog, happy to get to go along.

Happy Dad.

Happy mom with sunglasses.

And if that isn’t enough to brainwash me, I remember a woman who lived in my neighborhood many years ago.  She had 4 – 6 children (at the time) and the rumor was that she had gone home during her husband’s deployment, driving all the way from the East Coast to the West Coast, camping along the way.

Wow.  That’s been like a Double Dog Dare for me ever since.  I mean, she seemed like a normal mom.  So if she could do that, surely I could camp a few nights with my husband doing most of the work.  Right?

The last time we went camping was July 2007.  I was heavy with child.  I had a toddler.  It was hot.  Despite this memory, I continued to tell myself that I really wanted to go camping.  Unfortunately, we moved during the summer of 2008, and Bill deployed during the summer of 2009.  We had reservations to go camping last summer, but I caught some virus that took me out for more than a week.  This summer, I told myself, we were going.

So, we did.

And it was fun.  Sort of.

The reality of the situation is this: camping can be great fun, BUT…you have to accept certain truths which that soothing voice doesn’t care to focus on.

1.  Camping is dirty.  It is.  There is no getting around this fact.  And if you have young children, or a dog, the problem is magnified.  Even washing dishes involves a lower standard of cleanliness.  I have to admit that the dirt makes me hyperventilate, slightly.  And it makes me very appreciative of tile floors and hot running water.

Digging in the road while eating a Poptart.  I’m a GREAT Mom.

Do you see why I hyperventilate?

Look, Mom, filthy hands!

Dirty legs.

Dirty Toes.

There are a few ways to combat the dirt.  One option is to wear long pants, socks and shoes.  This is not an appealing thought when the temps are in the 90’s.  Another idea is to put your children, at least, in bathing suits and wash-and-wear shoes.  Then you can periodically hose them off.  This really is the best option for any child who feels compelled to sit and dig.

2. There are bugs and wild animals out there.  Lots of them.  Bugs, especially crickets, cicadas and frogs are very noisy at night, especially when it is hot.  Moths and other nocturnal flying creatures are attracted to the lantern you are using to read after dark.  Mosquitoes enjoy having you over for dinner.  Wild animals will get in your trash or coolers if you leave them out.

That’s one big beetle who came to visit.

3. Camping is work.  You have to set up the tents.  You have to light the fire.  You have to hand wash the dishes.  You have to haul the food in and out of your van to keep it away from the wild animals.  You have to walk little children over to the showers several times a day.  When you get home, you have to vacuum an inch of dirt and sand out of your van.

Staking the tent

Putting up the 2 man tent

Holding the pole so Dad can find it.

The sandy soil made this an easy chore.

Setting up the chairs.  They actually discussed how the chairs
should be arranged by color.  Such girly girls.

Drying the dishes.  Dirty towels as a tablecloth.

Breaking camp.

Woe is her.  She was the ONLY ONE working, and it just wasn’t FAIR.

Home.  Exhausted.

I think the work part of camping gets better with experience.  And with children getting older who can help.  Planning simple meals, especially things that can be pre-cooked, lessens that chore.  You could use disposable plates and utensils if you must, but my “green” and cheap nature doesn’t recommend it.

Sandwiches: easy meal.

And it is the work aspect of camping that appeals to me the most.  Everybody helps out, so it really is a “family team building” experience.

Despite these facts, I still believe that voice that tells me camping is fun.  I’m already thinking of our next trip, hopefully in a few weeks.  My daughters may need some convincing, but mandatory family fun is the way we roll.

11 thoughts on “Family Tent Camping 101: Managing Expectations

  1. We LOVE camping! We don't go as often as we would like, but at least once or twice a year. It's a TON of work for me before we go – I'm the official packer and organizer. I have made my life immeasurably better by creating a “Camping” list on Excel that has everything I can possibly think we might need to camp. I edit as appropriate for the specific trip, and add every time we camp as I think of other things we needed that weekend. I also find that making my husband take a day off so it can be a 3 or 4 day trip is much better. Seems more worth the effort! He has the boys well trained to set up camp with him – so that's their domain. I just love being away from all electronics – forced family fun…!! And that's how we roll, too!

  2. I'm too old for number one. Or at least that's my excuse.
    Because your boys camp so much it might be fun to have a girls trip. Of course that would mean dad would have to stay home. And he is such a help. Nix that idea.

  3. I'm not a big camping fan. But we have to go more often since the boy joined scouts…and they go a couple times a year…and they rangle up Fr. to come out and do a Mass for everyone and then call it “family” camping. So I've been roped into going and sleeping in a tent on occation. This year I can pull my new baby card excuse. But next year, that won't wash and I'll be back at the firering again. Yeah.

  4. We rented an RV for the first time in February. We drove from CO to FL, staying at military base family camps all the way. I will never go tent camping again!!

  5. When we drove out to Georgia last summer, we camped along the way and refused to eat out. It was awesome in that it saved us tons of money. And really, the 18 month old and I slept in the van while my husband and son slept in the tent, so I guess we kind of cheated.

    We went camping just a few weeks ago, this time with the boy, the girl and the newborn. I kept saying this is so much fun, but you're right, the dirt makes me hyperventilate as well. And I always expect that my children will go to sleep as soon as the sun goes down, because I'm tired by then and so shouldn't they be as well? But they are too excited to be in a tent to sleep. And of course the moment the sun comes up they are ready to go. No sleeping in for us!

    We are planning a trip home to Wyoming in August and are camping along the way this year as well. And for some reason I'm excited. 🙂

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  7. Kris, I have been working on a packing list, which I already have for other road trips. I also just want to have everything in one place: grab the tent, the sleeping bags, the cooler, and the camping bucket and go. I'm actually designing my own chuck box…because it amuses my engineering brain.

    Barb, yeah…NO. Not going camping without my husband. Or if I did, we would sleep in the car.

    AK, I think toddlers around the fire-ring are a good reason to beg off next year too.

    Lorri, I looked wistfully at the RVs, and I definitely think that would be fun. But it's not camping, it's RVing! Especially when they offer cable TV hookups. I mean, clean table, kitchen area, comfy seats, screens on the windows or A/C…as my oldest son said, “That's like having a house in the woods.”

    CMerie, you are a brave woman (and also at least 10 years younger than I am, hence, more crazy energy!). You go girl. Sleeping in the car is no different than having a cot or air mattress, which many people do. If it were just my husband and I, I would prefer some sort of cushioning like a built-in bed in a van. However, as a family of 8, we just don't fit!

  8. Dear Michelle, I am de-lurking for a very special reason, hope you don't mind. My nephew is in the British Army and is currently based in Germany. Last Thursday he and several of his friends were mown down at the roadside after two cars collided. Matthew is still in a coma, has a severe lung infection and they are hoping to try and bring him out of the coma tomorrow. His best friend was dead on arrival at the hospital. Please pray for him and his family.

  9. I'm so sorry, Leslie. I will pray for him.

  10. I don't camp. I admire those who do, but I'm just not up for the dirt, the extra work, and a hike to the potty in the middle of the night. My idea of camping is our little apartment on the farm where we lived for 3 summers: 2 bedrooms (so 6 kids in 1 room), laundry room, dishwasher, and 1 bathroom. That last one was the real sacrifice, let me tell you.

  11. Yeah, Kat, when I was a kid, we went “camping” and stayed in a cabin with 2 bedrooms and 1 bath (5 kids). My mom thought that and the tiny kitchen and limited dishware/cookware was roughing it.

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