I can’t say that taking a family camping trip was ever high on my list of things to do. I enjoy being outside, but the idea of tent camping and braving the elements outside overnight just didn’t sound like my idea of fun. My kids however had mentioned it on a few occasions so when a friend of mine reached out to invite us on a multi-family camping trip (or a group glamping trip as I like to call it) I thought hmm…if we are ever going to try it, this is the time to do it. There were a couple of things that really sold me on this adventure. First off, the campground was only about 45 minutes from our house so if by chance it was really miserable, we could retreat home. Secondly, each campsite was equipped with water, electricity and a grill and a bathroom was a just a hundred or so feet away. So off we went planning our first family camping adventure and with the right prep from the experienced organizer, we had an amazing first family camping experience. My kids loved it so much that they immediately started talking about the next camping trip.
As a matter of fact, we enjoyed it so much that when we couldn’t join the camping weekend my friend organized this year, I recruited a few families that could go a different weekend so that we wouldn’t miss going this year altogether (we liked it, but not enough to go completely on our own just yet). There were many things our family loved about camping…especially with other families.
Whether you’re camping with toddlers, camping with school age children or camping with teens, if you are a non-camper, there are some things you should do to ensure you have a great family camping experience. Here are my top 10:
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1. Camp with other families! Camping with other families isn’t just about having someone there that can help when you aren’t quite sure how to get that tent up (although that’s definitely a plus). For us, having other adults around and other kids for our kids to play with was half the fun of camping. Imagine 5, 10 or more families with campsites all next to and around each other where kids can run from site to site and in between without worrying (at least too much) about where they are or what they are doing. It’s literally a big block party in nature. Not to mention getting to hang out with other adults and have a good time.
2. Find a campground with amenities that allow you to get the full feel of camping, but has some of the comforts of home. This is where the ‘glamping’ comes in. Find a campsite that has amenities such as bathrooms nearby and electrical and water hook-ups right at your camp site. Having these things handy even though we were sleeping in a tent made our experience so much more enjoyable. These make for an especially easy breakfast (just plug the toaster or griddle right in).
3. Rent or borrow the essentials for your first trip…espescially if you’re on the fence about camping. This way, you can see if you enjoy it and ever want to go again before you invest in camping gear. This year, I borrowed tents for 2 of the families that went camping with us. One family decided RV camping was probably more their speed, while the other family loved it. Both got a great idea of what it was like for little investment.
4. Get a large enough camping tent. If it says ‘sleeps 4’ and you have a family of 4, run away fast because you will be on top of each other. ‘Sleeps 4’ means it will sleep 4 people in sleeping bags right next to each other. If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t want to do that. A good general rule of thumb is to multiply the number of people that will be sleeping in the tent by 2. So for a family of 4 I recommend a tent that sleeps 8 (although a 6-person tent could also work). My family of 5 bought a huge tent. It says that it is a ’12-person tent’, but let me just say it is the perfect size for our family of 5. We could have done fine with a 10-person tent, but the space in this one allows us to have a queen camping bed, 3 twin air mattresses, space to store a couple of suit cases and other essentials and still leaves a little space to walk. While you are probably not going to spend the majority of your time in the tent, you want to be comfortable when you are there.
5. And speaking of tents, I recommend getting an ‘instant’ tent. This will save you loads of time setting up. Let’s be honest, unless you are doing some serious camping (and not glamping), there is no need for the potentially complicated, time consuming tents that require you to put poles together, thread them through the tent and figure out how it all works. An ‘instant’ tent comes with all poles integrated into the tent and takes just a few minutes (even for a novice) to put up. It’s actually pretty amazing! Here are a couple of great ‘instant’ tents you can check out.
6. Make your sleeping arrangements as comfortable as possible with touches of home. For us this meant getting an elevated queen size camping bed for my husband and I with sheets, blankets and pillow from home. For our kids this they loved sleeping in their sleeping bags on comfy air mattresses. Check out the camping bed we had here.
7. Consider bringing a fan or even a small air conditioner if you are camping in the summer. Some tents have a space specifically for an air conditioner (yes, that’s a thing! who knew). It typically cools down during the night, but you want to be comfortable if you spend time in the tent during the day. A small camping fan may be just what you need though.
8. Check and then double check your packing list. Besides water and electric, there is only mother nature at a campsite so if you think you might need it, pack it.
9. Prep as much of your food as you can beforehand. While this isn’t critical to a great camping trip, it just saves time and makes things easier on you during mealtime. This could mean mixing eggs with your seasoning and keeping them in an easy pour container in a cooler or pre-making your foil pack dinners so that all you have to do is throw them on the grill or over the fire. This also means less trash to manage at the campsite.
10. Bring items for the kids such as scooters or bikes – while my kids ride their bikes and scooters at home, having them at the campsite was like a whole new world for them. They loved riding around the ‘block’ and down the hill where all of our campsites were, stopping here and there to observe something they had discovered in nature. They were able to have a sense of freedom that they don’t normally have at home where cars are constantly coming and going.
11. Plan your weekend itinerary ahead of time if group camping to ensure a mix of group activities and downtime. For our multi-family camping trip we planned time to get together each evening for s’mores and hot chocolate, went swimming at Lake Alatoona, had a movie night under the stars and went on a group hike at Red Top Mountain State Park. If you’ve never hiked with kids, check out these 15 tips for hiking with kids. Everyone enjoyed these activities that allowed the kids to play and explore and the adults to relax and just have a great time.
Ultimately, for us, camping was less about feeling like we were roughing it and more about spending time together in nature in a way our everyday suburban life doesn’t allow. Ensuring that we had some modern comforts allowed us to do that. If you’re still not convinced that camping is for you, just tell yourself that you’re doing it for your kids and give it a try. You can do it! And you might just be surprised how much fun partying in nature, creating memories by the campfire can be.