You may not be able to tell now, but I was once a state park employee. In fact, that was my summer job throughout most of high school and most of college. I worked in a small building that, until my third year and an unfortunate accident involving a painted shut window and my co-workers hand going through the glass during a desperate attempt to get a cross breeze going, was not air-conditioned and had no radio, no television, and on slow days, nothing to do except for read. In retrospect, that may be one of the best jobs I’ll ever have. At the time, it sometimes seemed like one of the layers of Dante’s vision of hell, a book I spent part of my fourth summer there reading.
In any case, I got to know a lot about camping. More specifically, I got to know the problems that people have when camping. So this list is for those of you about to venture forth camping, particularly with children. May the ground be dry and the neighbors be quiet!
Plan for Rainy Days
This applies to your camping equipment as well as your plans. Checking the weather forecast as you pull out of your driveway isn’t enough. Don’t believe them when they tell you that it will be sunny and over 80 degrees for the next five days. Assume that each day has a 50 percent chance of thundering downpours and hurricane winds. Equipment-wise, make sure you bring raincoats and that your shelter is up to the rain challenge. Consider bringing an extra tent to put over your picnic table, so you’ll have somewhere to sit that isn’t inside your car, tent, or RV.
My park was close to a major tourist attraction, which was outdoors. Unfortunately, if it did rain, that option was off the table. “What can we do?” bedraggled campers would ask, crowded into our hut as we gestured helplessly at the wall of brochures we had on our back wall. So have a back-up plan. Bring board games, cards, and other activities that can be played inside your tent. Google some indoor attractions that are within reasonable driving distance of your campground and take down those addresses and phone numbers. Your entire vacation doesn’t have to be a wash if you’re prepared for the possibility of bad weather.
Keep a Checklist
Frequent campers were always easy to spot. They knew their license plate number when they came into the hut. They chose the best campsites at our campground. They wore hats and long pants and looked rugged. Or they drove a giant RV and the rules of camping didn’t seem to apply to them. The majority of the people I met were not frequent campers, and did not have giant RVs. One habit of frequent campers is that they keep packing checklists. To be fair, frequent campers also keep most of their gear together, ready to go on a camping trip at the drop of a hat. For the rest of us mere mortals, make a comprehensive list of what you’ll need (bug spray, tent, mallet for tent poles, flashlights, etc) and check it twice. Make your packing deliberate so you don’t have to come to the contact station at 7 pm your first night asking where you can get bug spray while your kids cry in the back seat and itch their bug bites and text their friends about how they want to go home.
Know How To Set-Up
There is a first time for everything, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to set up your tent for the first time once you’re already at the campground. Do a trial run in your backyard and save us all a headache.
Pick a Good Site
What does the ideal campsite look like? Well, first of all, it isn’t right next to a bathroom, or even across the way from one. To avoid heavy foot traffic, potentially unpleasant odors, and the plethora of bugs that like to congregate around the lights a bathroom offers, pick a site that is a short walk from the bathroom. For those of you with young children or who need quick access to a bathroom, try and choose a site that is as far away from the bathroom as possible, even if it’s only one site away. You’ll also want a site that has enough flat space for your tent or RV, your fire ring, and your picnic table. Tent campers, make sure there’s a grassy area and that your site isn’t intended for RVs and made up entirely of small stones that will poke you incessantly through the night. (As a side piece of advice, tent campers, bring a freaking tarp and put it under your tent. This will help with waterproofing as well as smoothing out some of the smaller objects that want to make your night of sleep as rough as possible). Some people enjoy sunshine while they’re camping, but you’ll probably want at least a little shade on your site.
At this point, you may be wondering how you’re going to find a site like this, especially if you’re booking in advance (which I highly recommend in any case). Well, luckily for you, Alexander Graham Bell invented something called the telephone, and due to its magical properties you can call the campground where you’ll be staying and talk to people who are actually familiar with the sites! I have helped people with RVs decide which site can most easily accommodate them, steered campers who have a propensity to burn away from sites in full sun, and helped improve the camping experience of hundreds (if not THOUSANDS) of campers due to my knowledge. So call ahead, explain your needs, and then book the site of your dreams!
Many’s the time that at check-out, I meet families hitting the road who look miserable and uncomfortable and distinctly redder than when they came in. Wear sunscreen!!
What are some other tips you have for campers?