Going on Vacation By Getting Back to Nature

Airfare and hotel accommodations are getting more expensive every year, and forcing more and more families to look for a vacation they can take without having to spending a ton of money, or go into debt with their credit card. So how does one accomplish an affordable vacation that’s still adventurous and fun? The answer lies in packing up and going camping. Camping does not have to cost a lot of money, and can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

First, there’s no need to buy transportation tickets or plan your schedule around travel times. You don’t need a camper or RV to go camping, either. The family vehicle will do nicely as transportation, as most camp grounds are paved or have very well-maintained roads. Some campgrounds even offer camping cabins for a slightly higher fee, if you don’t want to go the tent route. Find out about your campsite in advance; some have electricity available at campsites, which comes in handy for lanterns, radios, and even small appliances. Many campsites have water available also, which makes it easy to clean up after meals, brush your teeth before going to bed, and wash your face in the morning.

There are usually only a few things that can get a little pricey if you have to buy them. The tent, a camp stove, and a lantern are all pretty standard items for camping, and they come in all types and all price ranges. But before you buy any equipment, particularly if you’re new to camping, you should check around with family and friends; you may be able to borrow most, if not all, of the equipment you’ll need. If not, your local Rent-All center may have tents and stoves, and perhaps other camping gear.

Some military surplus centers have a ton of different types of camping gear. If you have more than one surplus center in your area it would pay to shop, as their pricing is anything but uniform. Last, but not least, you can check out the sporting goods stores in your area. Even chain department stores like K-mart and Walmart have camping supplies, and usually in different price points. It depends on your needs, but if you have to buy new equipment, a new small 3- or 4-person tent can be had for under $100, and a camp stove for about $40. A good lantern can cost anywhere from $10 for a battery-operated one to $35 for one that takes white gas or propane. If you have a choice, get a stove and lantern that use the same fuel, as it will be cheaper and easier to pack.

As far as the rest of the gear goes, just use your common sense. Sleeping bags will not be needed when it’s warm. Bring an old blanket or comforter and some sheets from home. Everybody already has at least one cooler, so you can use that to take food with you. The rest of the equipment is whatever you think you might need―flashlights, pocket knives, a compass, a first aid kit, the correct clothing for the area you will be camping in, etc. If you’re taking children camping, be sure to bring along any games the kids might like to have. Getting them out of the house and into the outdoors may be your opportunity to get them away from the iPod, cell phone, or video game machine. There are plenty of adults today who grew up with old-fashioned board games and puzzles and that’s it―and they turned out okay! Besides, there will be hiking, maybe fishing, and lots of things to see and do while camping, whether you’re at a modern campground with facilities and planned activities, or out in the wilderness away from civilization.

As far as food goes, bring what you want. It will be much cheaper to prepare it yourself than to go out and eat, and there’s a certain charm and adventure to cooking your own food outdoors over a fire. You can easily take perishable food camping; just freeze your meats and store them in the cooler on the bottom by the ice, and if your cooler is a good one, the meat will stay cold for a couple of days while it keeps everything else in the cooler fresh. As for the meal plan, the simpler the better. Eggs, bacon, or sausage are fantastic when cooked outdoors on an open grill. Hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks, or chops for grilled meats, and potatoes cook nicely in the coals from a campfire. As far as other vegetables go, canned vegetables can be heated up in a pot placed on a grate over a fire, or freeze-dried vegetables may work well if you have a good clean source of water.

Think about your utensils and select the ones that can be used in many different ways. Don’t double up on them, as they can be heavy. If you stay at a campground that has sites with electricity, consider taking along an electric frying pan, which is the most versatile of all small appliances for camping. You can prepare most meals in an electric frying pan―from sausage and eggs to sautéed vegetables, grilled cheese sandwiches, soups and stews, and even toasted bagels. After dinner, just heat clean water in the pan and it doubles as a place to wash the dishes. As for basic cooking utensils, be sure to take at least one good knife, eating utensils, one or two serving spoons, and a spatula. Just use your imagination, and if you forget something you can always pick it up in town, or at the camp store if there is one.

As you can see, there is a way to take a relatively inexpensive vacation and get some good family bonding time in also. If you’re not sure whether you or your family will like camping out, plan a few days somewhere with an inexpensive motel close by, but don’t tell the family. Then, if it doesn’t go very well or the kids just get tired of it, you have an out and will be the hero all over again. Some of the best, most memorable times a family can have will be discovered on camping vacations.

Family Camping the Old-fashioned Way

Camping is a great way for the whole family to enjoy quality time together. It is best to start out when the kids are young, but getting older kids to go can be quite enjoyable also, if you can pry them away from their electronic entertainment. Camping gives a family the chance to reconnect with each other without all the outside trappings that we live with today. Remove the computer, TV, game boy, cell phone/pager, and you will be amazed how easy it is to get everyone’s full attention. When my siblings and I were very young, everybody looked forward to the camping trips we took regularly―they were fantastic adventures. And despite having to rough it for a few days―or perhaps because of having to rough it―my parents benefited from getting away from all the daily distractions. Camping is now easier than ever, with all the new equipment and camping gear, and family campgrounds popping up all over the place.

Camping does not need to be expensive, either. You can rent most of the equipment you’ll need locally, or just use your imagination and travel light. Tents can be had for a reasonable price, and then you could use your own blankets as sleeping bags. Bring whatever you will need from home to prepare meals. The best idea when it comes to food preparation for a camping trip is to keep it simple. One well-made cooler can carry sandwich meat, cheese, fresh vegetables, and eggs; nobody’s going to starve if they have to do without a four-course meal for several days. (Most folks would benefit from skipping a meal now and then anyway.) Get the kids involved, and all will enjoy the experience. Most campsites have a grill or pit for starting a fire for warmth, food preparation, or just plain fun. No five-star restaurant can beat the flavor of a steak grilled at a campsite, and for dessert, s’mores beat tiramisu hands down.

You can use your car; you don’t necessarily need a 4-wheel drive vehicle, as almost all campgrounds are easily navigable. Many modern campgrounds even have paved roads, laundry areas, hot showers, and sometimes small convenience stores. You can camp for as little as a weekend or all the way through to a two-week or longer vacation―there is no limit to where or how long you can enjoy this great outdoor activity.

Once you decide you want to take the family camping, you have to decide where and when to go. This is what makes camping so much fun, because the wide variety of choices available makes it easy for your family to get back to nature and see things you’ve only watched on TV or heard about. There is no greater feeling than seeing things live right before your eyes. There is literally an endless supply of places to camp. On selecting the right time, you need to be aware of seasonal considerations. Off-season camping is the most enjoyable to many people, because there are very few people around. Fewer people means less competition for the best campsite, and the more vacant campsites there are, the quieter and more peaceful your evening will be. Sometimes, having fewer people around makes camping more enjoyable, simply because wild animals will be more plentiful without a lot of activity scaring them off. If one was to camp every day for his entire life, he could never visit all the places available for camping in North America―probably not even in two or three lifetimes.

There are lots of great resources that will help ensure that your camping trip is a terrific experience that you and your family will never forget. If you belong to the AAA auto club, they have excellent resource books available on each state and camping, updated each year, and they are free to members. Your state or local government will also have a lot of info about all the camping in various local jurisdictions, particularly historical areas and state parks. Maps, periodicals, and camping guides are useful on every camping trip, because they are excellent resources for finding just what you need and when you need it. If you plan to do a lot of camping, it’s easy to put together a permanent packet of resources in a briefcase or small suitcase to take with you everywhere you go. Be sure to replace outdated material once a year.

Remember, you have to get away sometime―from the job, TV, computer, and daily life―and there’s no better way to escape than by taking your family camping. The sooner you do, the better off you and your family will be. Most of all, have fun!