A bit O’ Camping Fun

Posted in STORIES
on June 4, 2013

As I might have mentioned, we spent this past Memorial Day camping. With the weather as beautiful as it has been, I’m sure we aren’t the only ones thinking in an outdoorsy way – I thought I’d share a bit of our trip, and a few tricks we’ve learned over the past few years!

Although my husband will tell you that I’ve improved from our first camping trip together(thanks, Honey), I’m really not much of a camper. I love being outdoors, and I enjoy hiking of the beginner to intermediate type.  I really like picnics and I don’t even mind cooking outside, but if I’m honest, I’m not exactly outdoor savvy as a general rule. It goes without saying that if there were a zombie apocalypse or I was thrown in to the wilderness to survive on
my own, I would most likely not make it.

It’s funny though, I’m learning to love it. This most recent trip I was sporting braids (Shay called me Pocahontas for most of the weekend – actually, he alternated between Pocahontas and Sacajawea to mix it up), I worked on starting a fire all on my own, which was somewhat successful, and.. I woke Shay up in the middle of the night to let him know that I was sure there was an f-n bear on the roof of our pop up tent – my exact words – while half asleep. Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised by the language, especially when I’m tired – to the rest of you.. I’m so sorry. In my defense, there was something on the roof – most likely a raccoon or a squirrel –  and now that I’m awake, I know with absolute clarity that it wasn’t a 200+ pound bear. I’m really only crazy when I’m sleeping. Mostly. What’s even funnier than my believing there was a bear on the roof was that Shay, also half asleep, also believed it. And, what’s even funnier than that, is that if there would really have been a bear, we would not have had a clue what to do except to wait for it to fall through the tent and eat us – and we said as much. It went something like.. “Well, I don’t know really know what to do.” We had no plan of action except to say we didn’t know what to do, look at each other dumbfounded, and lay back down to sleep. Anyway, the point is, I’m not a big camper, but I try really hard for my kids and my husband, because they all love it. So.. I get an A for effort. Oh, and I’m the master camping chef – that helps.


Before every trip, I scour pinterest – you can check out my For the Love of Camping board here – and the web for ideas to make things easier in the hopes that we’ll be able to just relax and have a great time. Let’s face it, camping really is just doing everything you have to do at home, only in a more difficult way – but the more prepared you are, the more fun you’ll have! This past trip was no exception – I was researching recipes the night before – and, I’d like to share what I found in case any of you might be thinking of conquering the great frontier or your nearest KOA this summer!

Deciding when to go:
Maybe you’re a seasoned camper, and can camp any time of the year. If you are like me, however, there is a narrow window of time to camp. It can’t be too humid or hot, because although our pop-up has air conditioning, I can’t stay in there all the time, and cooking over fire or otherwise, in 90 degree weather makes me go a little crazy. Everyone gets yelled at – Heaven help us when I start having hot flashes. Extreme heat just does things to me. I’m actually better if it’s cool and think I could pull off winter camping, but that isn’t really much fun for daytime activities. Which leaves the spring or fall, both of which are fairly short seasons here in Virginia. As for trip duration, I’m good with a week or less. After that, the nature of camping just gets to me and it’s no longer fun. Showering and still feeling grimy is such a self-defeating feeling, but after a week of feeling like that I’m ready to break in to the nearest homestead and borrow their bathtub. If you are camping for the first time, especially with kids, I would recommend a very short stay, in mild weather, close to home. I’d also recommend a facility that is relatively close to civilization and a corner store, and has water and electricity – you really can feel like you are in the wilderness while still being close enough to basic modern necessities – save the real roughing it for a time that you’ll be able to predict what will happen!

Deciding where to go:
We usually stay fairly close to home as we did this last trip, and find we have the most fun when we are no more than an hour or two from home. There is enough time to get excited about travelling to our destination, but not enough travelling time to get bored!

We have made lengthier trips, which were fun as well. A few years ago, we made a fairly lengthy road trip to Niagara Falls and back. Being the only Canadian (or so it seemed at the time) to have not seen Niagara Falls was just embarrassing. For that trip we mostly stuck to AAA recommended campgrounds that we found using their TripTiks application. This is a free (does not require a AAA membership) and invaluable interactive map that allows you to research lodgings of all kinds, attractions, and maps to and from multiple destinations. If you are planning a road trip, I would highly recommend checking it out. If you are staying closer to home, as we usually do, Reserve America is a great site for booking campgrounds, both private and state owned, in all 52 states.

Deciding what to bring: 

Camping and Kitchen Gear
I am by far not an expert on camping, so, please, take what I say with a grain of salt.  I do try to organize the chaos as much as possible, and every year that we go, I get a little more organized than the year before – which in turn, makes the whole experience a lot more fun and relaxing. We usually camp  at least once a year, sometimes more, depending on the weather.

Obviously, you’re going to need something to sleep in. Think tent if you are starting out. Alot of state parks also have cabins you can rent for really reasonable rates. But, a tent can be fun! Shay will be laughing when he reads that – I hate sleeping in a tent – but I’ve heard it can be a blast!

Even in the summer, night temperatures can drop – this last trip had me sleeping in sweats, leggings, two hoodies – with both hoods up, socks and two very warm blankets. It was cold. And, we were in a pop up tent. So, be prepared for the possibility of cool temperatures even in the summer. If you are in a tent, I would highly, highly recommend at least a camping pad. There is nothing worse than a terrible nights sleep.

We have used both sleeping bags and blankets in the past – I personally prefer the blankets and my own pillows from home and an air mattress if I’m sleeping in a tent.

For light, we invested in a really good quality LED rechargeable lantern, that also takes batteries if needed. We also tote around a night light and a sound machine, both battery operated.

I would also recommend bringing tarps of different shapes and sizes – you will use them.


For packing most of our gear, I follow the tub method, meaning, I pack tubs and keep them packed throughout the year. I usually have three tubs. One for linens, one for utility items and one for kitchen stuff. My kitchen tub is made up mostly of dollar store items that I keep and store together throughout the year.  At the end of the trip – usually when we are packing up – I make a list of what needs to be replaced or replenished in any of the tubs, and store the list at the top of the tub under the lid. When we go out again, all I need to do is fill the list and place it in the tub and we are good to go. Lindsey over at OutsideMom has some terrific tips on how to build a mini-survival kit which honestly encompasses so many of things we’d use or need. She also has a practical list and checklist for the all the other gear you’ll need.

Robyn Joyner at LeadThemtoTheRock also has an excellent list of what to bring, as well as a printable checklist. We always are close enough to a store that allows us to pick up the essentials if need be – but we are those kinda campers!

Kids’ Do Box
We have three kids aged 10 and under, one of which is on the autism spectrum. That means different things for different families, but for us, that means we have one child who is perpetually curious about everything, has the vision of an eagle, who can run faster than we can, that needs to be watched like a hawk. This past trip, we came up with a solution that we thought was pretty brilliant –  We brought an extra two-man tent and pitched it to act as a “play room”. We filled it with toys and all three kids spent some time in there playing cards, games, etc. It gave us several nice short reprieves where we knew exactly where they were, and there was only one way out and one way in.  They got a little bit of freedom and so did we!

In addition, we always include what I’ll call the Kids’ Do Box, which contains novel things to do on our trip. I don’t give them everything in the tote upfront, but space it out over the duration of the trip.  I used this post as the basis of the contents of my Kids’ Do Box, and, I can tell you, we used every single item! For this trip, I also included instructions on how to create paper boats – Ayden just loves them right now, they cost almost nothing, and it was fun figuring out how to make them.

Building Boats

To round it out, I have numerous travel games that we also bring along, as well as a craft box, fitting into a 9 cup rectangular Ziploc container, that includes:

  • paper
  • scissors
  • glue sticks and bottled glue – sticks work best on paper, bottled on other bulkier items
  • pipe cleaners – for crafts or just to bend in to different shapes
  • crayons
  • pens/pencils
  • Popsicle sticks

All of this fits nicely into a small toolbox that we no longer use. It makes for easy storing and easy grab and go when we head out on a trip, and it’s nice for the kids to easily see what is in it. All we add is a bucket of the favorite go to toys and a small stack of books and we’re off!

What to Eat:
This is where it gets fun. And interesting. There are 5-7 of us on every trip. We take two coolers – one for drinks, one for food. We try really hard not to over pack – and often fail. But, we try. I find it easiest to prep as much of the food as is humanly possible in advance. There are some fantastic tips here all of which I follow to T. I like to utilize foil packs (hobo packs as they are sometimes called) often. I also plan meals that the kids can either help with, or make entirely on their own, which is always a  HUGE hit, as it is a fun activity!

Here is an idea of our meal plan, with recipes, for this past trip:

Cereal/ Pancakes
Cereal and Poptarts
-chicken Quesadillas
-strawberries and celery sticks-
pizzadilla sandwiches (these were cooked on a foil lined pre-heated grill) fruit (apple slices with PB)
BarBQ Chicken (I used this recipe for the marinade, but cooked whole on grill)
Corn on the Cob Packets 

Most of our cooking was done on a table-top grill purchased specifically for camping. If you plan to camp more than once, this is a very good investment! I use this in lieu of a stove and just use my grill for everything, including boiling water for coffee in the morning. Maybe this will change as my survival skills improve.. it could happen!

Over the years, I’ve learned to really like camping – there is something about sitting under the stars, around a campfire, after a fun day with your family that is really appealing to me. Now, if I could only figure out a solution for the bears on the roof!

I hope you find these tips helpful, and, if you have any to share my way, I’d love to hear them!

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