As a kid, one of my favorite movies was The Parent Trap (1998). I grew up with what some might describe as “indoorsy” parents who wouldn’t be caught dead going on a hike, much less sleeping in a tent. I always fantasized about going on a camping trip, even though it wasn’t something any other kids at my school seemed to be doing, either.
When I was in my early 20s, I started dating my now partner of nine years. I remember visiting his childhood home and noticing a framed collection of Eagle Scout Merit badges hanging in an upstairs hallway. Upon questioning (read: teasing) him about the display, I quickly learned I was dating an encyclopedia of outdoorsmanship and decided we had to go camping as soon as possible!
My very first camping trip was in September of 2015. It was a long trip up the coast of Lake Michigan with many stops along the way and a different camp location each night. Needless to say, I fell in love with all things camping and my vacation of choice today involves packing my small hatchback to the brim with gear, driving to the coast of Lake Michigan with my partner and our dog, pitching a tent, and enjoying all of the adventures that a camping trip warrants.
Tips for Planning a Camping Trip
When it comes to planning a camping trip, there are a few things I’ve learned that can help make each trip as simple and stress-free as possible:
1. Consider what the purpose of your camping trip is.
I’ve been on camping trips where the sole purpose is to explore a new area, like a national park, and other trips where the real aim is to spend quality time with friends and family. Then there are times when I’ve truly just wanted to camp near a beach and spend a few days resting and recharging. When you begin your planning with setting intentions, you will have an easier time with everything that comes next: from picking a camping location to deciding if you should bring a book of sudoku puzzles versus your family’s favorite group game, a book and a good chair for reading, or your hiking boots and poles.
2. Plan activities based on your intentions for the trip.
Usually, when I go camping with my partner and our dog, my priorities are simply to relax and enjoy being in nature. For better or worse, we usually don’t plan most of the trip beyond which campground we are staying at (and sometimes that decision isn’t made until the week of the trip). Aside from our tendency to push planning our vacations to the back burner among our other everyday priorities, there is something to be said about “winging it,” being adventurous, and doing exactly what you feel like doing every day during your camping trip.
However, when we camp with family or friends, we usually try to plan what activities or excursions, like kayaking or sightseeing, we will do. We also tend to pack more items that we know will support the purpose of the trip, to spend quality time with people we don’t get to see every day, like family videos and games.
Regardless of what your intentions for your trip are, don’t forget to keep your activities balanced. No matter how ambitious of a sightseer, hiker, or kayaker you are, don’t forget to plan time to watch the sunset, sit by the campfire, and look at the stars.
3. Set realistic expectations for your trip.
One of my favorite camping experiences takes place annually with my partner’s family in a small town in Missouri. This family tradition dates back longer than I’ve been alive and it’s difficult to describe how grateful I am to be pulled into it every year. Each member of the large family has their own favorite things to do during the trip: some, especially myself, enjoy tubing or kayaking down the river next to the campground. Others enjoy excursions to find antique and “junk” stores in the small town nearby. Despite everyone’s varying interests, there are a few simple activities that the entire group enjoys and never misses, like sitting in a circle of easy chairs around a campfire, Playing endless rounds of Five Crowns, watching home videos on a projector screen at night (did I mention this is more of a “glamping” trip?), and making s’mores,
The trick to planning activities for multi-generation and large-group camping trips is to consider who is with you and what their ideal camping trip includes. This can be simple if your group is small or just your immediate family, but can be a (rewarding) challenge when multiple families or friends with varying interests and accommodation needs come together to plan a camping trip. Don’t let the challenge stand in the way of making a plan or planning multiple options for smaller group excursions. Most importantly, during the trip, don’t forget to go with the flow and be flexible.
4. Remember to bask in the experience.
Over the years, I’ve started keeping a journal during camping trips. It’s amazing how many of the small details I forget, especially since our many camping trips tend to blend together in my memory. By discovering your travel journaling style, whether it’s writing a full-blown “dear diary” journal entry, jotting down a bullet list of the things you did at the end of each day, or simply noting a high, low, and unexpected moment from your day in your phone’s Notes app, you will begin to be more mindful of your experiences while camping and, if you’re like me, you will enjoy looking back on the memories you make while exploring the great outdoors.
5. Finally, the best camping trip planning recommendation I can pass along is to just go camping!
Making getting out there a priority, no matter how busy I am and how much easier a vacation at a hotel would be, is important to me. As I continue to experience different types of camping trips and explore new camping locations, it seems like I always learn something new about the outdoors, myself, and the people I have the pleasure of spending time with on these trips. I hope these tips are helpful for you as you plan your next camping trip– see you out there in the great outdoors!