Yesterday, I shared about how we planned and prepared for our very first family camping trip. Today, I want to share five valuable lessons we learned on our first camping trip.
1. Go With Experienced Campers
If you want to have an amazing first camping trip, don’t go it alone. It’s more fun with friends — especially friends who have a lot of camping experience under their belt!
We went with three other families from our community group at church and ALL of them had more camping experience than us. One of the families has pretty extensive camping experience and they served as our guides for the adventure. They picked the campground, they gave us suggestions on what to pack, and they planned the food for the trip.
Having people who had already done this many times before and who could help steer us in the right direction before the trip and while on the trip was incredibly helpful. We even had a meeting where they gave us suggestions on what to pack and then sent us a suggested packing list!
Yes, we had a huge leg up because of this — and I know it was definitely one of the reasons we were able to enjoy the trip so much much!
2. Keep the Food Simple
There are lots and lots of amazing camping meals you can make over the fire or on a portable cookstove. Instead of going all out on our first camping trip, we kept it simple.
Everyone brought cereal and milk for breakfast. (The milk stayed cold in the coolers with ice. If we had been on a longer camping trip, this wouldn’t have been as great of an option, but since this was just a three-day trip, it worked well.)
One of the families brought a Keurig so we could all have coffee, hot tea, and hot cocoa. Each campsite had one outlet, so we were definitely not roughing it as much as you could at other campsites out in the boonies! (If you don’t have electricity, you could also use a portable electric tea kettle with instant coffee or some kind of pour over coffee filtration system or tea bags. Or you could go all out and make coffee over the campfire.)
We all brought stuff for our own lunches such as: sandwiches, chips, fruit snacks, veggies, fruit, granola bars, etc. We went on a hike one day for lunch, so we made sure all the lunch stuff was easily portable.
We also brought snacks and this was definitely a necessity! People had told me to bring extra food because everyone would be more hungry with all the exercise and walking we’d be doing. That was definitely the case! I couldn’t believe how much food the kids downed while we were there! They ate a lot at meals plus were hungry for snacks about every two hours! I was glad I had packed plenty of snacks.
For dinners, we all pitched in and brought some of the items and it made it really simple. The first night, we had hot dogs and sausages roasted over the fire, veggies and dip, pasta salad (made ahead of time), and s’mores. The second night, we had a taco bar with taco meat (made ahead of time and heated up on a little portable cookstove), tortillas, lettuce, chips, salsa, cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, etc. And then we had campfire pies with different fruit fillings (or mountain pies, as some people call them) for dessert.
3. Prepare for Sleep to Be a Challenge
This one caught me off guard. I’m usually a sound sleeper — especially when I’ve gotten a lot of exercise during the day! But I struggled to sleep while we were camping. And I wasn’t alone; pretty much all the adults in our group did.
The first night, there were so many noises to adjust to, I struggled to get comfortable, it was warmer than I’d anticipated, and all of the nature noises kept startling me. And then, I think I was nervous about the fact that there wasn’t a bathroom in our tent and what would happen if I needed to wake up and go to the bathroom in the night. It was kind of silly stuff, I know, but I was surprised by how unsettled I felt sleeping in a tent as an adult.
The second night, I prepared better and used a few extra blankets to make the air mattress more like how our bed at home feels. We also used a sound machine app on our phone to help drown out the outdoor noises. Both of these things seemed to help and we both slept better, but it was still very fitful sleep compared to how I sleep at home!
If I had known I was going to struggle sleeping, I probably would have done a better job bringing more pillows and a few of my favorite blankets from home. I may have also considered investing in some sort of portable bathroom for the night time so I wouldn’t have had to worry about leaving the tent to traipse to the shower house in the middle of the night.
4. Plan for Everything to Take Longer Than You Expect
I think this was the biggest lesson I learned from camping: it’s a LOT of work. I calculated that it takes about 10 times as much time to pack for a camping trip than a regular trip. I’m not joking.
We usually pack for a 3-5 day family trip in about 1 1/2 hours or less. We have a system. Everyone works together. And we just get it done.
It took us every bit of 10 hours to get things ready and pack for this trip — and that didn’t even include the time I spent researching things online, making my lists, and making purchases!
Now that we have all of our camping gear together, it should be much easier in the future. But I’m positive that it’s still going to be more work to gear up for a camping trip than it will ever take to go on a regular trip.
And that’s just the packing part! It’s also a lot of work to set up your camp and to tear down your campsite, pack up your vehicle, and then unpack at home.
I don’t say this to discourage you from camping; I just wanted to give you the reality of it. I think that the packing and setting up camp and tearing down camp and unpacking are all part of the process. And you can enjoy it if you view it as such. But just go into things knowing that it’s going to take you quite a bit of time and there’s really no getting around that.
5. Bring Your Adventurous Attitude
A camping trip is going to be an adventure, there’s no doubt about it. It’s not really so much as to what happens on the camping trip or how much of it goes as planned as to whether you enjoy it; it’s all in your attitude.
It’s not going to go as planned. It’s not going to be perfect.
There will be bugs. Lots and lots of bugs!
It may rain. It might be hot. It might be cold.
You might have trouble getting your tent set up. You might forget to bring something.
It might be a long walk to the bathroom. You might have trouble sleeping.
You might get a sunburn. Your allergies might flare up.
You will probably miss some of the comforts of home. There’s a good chance that one (or more!) of your family members will have a bad attitude.
But none of those things have to ruin your camping trip. If you view the camping experience as an adventure, you can roll with the punches and have a GREAT camping trip!
A Few Other Tips:
- Shower ahead of time — You don’t know what the shower situation will be and you may not want to shower while you’re there! Gratefully, the shower houses were very decent where we stayed, but I’ve heard that is often not the case.
- Bring your own toilet paper and soap — The shower houses where we stayed did not have any hand soap in them. Gratefully, I had brought some body wash, so we all shared that. But next time around, I will definitely bring a pump of hand soap, just in case. Also, bring your own toilet paper just to have backup in case the bathrooms are out or run out.
- Expect your allergies to flare up — If you have outdoor allergies, there is a good chance they will flare up big time because you are basically living in a sea of allergens in the woods. I wish I had thought of this ahead of time and had brought some of our different allergy meds and remedies.
- Keep all of the towels, blankets, and clothes in your vehicle — If there’s any chance of rain at all, keep all of the towels, blankets, and clothes in your vehicle, just in case it starts raining. That way, once the rain lets up, you’ll guarantee that you have at least some dry clothes and towels and blankets!
Tomorrow, I’ll share my Camping Trip Master List with everything we brought, plus a few additions I’m adding for next time!
If you’re a camper, I’d love to hear your best advice and tips. Share them in the comments!