The Super Trooper and I recently took our first weekend camping trip with our children. The in-laws have taken them a few times in the past, but this is the first one with the five of us together. This was also the first time I’ve been camping since I was a teenager. That was (cough, cough) a couple of years ago!! Since I’m not a seasoned veteran, I thought maybe I could share a few tips and/or suggestions for other less-experienced campers like myself.
It’s not that I am opposed to camping per se, but it’s just not something that really appeals to me. I like my creature comforts…air conditioning, a bathroom, restaurants in case my kitchen isn’t as stocked as I need it to be. I am also not a fan of bugs or snakes or wildlife that might take offense to my presence. Yet oddly enough, the thought of seeing a bear doesn’t bother me quite as much as coming into contact with a skunk does. I guess I would feel a little different about that if the bear was very close to me!!!
At any rate, we decided to go to the lake for a weekend camping trip with a couple of friends. The kids all seemed to have a good time. My oldest was especially dreading it, because he had some notion that we were going to sit inside the camper and stare at one another all day. We proved him wrong!! And I didn’t have a horrible time. As a matter of fact, I really enjoyed parts of it. And I discovered things about myself. Things like: I can survive a whole weekend without my computer, I don’t like not having a bathroom handy, and food will always taste better when eaten outside!!!
To prepare for this trip, I actually created a board on Pinterest and made lots and lots of lists. I also shopped and packed for several days ahead of time. And guess what, I still forgot stuff and we still had to stop at the store on the way!
I decided to share some tips and tricks and opinions about camping. You may not necessarily feel this way. It’s OK if you absolutely love camping and think I’m a crazy woman!! Maybe you can share some tips with me to make my next trip a little easier (I’m not giving up).
Camping Tips and Tricks For Newbies (or For People Like Me Who Just Really Aren’t All That Into Roughing it!!):
1. Do some research. Know where you are going and what is offered. I made a board on Pinterest and then I read every article that I pinned. I didn’t make the site reservations, but I had been to the area before. The site did offer quite a bit, but I probably still should have confirmed exactly what was there beforehand.
2. Make a list of everything you will need. And then make a list of things you might need. And a list of things you probably won’t need. Pack all of the first one and some of the other two. Then check them two or three times. Seriously. I had a list of food/kitchen items, a list of clothing/personal items, a list of lake items, and a list of miscellaneous things. Unfortunately, I let my husband and children rush me and didn’t double-check my lists. We didn’t have bath towels or washcloths and I accidentally grabbed a bottle of conditioner instead of my body wash.
3. Pack a camping box. This was recommended on multiple sites. Luckily, it wasn’t a foreign concept for me. We used to keep a tailgate box in the back of the van and it’s pretty much the same thing…with a couple of little extras. I packed matches AND lighters, kitchen shears, a knife, tongs, mixing spoon, spatula, dish liquid, food storage bags, garbage bags, tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, plates, cups, forks, spoons, metal roasting sticks (I’m sure these have a name, but I don’t know it), heavy-duty aluminum foil, and a first aid kit. That first aid kit came in really handy. I was making fun of my husband for cutting his hand on the aluminum foil and I cut mine with a paring knife!! Then the next morning, my foot was really hurting and I found a big splinter in it. I would also recommend that you pack some sort of bug spray (another thing on my list that I forgot). We had citronella candles out, but it wasn’t quite enough.
4. Know where you are sleeping and bring whatever you need to make it comfortable, i.e., blankets, sleeping bags, sheets, extra pillows, etc. As my friend likes to say, “Do you think you are too pretty to sleep in a tent? Because I KNOW I am!!!”
We actually have a 10-person tent. I really didn’t relish the idea of spending a whole weekend in that. My in-laws kindly loaned us their pop-up camper, which is a great thing. I really wanted to bring the tent and let the boys have it, but the Super Trooper said that it was just unnecessary baggage. So we hashed out sleeping arrangements and made it through two nights without arguments. I actually slept part of one night in the front seat of my minivan, because I had to drive down to the “bathhouse” in the middle of the night and my shoulder was killing me from sleeping with only one pillow on what passes for a bed in the camper. Who knew the driver’s seat sleeps so well?? Next trip, I will bring several pillows or maybe the air mattress to put on top of the camper mattress.
5. Make a menu and bring lots of food. I don’t care if your 16-year-old tells you that he would be quite happy to live off of hot dogs for three days. He’s lying. And besides, I don’t want to live off of hot dogs for three days!!! You have to have snack foods and food for cooking and ingredients for S’mores. Have to! I wound up with three coolers of food and drinks–one large, one medium, and one very small for extras like butter. I also had a box and a large tote bag with nonperishable items.
I did find a great tip about mixing pancake batter (I used the recipe from the baking mix box and added one teaspoon of vanilla) and freezing it in Ziploc bags. The lady who wrote it said she snipped the tip of it off and just poured it on to the griddle. I kind of forgot that part, but my batter needed to be mixed again anyway. I just spooned it out of the bag. It was a little messier, but nothing horrendous and the pancakes turned out really great. It didn’t hurt that we had two pounds of bacon to go with them!!!!
Our friends provided the food for the first night. We had a fish fry complete with catfish, homemade fries, and some wickedly awesome jalapeno hushpuppies. I provided slaw and sweet tea straight from Captain D’s. (I cheated on that one!!) We did pancakes (fried in butter) and bacon for breakfast (so yummy). Sandwiches, chips, and snack foods were lunch out on the boat. We provided dinner the second night. I had already put Italian dressing on boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I poured it on at home while the chicken was frozen, so it marinated as it thawed) and the hubby grilled those. I also had corn-on-the-cob that we put up out of the garden last year. We just cooked it on the grate over the fire. My favorite part was the veggies we cooked in the coals. I cut up carrots and celery and put a marinade of olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, rosemary, and thyme over them. I cut up potatoes and onions before dinner and added them to the other veggies. Then we made foil packets and cooked them in the coals for over an hour. I can’t even describe how fabulous these were!!!! I like mine with a little A-1 sauce and some sour cream, but they are delicious without any sauce. Breakfast the last morning was sausage, biscuits (cooked on a grill–that was interesting!), and fried eggs. It started pouring the rain just before breakfast was finished cooking. Our plans were to pack up and move the campers, and then spend the last day on the lake. That’s where the hot dogs would’ve come in!
6. If you are not afraid of the dark, don’t have any girls in your group, or can hold your bladder all night long, then you can skip this tip. Otherwise, listen carefully. Invest in some sort of toilet system that you can put on your campsite. Ideally, it should have something around it for privacy. In my perfect world, I would own a cabin or one of those really nice RV’s that has its own restroom. My friend told me that we were close to the bathhouse. She neglected to mention that it was about 1/4 mile down the hill…and 2 and 1/2 miles back up. And there are snakes. Shew. I walked it during the day and drove at night.
7. Bring something to sit in/on. They make all kinds of camp chairs. Invest in a couple if you don’t already have some. Also, bring flashlights–very helpful when trying to make sure you don’t step on or in undesirable things. Bring something for entertainment. My oldest son brought a guitar and he and his brother took turns playing it for us. Then all three of my kids sang together…they are so talented!! We also had a CD player on the boat and a couple of packs of cards. The Phase 10 game came in handy when some other little girls came to visit. Remember to bring a camera. I forgot mine and out of all of the people there who had smart phones (I don’t), no one was interested in taking a single picture.
8. Bring sunscreen and use lots of it. I even had sunblock. I applied them both religiously all day long and still got burnt. I think part of that was due to the wind. The other part, I don’t know about. We all got a little toasty and all in really strange patterns!
9. Remember when you camp near a lake, the water most likely comes from the lake. There was a spigot on our site and there was a bathhouse. My husband says they filter them a little, but it’s not all that much, so you are really just bathing in lake water. You probably won’t feel all that clean until you get home, so just go with it. Even if the kids don’t want to do any more than brush their teeth and swipe off with a washcloth, they will probably survive!
10. Accept that things will probably go wrong and that it may not be the most amazing experience of your life. Tell yourself to just let go and allow yourself to enjoy it anyway. Also, accept that there is probably not enough fun in the world to justify the amount of work that goes into camping!!! I was exhausted before I went and I was almost catatonic by the time we made it home. I forgave myself for falling asleep on the couch and having a two-hour nap before bedtime and so should you!
Here are the directions for the Campfire Veggie Packets…
Campfire Veggie Packets:
Carrots, Celery, Potatoes (at least one per person)
Onions (Cut in quarters and separated–at least 1/4 onion per person)
Olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, rosemary, thyme
Heavy-duty aluminum foil
There are two ways that I actually do this:
When I am making them at home, I chop the veggies as I go and add one tablespoon of oil and just sprinkle each of the spices over the vegetables. I don’t have a measurement for this–I just eyeball it. If you don’t like one of the spices, it’s really easy to use less or leave it out completely. I also don’t use more than one sprinkle of salt when I do it this way. I like the other flavors and feel like it doesn’t need a lot of salt. I lay them out on individual squares of aluminum foil and then wrap them as I fill them up. Cook at 350 degrees for an hour (or longer if your veggies don’t get tender enough). You can also do the same thing and put them on the grill.
Since we were camping and I knew there would be at least seven (and maybe more) people to feed, I used nine carrots, seven stalks of celery, three onions, and eight large potatoes. I cut up the carrots and celery ahead of time and marinated them in about a cup and 1/2 of olive oil, a teaspoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of pepper, a tablespoon of garlic powder, a tablespoon of thyme, and a tablespoon of rosemary. (You can add more or use less–personal preference!) On the day of, I cut up three medium onions and eight large potatoes and added them to the mix. Then I put them by the handful onto individual aluminum foil pieces and wrapped them up. I don’t have a set amount that has to go into each packet, but I do like it to be a fairly even ratio of veggies. We set the packets down into the hot coals and let them cook for a little over an hour. A couple of the packets had carrots that didn’t get quite as done as I would’ve liked, but the rest of the veggies turned out fine. I think those particular packets were probably farther from the fire. We’re still learning about campfire cooking, so maybe next time we’ll get them all right!
Do you have any tips, tricks, or must-haves for camping????