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If you’re one of the many people who didn’t grow up camping, your first trip—especially one with kids—might be a little intimidating.
Parents, have no fear: It can actually be quite easy and satisfying to go camping with the kids for the first time. And who knows, after you’ve gone once, you might want to go again and again. After playing in the dirt, sleeping under the stars and eating s’mores, the kids certainly will!
Go 'Car Camping'
If your children are young (under 10) you will appreciate having a car full of gear and supplies at your disposal. Once you’ve determined that you are driving to your campsite (as opposed to hiking there with backpacks) pick somewhere within easy driving distance—one that your children can handle without getting too antsy. If they’re exhausted from the drive alone, they’ll be no fun out in the woods. And don’t forget to pick a good time of year to go; summer is the most popular because of warm conditions, but don’t rule out spring or early fall, as long as the nights aren’t too cold.
Reserve a Campsite
This is a must. The last thing you want to do is show up without a reservation and be told that there are no sites available. Look online for county and state parks that offer campsite reservations. Many will allow you to make the reservation and handle the payment online. The cost is low—under $50 in most places—but be sure to inquire about parking rates, the hours of ranger service and what the facilities offer.
Pack Enough Gear
If you’re a first-time camper, you probably don’t own much in the way of camping gear. Before you run out to REI and buy everything (remember, this is a low-cost vacation!) see what you can borrow from friends, family and neighbors. The camping community loves to share equipment. First, make a list of the items you’ll need. You’ll want to start with:
- Sleeping bags, pillows
- Sleeping pads
- Firewood (if the campsite allows campfires)
- Clothing in a variety of weights
- Fire starter (lighter, matches)
- Food, utensils, plates and napkins
- Drinking water
- Sturdy shoes
- Wet wipes
- Garbage bags
If you find you can’t borrow the big items like tents or sleeping bags, many large camping stores such as REI will rent them at reasonable rates.
Plan Simple Meals
A cooler filled with drinks, hot dogs and hamburgers for dinner should make for a classic camping feast. Bring breakfast bars or instant oatmeal, and fruit and nuts for breakfast. Don’t forget the instant coffee if Mom or Dad needs to fuel up in the morning! The simpler the food, the less you have to worry about.
Set Up the Tent Right Away
Since you may be unfamiliar with setting one up, it’s a good idea to get this step out of the way. You also don’t want to be setting it up in the dark! Another tip is to take a walk with the kids to the bathroom so everyone knows where it is located. This is important because if anyone has to go in the middle of the night, they’ll remember where it is.
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