Family Travel and Camping

Family Travel and Camping

Posted on July 21, 2017   •   Written by

The summer after I turned 13, my parents announced that we would pile into our beloved, orange Volkswagen bus to drive across the U.S. and back. Because we were on a budget, we would camp all the way — two adults and three kids under 13 in a big, heavy (especially when wet), canvas cube that hung from fat aluminum poles.

family travel and camping - Kids at a KOA playground

Kids at a KOA playground. Photo courtesy of Kampgrounds of America

When we set out, we weren’t completely inexperienced campers, but we were definitely novices. Unsurprisingly, with camping’s low barriers to entry, that changed quickly; we settled into a rhythm that lasted through 60 days of American summer, some three dozen states and a whole lot of ordinary camp-stove cooking in truly extraordinary places. Boiled hot dogs never tasted so good!

For me, the trip was a revelation. Already a passionate map-reader, I was the trip navigator. As part of charting our route, I also helped scout out campgrounds. We stayed in national parks, state parks, private parks and, in a few cases, remote places that we decided were park enough, even if they weren’t so designated.

I remember how fun and empowering it was to make so many family decisions. My two younger siblings also stepped into their own responsibilities too. Today, as a father, I try to imagine how my parents must have felt and I take to heart the words of Mike Gast, Vice President of Communications at Kampgrounds of America, the world’s largest system of open-to-the-public family campgrounds: “Seeing your kids experience fishing or making s’mores for the first time is priceless, but as it turns out, it’s also priceless for the kids.”

Though long, my family camping experiences are substantively the same as those of hundreds of thousands of other families. After all, family travel and camping go together like summer and vacation!

So, to help keep the family camping ball rolling, here are three important reasons why I believe everyone should do it: family camping is natural, family camping is about togetherness and family camping promotes freedom.

1. Family Camping Is Natural
There are several meanings to the notion of camping being natural: family camping is reasonable; family camping is wholesome and unpretentious; and family travel is about being in nature.

Two boys enjoying their natural surroundings

Two boys enjoying their natural surroundings. Photo courtesy of Erin Kirkland

Put another way, ”Camping takes people back to a more simple way of life. There are no kids schedules, no Netflix, no emails and no distractions,” says Steve Markle, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at O.A.R.S. Family Adventure Vacations, a US-based tour operator that helps families unplug from highly-connected lives and reconnect as a family. OARS is also the muscle behind the #100HoursUnplugged campaign urging families to trade screen time for family time and get outside this summer.

Thousands of families agree with Markle, families pursuing off-the-beaten-path family adventures and digital detox family vacations in the interest of realigning their priorities by rediscovering one another for real, not their digital avatars.

“When a family is camping, they’re more likely to put down their devices,” emphasizes Shellie Bailey-Shah, the editor of KidTripster, a family travel website that informs and inspires families traveling anywhere in the world. Amen to that!

2. Family Camping Is About Togetherness
“Camping is a special experience for families because it creates an atmosphere of camaraderie,” notes Deborah Dickson-Smith, an Australian editor/writer at Out & About with Kids.

There are still daily tasks, of course, like concocting and cleaning up after meals, organizing daily activities and preparing for bed; however, without the regular trappings of home, the tasks become different. And family members work together to get through them. Sometimes when the elements aren’t cooperating the only way to complete a task is by working together.

Basically, “Anytime families are able to do something that is out of the ordinary and spend quality together, you instantly have a recipe for special experiences,” reminds Rafa Mayer, the founder and CEO of Say Hueque, which specializes in customized tours for independent travelers in Argentina and Chile.

Family travel and camping - Family enjoying time together at a campground

Family enjoying time together at a campground. Photo courtesy of the Bibas family via FamilyFun

“Camping is a great family bonding activity,” summarizes Anna O’Donnell, Public Relations & Earned Media Specialist of the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development, whether those activities are memorable undertakings or part of the campground drill.

3. Family Camping Promotes Freedom
Nature is best when it is unbridled and unbounded. Kids sense this and adapt to it in positive ways, soaking in the beauty, the tranquility and even the tumult.

“There’s a certain freedom for children to discover while out in the wilderness,” observes Cameron Martindell, an adventure correspondent with Off Yonder.

While it’s certainly beneficial for and easily observed in the kids, mom and dad are also able to channel the vitality of the surrounding environment.

“Camping tunes out the noise. It gets families together in a place that’s calming and restorative, and it’s out of the ordinary,” adds Leann McDonough, External Communications Specialist at Wyndham Vacation Rentals, the world’s largest serviced vacation rentals business.

Family Camping Is Not the Same for Everyone
However, “Camping doesn’t need to mean the same thing for everyone,” continues McDonough. “You can build a camping trip around your family’s travel style.”

Especially for families new to camping and not confident that they have the right gear, a tent adventure may feel like too much. Fortunately, many campgrounds now also include cabins/bungalows, some with kitchens, bathrooms and bed linens, “so you get a great outdoor experience along with the comforts of home,” confirms Gast of Kampgrounds of America.

Baby camper at the Grand Canyon

Is it ever too young to start camping? No! Photo courtesy of Cameron Martindell

“Work up to getting a family camping,” advises Martindell. “And, as always, be patient.”

This is a great approach for “Families who don’t camp often [and] may feel as if they are ‘outsiders’ to this wonderful way of connecting to the outdoors,” commented Erin Kirkland, publisher of AKontheGo, Alaska’s only family travel resource. “Take it in small steps, ask a lot of questions, but overall – just go. Learning by doing is the best way to camp.”

That being said, even with all of the options out there, it’s critical to “Think outside the box when it comes to camping, by combining classic, rustic fun with luxury and comfort,” remarks John Spence, the president of luxury private journeys operator Scott Dunn USA. Plus, “Camping isn’t only for summer!”

Inspiring End Quote
“Camping trips are the things of family legend: The pops and crackles of the campfire. The kids are blissfully content, their cheeks smeared with gooey marshmallow. Dad holds a flashlight to his chin and tells a ghost story. Inside the tent, everyone snuggles close, cocooned in a nest of down sleeping bags, as owls hoot and the wind tickles the tree branches overhead. It’s these types of experiences that kids will remember forever!”
— Liz Schnabolk, Senior Editor of FamilyFun Magazine, a guide to creating the experiences parents and kids will remember forever

Don’t you wish you were there right now, a kid again with your parents or a parent with your kids? I do.


In Their Own Words

The 11 experts who shared their thoughts with me have all been introduced above, but what follows below is more of what they had to say about family travel and camping.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT CAMPING THAT MAKES IT A SPECIAL EXPERIENCE FOR FAMILIES?

Reconnect with One Another

Camping is a special experience for families because it creates an atmosphere of camaraderie, facing the elements together. My kids even enjoy it in bad weather, snuggled up in sleeping bags listening to the rain and wind, outside battering the tent.
– Deborah Dickson-Smith at Out & About with Kids

Mother and daughter work together to set up campsite

Mother and daughter work together to set up campsite. Photo courtesy of O.A.R.S.

Camping… has a way of bringing families back together in the shared enjoyment of setting up camp, preparing and sharing meals together, swimming, fishing, playing games around the campfire and sleeping under the stars.
– Steve Markle of O.A.R.S. Family Adventure Vacations

I think we oftentimes find ourselves caught up in the monotony of our day-to-day routines, and it’s easy to slip into “autopilot” mode. So anytime families are able to do something that is out of the ordinary and spend quality together, you instantly have a recipe for special experiences.
– Rafa Mayer of Say Hueque

Camping as a family provides opportunity — opportunities to learn new skills, to work as a family unit, and allow for expansive free play without the boundaries one may find at other destinations.
– Erin Kirkland of AKontheGo

Camping is… a perfect way to… reconnect with your family, whether you want a relaxing trip stargazing and roasting marshmallows with your loved ones around the fire, or prefer an exhilarating African safari spent with leopards, lions and elephants.
– John Spence of John Dunn USA

My family experiences a wide variety of destinations, [but] whether we’re exploring national monuments or learning to surf all day, returning ‘home’ to the campground is our favorite part. When trip planning, so many people default to hotels but I recommend thinking about camping.
– Mike Gast of Kampgrounds of America

Work on getting both the parents and the kids comfortable with being outdoors all the time. It’s not always a vacation for the parents, but an investment in a long-term return of a lifetime of camping both as a family and to inspire the kids to pick it up on their own as they get older and get involved in scouts or whatever.
– Cameron Martindell of Off Yonder

A fall day at a KOA campground in Williamsburg, Virginia

A fall day at a KOA campground in Williamsburg, Virginia. Photo courtesy of KOA

(Re)Discover Yourself

Camping tends to create wonderful experiences, which then tend to start a cycle of nostalgia where parents want to recreate and share those memories with their children. Seeing your kids experience fishing or making s’mores for the first time is priceless, but as it turns out, it’s also priceless for the kids.
– Mike Gast of Kampgrounds of America

[Camping is] a time for [children] to explore and discover their own physical abilities, be it carrying a pack, skipping a stone or tying a knot. They all require different levels of dexterity, attention to detail and even finesse. While that can all happen on a day trip into the wild, camping makes it more intimate.
– Cameron Martindell of Off Yonder

When you’re camping, it doesn’t take much at all to get kids running around, exploring and playing in the dirt — just like most of us did when we were growing up.
– Steve Markle of O.A.R.S. Family Adventure Vacations

The 2017 North American Camping Report, an annual independent study supported by KOA, found that adult campers say camping has “a great deal of impact” on reducing stress, contributing to their emotional well-being, improving health and leading a healthier lifestyle. Teen campers surveyed said camping is a way for their parents to relax, which in turn adds to their enjoyment.
– Mike Gast of Kampgrounds of America

Commune with Nature

There’s a certain freedom for children to discover while out in the wilderness. The freedom to roam, to take the time to look under a rock or log, or to skip rocks into the lake or ocean… To witness the darkening of the sky, the rolling in of weather changes and knowing you have all you need to be safe and protected without going indoors.
– Cameron Martindell of Off Yonder

One journalist even coined the term “nature deficit disorder,” speaking to the effects that lack of nature can lead to.… [Camping] gets families together in a place that’s calming and restorative, and it’s out of the ordinary.
– Leann McDonough of Wyndham Vacation Rentals

Hole In The Wall Campground, Glacier National Park

Hole In The Wall Campground, Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy of Montana

Families can spend the day kayaking, hiking, biking and a number of other great activities before sleeping under the stars and among miles of unspoiled nature.
– Anna O’Donnell of the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Digital Detox

Camping, especially, is so important because it gives all of us the opportunity to unplug, get off of our laptops or smart phones, and truly appreciate each other’s company while being surrounded by the natural beauty all around us.
– Rafa Mayer of Say Hueque

When a family is camping, they’re more likely to put down their devices. I think non-tech vacations are becoming increasingly important for both parents’ and kids’ well-being.
– Shellie Bailey-Shah of KidTripster

The pace of life today is insanely fast – school, work, after-school clubs and sports, homework, dinner time and before you know it, bed time. And with tablets, TVs, video games and other avenues for entertainment, people are getting outside less and less. Camping tunes out the noise.
– Leann McDonough of Wyndham Vacation Rentals

As long as you manage to leave the devices at home, camping takes people back to a more simple way of life. My favorite camping spot is anywhere with no cell reception, no Wi-Fi, good views and room to explore.
– Steve Markle of O.A.R.S. Family Adventure Vacations

The nature of camping… provides families with an opportunity to be together in a stress-free, lower-tech environment. With fewer distractions families can just spend time together. [However,] in the age of technology, keeping kids entertained outdoors can be challenging. Come prepared with low-tech or no-tech activities. You can also seek out campgrounds that offer activities for kids. Many KOA campgrounds have playgrounds, jumping pillows, bike rentals and staff-led activities to help keep kids entertained.
– Mike Gast of Kampgrounds of America

Remembering a family camping trip at Hat Head in New South Wales, Australia

Remembering a family camping trip at Hat Head in New South Wales, Australia. Photo courtesy of Deborah Dickson-Smith

Camping is a favorite summer tradition that’s a perfect way to unplug and reconnect with your family.
– John Spence of John Dunn USA

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE CAMPING MEMORIES?

My earliest memories center around family camping trips: of playing hide-and-seek with flashlights around the campground, fishing in mountain lakes from our canoe and staying up late stuffing sticky marshmallows in our faces. The family tent was an old canvas affair, and we slept in flannel-lined bags on army cots. My dad led us on hours-long hikes and my mom cooked bacon on a stick over the morning campfire. Those are memories that can’t be created in any other place.
– Erin Kirkland of AKontheGo

One of my favorite childhood memories is my dad loading up our camper every summer to explore the great state of Montana – from the Beartooth’s to the Great Plains of Central Montana and, of course, the national parks as well. My love for this state was built on summer adventures with my family.
– Anna O’Donnell of the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

My parents didn’t have us camping super early, but we were hiking a bit and then more camping came in when my brother and I were around 3 and 5 years old. There’s a picture of us by the fire, I think we were near Crater Lake in Oregon.
– Cameron Martindell of Off Yonder

Getting together to camp with families we knew made this more enjoyable – the kids became one huge tribe – every day a party, and they all looked out for each other.
– Deborah Dickson-Smith at Out & About with Kids

WHAT IS THE BEST TYPE OF CAMPING EXPERIENCE FOR FAMILIES?

I’d advise families to really think about their travel style. Do you like to rough it? Is pitching a tent your speed? Or are you looking to enjoy the outdoors while still keeping some of those creature comforts you’re used to? Your honest answers to those questions will help your family pick the right lodging, bring along the right gear and really enjoy your camping experience.
– Leann McDonough of Wyndham Vacation Rentals

Family with an RV

The KidTripster family and their home on the road. Photo courtesy of KidTripster

When it comes to location, keep it simple the first time. For families with young kids, the backyard might be a great first camping experience, but talk to friends or co-workers and pick someplace nearby. Once you get comfortable camping as a family, you can start looking further afield at more adventurous destinations.
– Steve Markle of O.A.R.S. Family Adventure Vacations

Any camping trip, no matter how experienced a family may be, starts with the right place for the desired activity and season. If we’re looking to hike, we search out campgrounds with easy access to trailheads. Boating? We find lakes or calm bays and coves. The Forest Service has an incredibly comprehensive search function to locate and make reservations at campgrounds around the U.S.
– Erin Kirkland of AKontheGo

We like to avoid campgrounds for the most part and prefer to look for dispersed camping areas to avoid being surrounded by RV’s and even other campers for that matter. We look for locations with some sort of feature like a great view, a lake, a nearby mountain to hike up, etc…. [Start by camping] in the back yard a few times or at a nearby campground so if you need to bail for whatever reason, it’s relatively easy. Then start going a little farther afield as comfort increases.
– Cameron Martindell of Off Yonder

We are fans of public land campgrounds; US Forest Service, Park Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and state parks. As stewards (and citizen owners) of public land, we feel it is important to embrace what we are so lucky to have readily available.
– Erin Kirkland of AKontheGo

National parks provide stunning, affordable locations for camping. But state parks should not be overlooked, especially for younger families who may not be able to travel as far. If we’re able, we always stay in a park campground as opposed to a commercial one.
– Shellie Bailey-Shah of KidTripster

Summer is a popular time in Montana’s state and national parks, so make sure to reserve your campsites well in advance.
– Anna O’Donnell of the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Make sure you pick a campsite that is sheltered from the main direction of wind and on reasonably high ground.
– Deborah Dickson-Smith at Out & About with Kids

Camp cabins can be quite unusual and a whole lot of fun

Camp cabins can be quite unusual and a whole lot of fun. Photo courtesy of Wyndham Vacation Rentals

If you’re interested in experiencing a holiday park in Europe, start by browsing the site of a major provider like Landal GreenParks. Holiday Parks in Europe are like super luxurious campgrounds, many with the option to pitch tents or stay in a bungalow, apartment etc. They’re very much about the outdoors. You can find the right park for your camping experience, whether it’s a safari tent or a bungalow.
– Leann McDonough of Wyndham Vacation Rentals

If you don’t want to travel with all the gear, you can’t find what you need or don’t want your first foray into camping to be in a tent, look into different types of accommodations. Many KOA campgrounds have Deluxe Cabins with kitchens, bathrooms and linens on beds, so you get a great outdoor experience along with the comforts of home. In addition to Deluxe Cabins, many KOAs offer unique accommodations like teepees and vintage RVs.
Choosing the right campground for your trip and your family is important. KOA is evolving its locations into KOA Journeys, KOA Holidays and KOA Resorts. Each of these types of campgrounds have facilities and amenities designed to meet the needs of different types of camping experiences whether you’re looking for a base camp for exploring the surrounding region or fun activities onsite.
– Mike Gast of Kampgrounds of America

I’m a huge fan of RVing. Personally, I hate the hassle of packing and unpacking the car, especially when camping in several different locations on a trip. If you don’t own, look into renting an RV.
– Shellie Bailey-Shah of KidTripster

The best resource for planning the perfect family camping holiday would be to reach out to local experts directly!
– Rafa Mayer of Say Hueque

WHAT ABOUT ALL THAT CAMPING GEAR?

The gear list can be daunting and possibly endless. Ease into it, [but] have the right gear to be protected from sun, rain, cold, heat etc.
– Cameron Martindell of Off Yonder

The camp at Torres del Paine, Chile, includes eco-domes with cozy beds and even a fireplaces

The camp at Torres del Paine, Chile, includes eco-domes with cozy beds and even a fireplaces! Photo courtesy of Say Hueque

If you’re a first-time camper, borrow as much as possible. You can likely borrow a tent, sleeping mats and bags, flashlights and other camping essentials from friends and relatives.
– Mike Gast of Kampgrounds of America

Don’t go buy a bunch of gear for your whole family if you’re new to camping. Go with friends who camp, borrow gear, rent from a local outfitter or book a guided trip with a company that provides all the gear for you. Once you have a chance to test things out, you’ll have a better sense of what kind of gear you need and what you can do without.
– Steve Markle of O.A.R.S. Family Adventure Vacations

In terms of gear, it totally depends on the time of the year and the destination that you’ll be visiting. Some must-have essentials include a weatherproof tent, high quality sleeping bag and pillow, plenty of water and snacks, a lantern (with extra batteries), as well as comfortable clothes (think: appropriate footwear, layers and rainproof outerwear). It’s always a smart idea to research typical weather patterns for any particular region prior to visiting, so you’ll know if you should pack seasonal items like bug spray, an umbrella or sunscreen.
– Rafa Mayer of Say Hueque

Make sure everyone in the family has gear to keep them warm, dry and safe, but don’t let advertisements from high-end outdoor companies, offering overly-expensive equipment, be a barrier to camping. Take it in small steps, ask a lot of questions, but overall – just go. Learning by doing is the best way to camp.
– Erin Kirkland of AKontheGo

For travelers looking to do any… activities, make sure to bring your necessary equipment.
– Anna O’Donnell of the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

Always take raincoats.
– Deborah Dickson-Smith at Out & About with Kids


Read More!

AKontheGo AKontheGo
* Alaska Camping with Kids: Five Great Places to Meet the Great Outdoors
* Tips for Camping in Alaska
* Search results for: camping

Visit here for more from Erin Kirkland at AKontheGo. Read some of Erin’s favorite places for family camping.

 

Out & About with Kids
* Camping with a Twist
* Family Camping Guide and Checklist
* Our Top Ten Camping Destinations

Visit here for more from Deborah Dickson-Smith at Out & About with Kids. Read some of Deborah’s favorite places for family camping.

 

FamilyFun MagazineFamilyFun Magazine
* 10 Family Camping Destinations for Every Different Skill Level
* The Ultimate Family Road Trip

Visit here for more about FamilyFun Magazine. Read some favorite FamilyFun places for family travel and camping.

 

KOA - Kampgrounds of AmericaKampgrounds of America
* 8 Great Reasons to Camp with Kids at KOA
* 10 Tips for Planning a Camping Trip with Kids
* 10 Tips to Being Awesome at Camping

Visit here for more about Kampgrounds of America. Read some favorite KOA places for family camping.

 

KidTripsterKidTripster
* Road-tested Advice for First-time RVers
* Nature Apps for Kids

Visit here for more Shellie Bailey-Shah at KidTripster. Read some of Shellie’s favorite places for family camping.

 

MontanaMontana
* Camping in Montana
* Family activities in Montana

Visit here for more about Montana. Read some favorite places in Montana for family camping.

 

O.A.R.S. logoO.A.R.S. Family Adventure Vacations
* The Case for Going #100HoursUnplugged This Summer
* How to Plan A Vacation That Reconnects the Family
* Family Catalogue

Visit here for more about O.A.R.S. Family Adventure Vacations. Read some favorite O.A.R.S. places for family camping.

Off YonderOff Yonder
* Hit the Road: Ford Explorer Road Trip
* Toddler Tested: Winter 2016
* Toddler Tested: Summer Gear

Visit here for more from Cameron Martindell at Off Yonder. Read some of Cameron’s favorite places for family camping.

 

Say HuequeSay Hueque
* Torres del Paine Camping Experience
* Family-friendly tour packages

Visit here for more about Say Hueque. Read some favorite Say Hueque places for family camping.

 

scott DunnScott Dunn
* Botswana
* Lapland, Sweden
* Wahiba Sands, Oman

Visit here for more about Scott Dunn USA. Read some favorite Scott Dunn places for family camping.

 

Wyndham Vacation RentalWyndham Vacation Rentals
* Landal GreenParks
* Children’s bungalows

Visit here for more about Wyndham Vacation Rentals. Read some favorite Wyndham Vacation Rentals places for family camping.

 

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