I’ve been camping since I was five � which means I have been camping for over 40 years. I remember that first camping trip well. My three siblings and I sat in the car while my parents set up the tent in the rain, using the car’s headlights for direction. That borrowed tent leaked, my sister freaked out over the spiders and I broke my foot. It is amazing that we ever camped again. But we did, for years and years, all across the United States.
If you have never camped before, it isn’t too late to start. Okay, so maybe sleeping on the ground doesn’t appeal to you at this stage of your life. You can still go simple and sleep on an air mattress. Forget the air mattresses of our youth � these are some pretty hi-tech things. You can get self-inflating mattresses that are really quite comfortable to sleep on (REALLY). And of course, if you are really a softie, you can rent a tent camper or trailer.
Camping offers you a chance to travel inexpensively while enjoying new vistas and the outdoors. Kids � and especially, grandchildren --enjoy nothing more than camping. My kids love sleeping outdoors and cooking over a camp fire. We have had camping trips with my parents, my sister and her family and friends. It is a great opportunity to connect with your family members and nature at the same time.
Shelter is key
You don’t need a lot of equipment to get started, just some basics. Obviously, you need some shelter. You can buy tents just about anywhere. You may want to borrow one to see if you like camping before you invest in one of your own. Besides a tent to sleep in, a dining tent or screen tent nicely blocks the sun or rain while eating. If you plan on beach camping, it becomes more of a necessity.
You will also need sleeping bags and a mattress if you desire. You could also bypass this step by using blankets from home. But since sleeping bags are so inexpensive, I think you should go for it. I’ve seen camping kits at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club that have both a tent and sleeping bags. Check them out.
Cooking utensils, a camp stove and dishes are needed, too. I guess you could try to get by without them and cook over the fire but I leave that to cowboys. We do make campfires at night and have hot dog roasts, but I cook meals on a simple camp stove that uses propane. They are safe and very easy to use. You can use old pans, dishes, silverware and cups from home (paper plates work well, too!).
As far as food, keep it simple. If you are car camping, pack canned and prepackaged food. Weight doesn’t matter like it does on a backpacking trip where you have to carry everything yourself. We eat a lot of macaroni and cheese while camping. I also buy things that I don’t typically buy such as juice boxes, coffee “tea” bags and hot cocoa in packets. We’re lucky that with so many convenience foods on the market you almost don’t need a cooler, but you may still want to use one to hold ice to keep some of your food cold.
Other things you may want to include are a lantern (you can get away with flashlights), matches and firewood (depending on where you are camping), rain suits and games to play inside the tent at night or on rainy days.
The AAA has camping books available for every state. They list the campgrounds, costs and reservation policies. You can also find a great deal of information on state parks, camping areas, etc. through the Internet. When you check into the campground on your arrival, ask them for a map of the local area including the campground.
By Kathleen Ganster
Need more ideas or information? Check out Kathleen’s website at www.thetravelingbag.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.