Gone Camping

My husband and I bought our first camping trailer when we were both just 17 years old. It was a 1963, 13 foot Scamper and it had survived a small fire and years of mothballs. It was not pretty by any stretch of the imagination, and to be perfectly honest, it probably wasn’t road worthy either! We had window panes blow off on remote roads, our door fly open and spray our possessions all along the ditch, and an accordion-type dent where we had accidentally backed it into a tree, yet despite all of this, it was a trailer and to us, it beat a tent any day!

Fifteen years and six trailers later, my husband and I continue to spend almost our entire summer camping. I know exactly what a lot of you are thinking: camping isn’t really camping if you aren’t sleeping in some remote part of the forest under the stars, or at the very least, in a tent that you carried into the site on your back. If you are a mother who packs up the kids each weekend and does that kind of camping, let me be the first to congratulate you: you are way more rugged than I will ever be!

Despite my reverence for the tent camping mother, I embrace my trailer dependence wholeheartedly and I refuse to feel that our family camping experience is any less valid or beneficial to our children. We’ve had bears wander into our campsite, been caught in crazy snow, wind, hail, and rain storms, and found air-conditioning reprieve from 40 degree heatwaves…all in our trailer.

Our family loves camping so much that we spend about fifty days each year in our trailer. Even with the luxury of a trailer, however, camping with young children for extended periods can be challenging at times. After five years of camping with little ones, I have come up with my top five tips for a family just starting their trailer adventures:

1. Keep all stained, ripped, and ugly clothes. Yes, that’s right…keep them. I keep a bin year round in each of my children’s closets just for this purpose. Is that sweater Grandma knit too ugly to wear in public? Toss it in the bin. Is that spaghetti sauce ring around the white t-shirt still there after five washes? Toss it in the bin. Is that ugly pair of sweats short enough to almost become an ugly pair of sweat capris? Toss it in the bin. These bins become the clothes my children wear camping. We haven’t quite progressed to having a trailer with a washer and dryer, and there is only so much time I want to spend sitting in a random laundry mat in some small town, so I only bring clothes camping that I don’t care about. Sure, my kids look like sartorial nightmare come to life, but they are camping, covered in dirt and sand, and have worn bathing suits as underwear for the last twenty days, so it’s unlikely anyone would notice.

2. Visit the local thrift store for toys, games, and puzzles. I keep home toys at home, and trailer toys in the trailer. Almost all of our trailer toys have come from thrift stores in the towns near where we camp. The toys I buy can all be wiped down (ie. no stuffies…despite constant requests begging from my daughter), and may be a little damaged or well used; in other words, perfect for camping! Because you only paid fifty cents for that toy truck, you won’t care that it is rained on, tossed in the lake, burned from zealous embers, or left outside for weeks straight. The other bonus? The kids only see those toys when they are camping, so the novelty of the toys is a perfect distraction when the trailer is getting set up.

3. Buy paint. A lot of paint. Let me be more specific: buy a lot of kids’ paint that is washable, non-toxic, and preferably plant-based. Nothing fills up a rainy day under the awning or a break from the hot sun like painting. So what can you paint camping? Rocks, for one. Driftwood. Stones from the fire pit. Dead leaves. Picnic tables. ..just about anything. The kids will love “vandalizing” the tables, or decorating a rock, and the best part? You just rinse it off (or let the rain do it) before you leave, and you’ve gotten to enjoy a lovely campsite that can be quickly turned back into its natural state in no time at all. Since it’s camping, feel free to just use your fingers and forgo the formal brushes for even more messy fun.

4. Take the kids grocery shopping with you. Beyond s’mores and other typical camping indulgences, I let my kids pick one treat that they only have while camping. For my daughter, it’s Cheezies or Kool-Aid; in fact, she didn’t even realize she could buy these items in Canada because she only has them at the lake in the US. Indulging in treats camping that they wouldn’t normally get at home adds to the carefree nature of camping.

5. Pack twice the underwear and socks for each child than you think you will need. Throw in an extra pair of shoes while you’re at it. That is all. Self-explanatory.

Our family absolutely loves camping, and I can’t imagine doing it in anything other than our trailer. Sure, after a month I miss long, indulgent showers, and I hate using the half-ply RV toilet paper, but those are small inconveniences that pale in comparison to the pure joy and fun that my children have exploring new places and getting downright filthy.

My husband and I have come a long way since our ’63 Scamper, and yet as we sell each trailer and buy the next one, I am reminded of all the wonderful days and nights that our family shared in each and every unit, and I look forward to all the new memories we are going to make trailer camping in the future.