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April 27, 2015

Family Camp Out

By Tampa Bay Parenting

There’s no better way to experience all of nature’s offerings than by camping. A leisurely hike, jumping fish, s’mores around the campfire—all add up to hours of stress-free quality time with the ones you love most. And even the plushest camping accommodations are inexpensive compared to other lodging. The Outdoor Foundation reports that one-fifth of American households with children go camping, and 70 percent of camping trips are made with friends. So when in-town temperatures soar this summer, pack up your family and head to the mountains or shore for a breath of fresh air. Here are tips to ensure a great experience:

Research and reserve. Get recommendations from friends and access online information about campgrounds, including site maps and fees. During the summer months, it’s best to reserve your site in advance when possible. National, state and county parks often provide excellent camping facilities at moderate cost. Privately-owned campgrounds are more expensive, but may come with amenities such as laundry facilities and a pool. Narrow your search by clicking on desired features, such as pet-friendliness or the presence of showers, flush toilets, hiking trails, beach access or playgrounds.

Make a list and check it twice. Who wants to drive 20 miles for a box of Band-Aids? A printout of must-haves can help you avoid leaving necessities at home. A comprehensive checklist can be found at REI (www.rei.com) or Love the Outdoors (www.lovetheoutdoors.com). Pare and adapt according to your family’s needs.

Get your gear. If you already have the essentials, be sure everything is in good working condition. You don’t want to discover the hole in the tent during a downpour. Equipment can be expensive and there are many options. If you’re new to camping (or trying it for the first time with children) you may want to borrow a tent and other items from a friend. Rentals are also available. Take a look at Lower Gear (www.lowergear.com) for prices.

Make a dry run. Practice using any unfamiliar piece of equipment before you hit the road. Set up the tent, install the car top carrier, and light the stove. Not only will you avoid fumbling in bad weather, you’ll give the kids a preview of the camping experience. Maybe you’ll want to try a night or two of camping in the backyard before heading to the campground.

Plan meals. You can chop veggies ahead of time, and use pre-cooked frozen foods as ice blocks in your cooler. If you’re using a camp stove, foods that can be cooked with hot water (pasta, instant oatmeal) are quick and easy. And never underestimate the value of grabbing a meal at the local pizzeria or burger joint if you’re camping near a town.

Check the weather. If you’re camping at high elevations or on the coast, remember that evenings and early mornings may be chilly. You may also need to prepare for rainy or windy conditions.

Review rules. When you arrive at the campsite, scope it out before you set up equipment. Call a quick family meeting and point out site boundaries, bathrooms, trash containers and water. Remind the kids to respect neighboring sites, clean up after themselves and refrain from feeding wildlife. Make sure everyone is aware of potential dangers such as creeks, cliffs and rash-producing plants.

Relax and unwind. After you’ve set up camp, it’s time to let the great outdoors work its magic. Hike and fish. Organize a scavenger hunt. Prop your feet up by the campfire. Eat s’mores. Tell ghost stories after the sun goes down. Drink an adult beverage. Play a card game with the kids by the lantern’s glow. Find constellations you can’t see in the city. It’s all good.

Dealing with “tech deficit.” Younger than “tween-age” kids will have no problem occupying themselves with nature’s bounty: mud, sticks, rocks, water. Amid their fort-building and cricket-chasing, they’ll scarcely notice the lack of screens and devices. If you’re at a state park, check out the Junior Rangers Program. Kids will love the ranger-led activities and guided walks where they can learn about the local flora and fauna. For older kids and parents, technology has its benefits. Fill your phone with nature-related apps, and there will be no need to lug ten field guides and a journal on your next hike. Another tech bonus: You can easily log your discoveries.

Find the Perfect Campground

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