Reflections on Family Camping

Whether you're "roughing it" or enjoying more luxurious accommodations, camping creates lasting memories.

Until the sixth grade I thought that there were only two types of family vacations: road trips and camping. The road trips were usually to our grandparent’s house where we could stay rent-free. The six of us would pile in the Pontiac sedan, fighting for individual space as we made long treks to see grandparents.

There were no stops at restaurants; my mom always had bologna and mustard sandwiches on Wonder Bread, grapes for dessert and a thermos of water packed in the trunk. We knew from experience to drink the water sparingly because our father had no patience for bathroom stops. In the backseat we sang songs, looked for white horses (if you see 100 white horses your wish will come true) and fought about who was breathing whose air. We loved our grandparents, and the reward of spending a week at their house in the country was worth the painful journey.

The other destination was camping. At least one week a year was spent at a state park camping. No RV for us, we had a canvas monstrosity of a tent that took my dad at least an hour and more than a few curse words to assemble. No luxurious blow-up mattresses for our family, we slept in sleeping bags on the ground. I suspect my father hoped sleeping on hard ground with sticks and rocks would build character in his kids, but all it did was make us cranky.

We woke to a campfire where our mother would be slaving over the hot fire, trying her best to concoct something edible in rudimentary circumstances. Food wasn’t important though, we had a lake that needed swimming in and woods to be explored. For us kids, it was a grand adventure of the great outdoors. We were very water oriented, and if there was swimming, we needed little else to be happy.

Now that I’m the adult I understand why this wasn’t a great vacation for my mother. As she once said, “Camping isn’t a vacation for me. I’m expected to continue cooking, cleaning and taking care of four kids and, in addition, doing it in much more difficult surroundings without any of the conveniences!”

But camping was what we did for several reasons. My father was a big lover of the outdoors and all that it entailed: the campfires, fishing, swimming and hiking. We lived within a couple hours’ drive to lakes, so it was convenient, but the primary reason we were a camping family was financial.  With four kids, my parents couldn’t afford to take us to Disneyland or even Six Flags over Texas. Staying in a Motel 6 would have been an unimaginable dream for us. Camping was the vacation that fit in our tight family budget.

It wasn’t until I was in middle school that I was awakened to the realization that other families went on different types of vacations. I remember overhearing the “rich girls” discussing their family’s cruises and ski trips over Christmas break, and I was fascinated. People took vacations that didn’t include tents or road trips?! I could barely believe it. I wasn’t even jealous because their stories about their family vacations involving airplanes and big cruise ships were like science fiction to me. How could I be envious of things I wasn’t even sure I believed to be possible?!

As a single mother, our vacation budget was limited, and I fell back into my heritage of camping-but I drew the line at tents. Oklahoma has some great state parks, and my daughters and I stayed in cabins at Robber’s Cave, Western Hills and Roman Nose. I don’t think my daughters felt too deprived that they never experienced sleeping on the hard ground in a mildew-smelling tent, and as a woman alone with two young daughters, I felt much safer with four walls protecting us.

I know hard-core campers would say our use of cabins disqualifies us from using the camping label, but it was a good compromise for my family. Although we eventually progressed to vacations that included more luxurious accommodations, I did want my kids to have some of the experiences of camping. Food tastes better cooked over a campfire and eaten under the stars. Everyone should know what it’s like to hike in the woods, swim in the lake and be at one with nature.

Wherever you camp this summer, be it the great outdoors or the five-star hotel, vacations are about bonding together as a family, and that can be done beneath the stars or under the Marriott Hotel marquees. Happy camping to all!

Categories: Single Stepping