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Welcome to the second part of my So You Wanna Be a Camper series: Tips to make your first trip a success! If you've randomly stumbled upon this page, be sure to read the first installment: Camping Essentials.
Regardless if you are new to camping or a seasoned expert, chances are the first time you take your kids camping, it will be a little bit of a shock for them. Now that Weston is almost three, he has his little routines and doesn't like to deviate from them too much. He will, but it can sometimes be more than we bargained for. So to get him ready to go camping we started setting up our 'camp' in the backyard for practice. We put up the tent, lay out our blankets, and start a fire. We may even cook a meal over the fire or BBQ. We've done it a few times now and now he asks to 'sleep in the tent' almost every night!
To help you ease into camping I've prepared a few suggestions to help you get yourself and your little ones used to being outdoors for the weekend.
1:: Do a Practice Run
If you are planning on taking your kids camping for the first time, I highly recommend doing a practice run in the backyard first. Set up your tent. Let the kids help. Pack everything up like your going to a campground and take it all apart and set it up - just to see how long it takes you to set up camp. What you can do by yourself while one person watches the kids. What can the kids help with? Cook over the open fire (if you have a firepit) - roast hot dogs or brats on skewers, practice cooking a meal in your dutch oven, make Smores or BBQ. Use all of your camping supplies to make sure everything works.
Since you are your backyard, if your children get uncomfortable or decide they don't want to be outside, etc. you can literally walk right into the house and try again later.
If you don't have a backyard, set up your tent in the living room or a grandparent's backyard or call up a friend and see if they'd be willing to camp out in their backyard with you! Camping is always more fun in numbers!
2:: Find a camping spot close by.
Just outside of the City of Chicago, Cook, Kane, DuPage, McHenry, and Will Counties have campgrounds in local Forest Preserves. Check out my Campground Map for the closest one. One of these is likely less than 1 hour from your house. They are perfect for one or two-night trips to get you and your kids used to the camping lifestyle. Sites range from primitive (no electric, pit toilets), to improved (showers, electric, flushing toilets) to full hook-up for trailers. Again, since your so close to home, you'll be able to get home quickly if an issue arises.
3:: Be Prepared
a) Make sure you have everything you need. There is nothing worse than having to run to the store 6 times to pick-up stuff you forgot. Check out my list of Camping Essentials and download my Camping Checklist for stress free packing!
b) Wherever you go, check out what kinds of activities they have ahead of time. Is there a lake? If you want to rent a boat, is it first come, first serve? Or do you need to reserve it? Can you bring your own boat? Do you need a fishing license to fish? (the answer to this is always yes, btw). How long are the hiking trials? Download a trail map. Do you need a wrap or carrier for the little ones or can you bring the stroller? Can you bring bikes? Are dogs allowed? Can you bring alcohol? Does it have to be in cans only? Do you have to buy wood at the site? (The answer to this is typically yes. To prevent the spread of tree diseases, like Emerald Ash Borer, places request that you 'burn it where you buy it')
So many questions! But the more prepared you are with answers, the better you'll pack and the smoother the weekend will go. Check websites and call the campground with any unanswered questions before you go.
4:: Have a loose itinerary
It's always great to plan, but it's also really, really important to be flexible. If it's raining, you may be stuck underneath a tarp playing cards for most of the day or at the local arcade. Or maybe you get there and decide you'd much rather hike and see whatever cool geological formation or natural ecosystem is there instead of fish? Maybe the kids want to explore? Download a scavenger hunt! Don't get too caught up in the details. Just enjoy yourself and go wherever the feeling takes you.
5:: Don't be shy
Part of the fun of camping is meeting new people and enjoying the experience together. Don't be afraid to let your kids play with the kids next door. Offer your neighbor a beer (if alcohol is allowed). Who knows? You might just meet your new bestfriend!
Are any of you first time campers? Let me know how your first trip went! If anyone has any additional tips, please leave them in the comments below!