Posted: Jan 01, 2013 5:00 AM
Yes, camping is a lot of work, but in my experience it's actually less work than other vacations. Here are five reasons you should try camping this spring and summer.

I already know what you’re going to say: “Camping? No way. Too much work.” Or maybe the dirt bothers you, or the bugs, or the sleeping arrangements of questionable comfort. And I get it, I do. But check it out: Vacationing with kids is often more annoying than fun. Have you hung out in a hotel room with three kids? Restaurants, waiting in line, tantrums, heat and whining? Yeah. Some vacations are really not fun.

I’ve tried many kinds – hotels, vacation home rentals, staying with friends – and I maintain that camping is the best all-around family vacation. Here’s why:

  1. It’s inexpensive, potentially gorgeous, and exciting. If you do a little research (talk to some avid campers), and book a campsite in advance, you can end up with a spot alongside a hidden lake or crystal-clear spring creek. You can end up with a spot next to a meadow, or in a redwood tree grove. You can discover a swimming hole in a river, or a rock to jump from, or a pristine lake surrounded by granite, with water so clear you can see your feet. This actually happened to us last summer. It was one of the best afternoons of my life. And the price cannot be beat. Even the most “high-end” campsites are less than half the cost of a mid-to-low range hotel room.
  2. It’s actually relaxing. And in that spot, you’ll be able to actually relax. Why? Because you have a built-in, round-the-clock child entertainment system in the form of nature. Sticks, rocks, water, dirt. Logs to climb on, meadows to run in, water to swim in. Hang a hammock and have kids entertained for hours (when they’re not bickering over whose turn it is, of course). Set your toddler up with a bowl and a spoon. She’ll squat and “dig” for hours, filling her bowl with dirt and pine needles and bark. Meanwhile, you can hang out in a camp chair and eat or read or just sit there, relaxing.
  3. Dirt and mayhem are finally okay. When vacationing somewhere other than camping, it’s generally expected that your kids will bathe and wear clothes. Restaurants tend to frown upon filthy, barefoot kids without shirts. But when you’re camping? No matter. And that, my friends, is parental bliss. Your kids, finally, can just be kids and you don’t have to worry about it. They can be loud and get dirty and stay dirty. They can run and freak out and flail. You’re camping. It doesn’t matter. Unless it’s “quiet hours” in the night, your kids can just let loose, which means you can let loose. Enjoy.
  4. Camping is healthy. Camping forces your family to disconnect. It forces everybody of their cell phones and tablets and computers. For a few days, you just have to be. Outside, in the elements, with each other. Read a book. Sleep. Walk around. Swim. It’s a freeing, beautiful thing to spend a few days “unplugged.” After I’ve been away from all social media and technology for a few days, I notice my mind is notably clearer. I feel calmer. Though there’s always work to be done when you get home (unpack, wash things, bathe offspring), I’m glad to be home, I feel rested and alive, and I’m ready to get back into “real” life.
  5. Lasting advantages to children. A couple years ago, my kids found a “water slide” on this river we were camping near. It was a gently sloping water fall between two giant granite rocks. It was strong enough to push them along at a fun pace, but not so fast it was dangerous. At the end of the “slide” was a big, clear swimming hole. They grabbed their big rubber tube and went down that slide at least 40 times. They would have gone 200 more times if we hadn’t run out of time. As I watched them, I realized they were bonding with the earth, right then. They were learning to love this planet in a very personal, real way. By playing with her, so to speak, by finding so much joy in her rocks and water, they were developing a genuine interest and love for the earth. And that’s nothing but good, considering this currently our only planet.

Yeah, I know I sound like a hippie, particularly with the “love the earth” thing. But I’m serious. When we’re camping, I watch my kids at their happiest. They say Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, but I disagree. It think it’s the little waterfall along a river you found with your brother that one summer when you were a kid, and you played for hours in the sun and rocks and water, sure that afternoon would never end, or hoping, at least, that it wouldn’t.

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