Rethinking the American Vacation: Family Camping

Grayson Highlands, State Park

I grew up in a family that valued family camping. We viewed the country from the backseat of a minivan from national park to national park. My parents had a system, gear in the back toys in a roof rack. Even though I shared a bench seat with my brother, I loved every moment Mount Saint Helens, Sequoia trees you could drive through, The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Mississippi. I even got to ride in the Goodyear blimp with my dad. These trips seemed to have endless possibilities for wonder and amazement as a child.

As a teenager, I became a Boy Scout and eventual Eagle Scout, and my dad opened an outdoor store that has become a Sandhills, NC icon. It’s fair to say that the outdoors and camping were more than just a hobby we had become a family of adventure. Before I married my wife Terri I figured out how to load the car with camping gear and whisk her to the mountains for a weekend in my favorite state park. The reality was that if the future Mrs. Lingle couldn’t enjoy a weekend in the wilderness, the relationship would have been off to a rocky start.

I was strategic I picked a park that had a great shower house and running water facilities. Doing this is a nice touch especially if you’re taking people that haven’t spent a lot of time camping. After a prize-winning spot to camp, the next thing to master is food. I nailed it she had a blast even though it rained an entire day we were there. We continued our adventures taking our then niece along for the ride exploring North Carolina’s State Parks. Camping was a great way to escape the pressures of two-part time jobs each and graduate school without breaking the bank.

After we had graduated from college, we strayed a bit from our adventures after all with our new careers came income. We swapped our tent out for four-star hotels, and the new idea of hiking was to the nearest metro station. We enjoyed this kind of travel together for a couple of years. The year we got pregnant with our son we also adopted our niece we became parents twice overnight! It was a year of absolute miracles there truly is nothing that compares to becoming a Dad and I got to do it twice in two months. It was like having twins but without having to face the pesky problem of probability.

New River, State Park

One of the first lessons I was introduced to as a dad aside from all the things my wife learned babysitting in high school was kids are expensive. Suddenly I knew why parents had that one nice Van or SUV and dad drove a crappy car from the 90’s. Trips to hotels that charge $400 a night instantly seemed like history because my budget was being eaten by baby supplies!

Camping again was the answer for the affordable family getaway but how do I accomplish camping with a baby? I had seen small children in the parks before but it seemed like a lot of extra effort. I decided to give it a try like years before when introducing my wife, I choose the same park with running water facilities. What I found is camping with a baby is not that much different than camping without one just with bottles and diapers. Tip: Take an extra tarp to lay out on the ground especially if your baby is starting to crawl and roll. You can lay him/her on the tarp with toys, and they are just as entertained as in the nursery. Be cautious of areas with sun exposure.

South Mountain, State Park

The trip was a success, and I began to imagine exploring the parks again this time with children. The only obstacle was I have a garage full of great camping equipment and a small, midsize car. I needed to remedy this without blowing my savings so I could take the family on vacations next summer.

I decided to trade my car in what would be a nearly lateral move as far a monthly payments go. I went with a minivan they have captain’s chairs for a second row and fold flat third row. Even with the third row up there is still usable luggage space behind which was not the case with an SUV. The other advantages are way more fuel efficient, and they still tow the same 3,500 pounds that most all SUV’s tow. My wife and I ended up with the quintessential family mover. Then for the price of two nights stay in DuPont Circle I purchased an 8'x5' landscaping trailer. I custom made a rack from iron piping that fit all my roof rack accessories for the trailer. I was ready to take this family on adventures next summer.

Goose Creek, State Park

The advantages of having the tailorable space for more gear/toys was instantly recognizable. The baby tarp wasn’t going to work for a now toddler that was walking all over the place, so I packed the cozy coupe, the wagon, the BOB stroller, a Rubbermaid tub filled with trucks and cars. For my ten-year-old daughter, the rack held all of our bicycles, a canoe, and a kayak. For my wife and I Adirondack chairs and the peace of mind that the children had plenty of things to keep them occupied!

Goose Creek, State Park

Last summer we made four camping trips two in the mountains and two to the coast. We spend a great deal of time chasing waterfalls, canoeing, riding bicycles, and hiking trails. The kids loved every minute of it, and it gave my wife and I some much-appreciated decompression time. Connecting with nature is great, family camping is nearly as American as the hot dog and for a good reason. Everyone gets the opportunity for relaxation and adventure which is priceless but all vacations have a cost.

Let’s discuss cost family camping has the luxury of not requiring that much more than staying at home. You were going to eat the food in the fridge and pantry anyways the only difference is that you’re going to put that in a cooler. You were probably going to drive to your destination for vacation, so the cost of driving is likely to be a wash. Let’s talk overnight stay cost hotels cost hundreds of dollars, and a campsite runs around $20. There are other expenses outside the dollars and cents, though. When staying at a hotel a suitcase with clothes and toiletries are about all you need. When camping not so much, you do need equipment that does have an upfront cost if you don’t already have the equipment. There is also the time spent loading and unloading all that equipment and setting it up at camp and taking it down.

If you don’t mind a couple of hours, prepping and cleaning before and after your trip then there is no better way to get your kids disconnected from electronics and save a few bucks enjoying yourselves on vacation.

Hammocks Beach, State Park

Darrell D Lingle

The Write Connection LLC