In the mood to get away from it all? Camping can be a fun way to spend your kids’ summer break, but if you’re not exactly the outdoorsy type (ahem, me), the very idea of going off the grid for the weekend is a bit intimidating. These handy tips will help your family safe and sane on your trip.
Try a practice run before the real thing
The idea of pitching a tent in the wilderness is exciting and fun for children, but might be daunting for little ones. Before hitting the road, REI recommends having a camp out in your backyard so that kids can adjust to the idea of sleeping outside, become familiar with the sounds of wildlife and you can address other concerns they may have.
Choose the right camping spot for your family
There are plenty of beautiful state parks and camping spots within a short driving distance from the Chicago area. Have a family meeting and figure out how you want to spend your trip before picking a destination. Interested in fishing and kayaking? Chain O’ Lakes State Park in Spring Grove might be a good pick. If hiking and taking Instagram-worthy family photos are on the agenda, the gorgeous scenery of Indiana State Dunes is just an hour outside of the city. Illinois Beach in Zion offers fun perks like a swimming pool, scuba diving and geocaching. And of course, finding a site that has the the basics like electricity hookups and showers is important, too. Visit Reserve America to research campsites and make reservations.
Summer in the Midwest means the weather can change on a dime. I’m not saying you should pack a parka, but be sure to bring enough sunscreen, bug spray and extra layers so that you’re not finding yourself frantically Googling the closest Walgreens in the middle of the night (spoiler alert: it probably won’t be nearby). Keep a First Aid kit in the car (a good idea year round), pack more water than necessary and don’t forget the entertainment. Kids will inevitably become bored with the great outdoors after a little while so bring along books, crafts and outdoor toys to keep them occupied without resorting to the iPad. Stay safe by keeping lanterns, flashlights and extra batteries at the ready. These long-lasting glow sticks are handy (and fun) for kids that are afraid of the dark.
Keep campsite meals simple
It’s not practical to whip elaborate dinners when you don’t have an actual kitchen to work with, but you can still enjoy tasty food while camping. This site has tons of suggestions for easy campsite recipes. A grilling basket works well for cooking s’mores and grilled cheese over an open fire and an outdoor waffle iron makes for easy breakfasts. Consider bringing a portable grill along if your site doesn’t allow fires.
Have high hopes, but low expectations
Any number of issues can arise when you’re in unfamiliar surroundings with children, especially when there’s no wifi and air conditioning. Don’t expect camping with kids to go perfectly, but embrace the time you’re spending together. After all, these are summer memories that will last a lifetime.