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Posts tagged as “camping”

Outdoor family travel Episode #5 – Even the hangry tantrums will become fond memories after a while.

Ah, school has been out for what feels like centuries and the day you’ve been planning for has finally arrived.  Time to hit the road for some family time!

Let’s continue to be honest with each other.  This is no time for sugar coating the truth.  With expectations sky high, there are bound to be a few hiccups along the way.  And that’s OK.  Because you covered the basics we’ve discussed here before, right?  Let me recap in case you were distracted by your Instagram feed:

1. You chose something that might push a few boundaries, but that everyone can handle. So it’s not an expedition to Mt. Everest, but a weekend of car camping at the nearby state park that happens to have a sandy beach and great wifi.  That’s a good start.

2. You’re ready for the worst, but hoping for the best.  Plan B, AKA the Holiday Inn down the road, is booked with a refundable reservation in case another “storm of the century” rolls in.  Just don’t forget to cancel it, ’cause paying for a comfy hotel room while you fitfully toss and turn on the hard ground might take some of the fun out of the experience.

3 & 4. Your gear is prepped and packed to travel.  This is not the time to figure out that you’re missing the tent stakes because whoever put it away last time didn’t stuff them in the bag.  True story.  Amazon Prime next day shipping is great, but check your stuff at least a week before go time.

©Amy Boyle Photography

The journey can be part of the fun, depending on how far you need to travel.  If it was a lengthy car ride of more than, say, 5 minutes, we figured out pretty quickly to align drive times with nap schedules.  Or better yet, pile the sleeping beauties into the minivan at 0-dark-30.  By the time they wake up and start squirming in their car seats, you’ve stealthily put a couple hours under your wheels.  And bonus, while the precious prince/princess slumbers, you & your spouse actually have windshield time to talk without hearing “Are we there yet?” for the 100th time.  Assuming you remembered the coffee.

As you near your destination, don’t forget to share the plans for the day.  Nobody likes surprises, well, maybe a birthday present or a bonus at work are nice.  But depending on the age of your kids, get them pumped up with some maturity-appropriate details.  Are they going to help unload the stuff and setup the room/cabin/yurt/tent?  If so, play Huck Finn on them so they feel a sense of pride in being able to say they did it.  You’ll still need to do the heavy lifting, but more hands make lighter work, as Grandpa used to say.  Less effective on teenagers who are wise to the manipulative ways of parents.  Thanks a lot, Internet.

The hardest part of the trip may actually be figuring out what to do, but fortunately humans need to eat.  Meals are always a great time-consumer, whether it’s buying ingredients in a confusing grocery store, making something palatable over the most primitive equipment since the stone age, actually eating whatever you’ve managed to concoct, and then cleaning up in the pitch blackness at some nasty camp restroom sink with a drain clogged from several days’ worth of spaghetti-o’s.  Trust me, put some thought into your food and make it part of the outdoor experience.  On a recent trip to the Pacific NW coast, we ended up buying a just-landed salmon directly off the fisherman’s boat.  The kids will never forget Dad showing off his not-quite Bear Grillis skills in turning that beautiful fish into a couple of ragged filets to cook over the coals.

It’s also a great American tradition to outsource things we’d rather not do ourselves.  No, I’m not talking about handing your family off to the nanny for the week.  This is a family vacation, remember?  I’m referring to ranger-led tours.  Yes, your tax dollars provide many benefits, one of which is supporting the folks, sometimes clad in khaki hats or period garb, who take the effort out of parental story telling.  So what if you forget most of what you were taught in 10th grade history?  Dedicated individuals, unabashed specialists in their field, will regale you with colorful stories of human struggles, insights into the natural world, or the technical details of water turbines and fish ladders.  OK, so maybe not everyone’s interested hydroelectric power.

©Jeff Boyle
©Jeff Boyle

Lastly, most families will experience moments which they won’t put on their sanitized “everything is perfect” social media.  It’s true, spontaneous outbursts are normal.  And I’m not just talking about the kids…  You’re probably in unfamiliar surroundings, without the usual distraction of high speed internet, and perhaps pinned down in your tent by pouring rain.  In that instant, you think this is the stuff you’ll want to forget.  But the passage of time has a kind way of turning those misfortunes into adventures.  The Boyles still smile about going out for a short walk on a steamy afternoon, suspecting it might thunder any moment.  Well, it did, and we got soaked.  And that particular event became the signature memory of the trip.

©Jeff Boyle

In closing, planning is important, but so is going with the flow.  The time you spend together as a family in the outdoors may not always be picture perfect, but it’s togetherness that you’ll treasure as the years pass and the laughs outweigh the tears.  And speaking of pictures, how about saving those memories in an actual printed album?

Outdoor family travel Episode #4 – Traveling light.

Why leave home if you’re just taking your entire house/condo/apartment with you?

©Jeff Boyle

     What did your packing list look like the last time you headed out to “get away from it all”?  Did you need an 18 foot moving truck, or could the entire lot qualify for carry on status?  I know, it’s hard to imagine leaving the countertop Cuisinart stand mixer behind for even a couple of hours, let alone a week.  We’ve all had that uneasy feeling pulling out of the driveway that something essential was left behind.  Or the iron plugged in.

     Fortunately there are some easy ways to pare down your adventure travel kit.  If you’re flying, consider taking the TSA’s suggestions seriously.  It’s a simple & effective way to avoid the urge to carry on the small axe or can of mace you thought you’d need at camp.  As we’ve found out not once, but three times, even a pocketknife can’t fly in the cabin.  They will mail it back to you for a small fee.  At least security is consistent.

     If getting publicly hassled by government agents isn’t enough, maybe saving a few bucks is a good incentive to lighten your load.  Most of those clever airlines have figured out ways to extract additional revenue from their customers.  For instance, charging extra for the privilege of entrusting our prized possessions to bar codes and baggage handlers.  No offense other guys, but it’s one of the reasons the Boyles fly Southwest when our plans call for schlepping camping gear halfway across the country by air.

     Or maybe you just want to see out the window of your vehicle as you hurtle down the highway.  We’ve done plenty of 18 hour drives in a fully loaded minivan with four kids to remember what that’s like.  There’s a fine line between using those suitcases on the seats to separate the little angels, and cramming them in like precious pottery in packing peanuts.  Believe it or not, a foldable playpen for the cabin/tent/hotel was one of those essentials when the kiddos were little that actually made the cut.  And while you might want to stow a passenger on the roof, even temporarily, that’s against the law.  Don’t do it.

     Lastly, some outdoor stuff is simply lighter and packs down smaller than others.  I know, you just got done reading Episode #3 warning of the dangers of succumbing to the recreational equipment arms race.  But let’s face it, that enormous quilt that you can barely roll up smaller than a Mini Cooper could be replaced by a modern high performance sleeping bag that packs down to the size of a pregnant grapefruit.  Now you can shove multiple things into one big bag and still stay under the baggage limit!

©Amy Boyle Photography
     Next up: The trip itself.  Yes, even the hangry tantrums will become funny stories when they grow up.

Outdoor family travel Episode #3 –  The right stuff

©Jeff Boyle
©Jeff Boyle

     We’re not talking about that movie from the 80’s about the Mercury astronauts.  Or the insulating spray foam in a can.  That’s Great Stuff, though it could come in handy the next time your kayak springs a leak.  No, I’m not actually recommending taking household repair products on your next outdoor adventure.  Though duct tape has its many uses.  This article is about acquiring the gear that will help you stay safe & somewhat comfortable in the outdoors.

      While my writing tends to take a snarky tone, let me get real for a minute.  Safety in the outdoors, especially with your family, is no joke.  Having the right gear and knowing how to use it means you and your loved ones can be reasonably protected from the conditions that you could experience when you leave the manmade bubble of your home/car/office/hotel.  Repeat after me: “I will not take any shortcuts with being prepared for the weather that could put me or my family’s health (or worse) at risk.”  More people die from exposure to cold & wet than from lightning strikes.  Seriously, be smart out there.

     Fortunately there are many excellent outdoor equipment retailers who have vast amounts of experience and costly stuff to offer you.  However, you don’t need to personally keep them in business to have fun & be safe.  Here are a few tips:

     1. Do you have friends?  Do they like to venture outdoors for a night or two?  Maybe you could work out a trade:  They take your whiny toddler for the weekend and you borrow their tent.  Um, on second thought, how about your in-laws take the precious tot while your buddy loans you his Coleman?  Before you drop your hard earned clams on the latest equipment that might just end up rotting away in your attic when you find out how much your significant other hates bugs, might be best to take a test run with someone else’s stuff.  Just bring it back without any obvious burn holes, or blame it on an errant meteorite instead of the marshmallow sticks your kids were fighting with after dinner.

     2. Stalk outdoor blogs / youtube channels.  This could lead to spending some real money, so be forewarned.  Enter something like “the perfect pair of hiking boots” in the search bar and see what comes up (for example:  Some of the advice out there is commercial promotion or simply crap, but you’ll also find plenty of outdoor enthusiasts who simply want to share their expertise.  And even throw in a humorous anecdote or two.

     3. So you’re ready to commit to your own outdoor gear, but maybe you’re on a budget, a frugal Yankee, love bargain hunting, or all of the above.  Pretty much describes your author to a T.  Do you realize there are actual humans out there who bought new stuff, then decided they didn’t like it / need it / want it?  Don’t let yourself be one of those people!  Take advantage of the depreciation they have already purchased!  Sites like eBay and are terrific resources as long as you know what you want and are OK with the slightly less generous than LL Bean return policy.

     4. Visit your local outdoor equipment retailer or outfitter.  Pick the brains of the staff.  Many of them have actually ventured to the places you want to go, and have done the things you want to do.  Just try not to be one of those jerks that ties up the brick & mortar salespeople for hours, then goes online and buys the same exact stuff from Amazon at a discount.  That is not cool.  You do that enough and these guys are going to close up shop and you’ll have nobody to talk with anymore.  Remember Erehwon?  Well, maybe it was REI that put them out of action…

     The message is simply this.  Other than the minimum clothing and equipment to keep you & your loved ones out of harms way, you can always stock your “adventure closet” over time like the Boyles have.  While it’s tempting to spend thousands on the latest, lightest, flashiest stuff, that’s the mind-control power of marketing!  If you’re just starting out, fight that urge with all your might and borrow or buy pre-owned gear while you’re figuring out what works for your family.

©Amy Boyle Photography
©Jeff Boyle
Next up: Packing it all up.  Why leave home if you’re just taking your entire house/condo/apartment with you?

Outdoor family travel Episode #1 – Choose your interest & level of discomfort you’re willing to endure.

I’d like to welcome my first guest blogger, my husband of over 23 years, Jeff Boyle. Each Monday Jeff will bring a new article that should make you smile as well as be of practical help. His first series is about outdoor family travel. Enjoy! -Amy

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