Camping Wrong Made Right

Amber Thrane and her family roasting marshmallows over a fire by an Airstream Travel Trailer RV

When I was a kid, my family did a lot of camping. My five siblings and I would pile into the RV and laugh or listen to the rumble of the road as we traveled across state lines. My mom strummed her guitar and sang for us every night, and my siblings and I fell asleep counting the glow-in-the-dark star stickers on the ceiling. Wherever we went, nature would unfurl some new awe-inspiring sight for us, and I felt a deep connection to both the earth and myself under that wide blue sky. We didn’t need money or toys to have fun; we had each other and anywhere the road could take us.

My husband, Bryan , and I wanted our own three kids, Marley, Lennix and Crosley, to have that same experience of togetherness and adventure. So for our first camping excursion, we planned a trip to Mammoth, California. The kids pitched in to plan the details, from where we would camp, to where we would hike and fish. Our car filled to the brim with tents, sleeping bags, food, hiking supplies and fishing gear, we set out, smiling ear to ear and holding high hopes for a memorable family bonding experience.

Cue the ominous music.

After seven hours of driving, we arrived at Mammoth and hopped out of the car to pull our brand-new tent out of its packaging. Although we had no idea how to set it up, we scouted a beautiful spot near the river, and set about the process of pitching it.

An hour and a half later, we’d finally wrestled it into place.

Just in time for the temperature to drop to freezing.

Tucking the kids into sleeping bags for warmth, we tried to make a fire. But the winds grew so strong that the fire wouldn’t stay lit. Instead of the hot, homey dinner I’d envisioned for our first camping trip, we resorted to eating snack bars and fruit instead.

As we were eating, the campground host stopped by and mentioned that there had been bear sightings in the campground recently. He warned us to stay in our tents at night. And even though that spooked me a little, I put on a happy face to keep things positive for the kids. So we climbed into our tent and huddled close in our sleeping bags, snuggling for warmth even as the tent swayed in the wind.

These moments together as a family are the ones I cherish the most.

A few hours later, in the pitch black night, Marley woke me up. Her stomach was upset and she felt like she might be sick. Heeding the camp host’s warning about the bear sightings, I was scared to walk her through the forest to the campground bathroom. We unzipped the tent, and she stuck her head out, vomiting on the ground just outside every few hours.

Sunrise took an eternity to arrive. With the return of a little light, we packed up as fast as we could and headed to a nearby hotel. Between the freezing temps, strong winds, threat of bears and physical illness, it felt like the world had conspired to dash all our fantasies of the perfect first camping trip.

But we weren’t ready to give up on camping altogether. We bought an RV, giving us a solid shelter in the wilderness. It has all the comforts of home: comfortable beds for five, a place to cook out of the wind, and easy and private bathroom access. (No bears allowed!)

We still spend most of our time outside together. The kids love to ride their bikes, and Bryan and I take turns surfing with them when we’re on the water. At nights, we cuddle around the campfire, telling jokes and enjoying being fully present with each other. When we’re camping, Bryan and I have the luxury of giving our kids our undivided attention--a memory I think every kid should have. I know that my little ones won’t be little for long. Every adventure with them feels like an amazing gift.

I love that in California we can road trip from the mountains to the beach in a few hours!

So, while it can be hard to step out of our daily routines and into the unknown, the more we practice, the more we bring a spirit of adventure and flexibility back home with us. As my kids grow up, I know they’ll value the memories we create together, like the time we tried to catch tadpoles at the lake, or a sand castle we built together at the beach. Those memories are worth more than any item money can buy, and I can’t wait to relive them around the campfire one day when my kids have children of their own.

The RV featured in this story is a 1967 Airstream Overlander.

When we’re camping, Bryan and I have the luxury of giving our kids our undivided attention--a memory I think every kid should have. I know that my little ones won’t be little for long. Every adventure with them feels like an amazing gift.


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