Decide What Kind of Camping Experience You Want
Are you looking for an intensive backpacking trip? A family-friendly camping trip with the car nearby for excursions? A combination of camping, backpacking, and canoeing or kayaking? Staying in an RV on a campground with water and electricity hook ups? Staying in a hotel, but in a rougher part of town?
Also keep in mind what amenities are important to you. Maybe you can skip showering for a couple of days, but toilets that flush are an absolute must.
Maybe you don’t mind digging a hole to do your business, but you want to be close to a place to get supplies, because you just know, even after following this helpful guide and checking it twice, you’re going to forget something. Maybe you really want to experience the local attractions in addition to the fun of camping out. Whatever it is, decide what’s important to you, because knowing what you want out of the experience will help you make the rest of your decisions.
Where Do You Want It?
Assuming you’re not just popping up a tent in your backyard, there are going to be some technical details to consider in choosing the location for your next big adventure. National parks are great choices as they can cater to a variety of levels of camping experiences, including RVs, lodges, and more primitive and back-country options. However, national parks usually have schedules and often restrictions on when and where you can camp. Be sure to check on schedules and look into reserving camp sites ahead of time, especially if you’re planning on camping during high-traffic times.
What Do You Want to Do?
Most people don’t go camping just to sit around in a tent all day. What else do you want to do? Hiking? Boating? Fishing? Caving? Horseback riding? Look into what options your chosen venue offers, as well as the surrounding area. If you plan to fish, make sure you’ve got the necessary licenses. Don’t overlook some of the lesser-traveled options, either. Some of the best adventures and learning opportunities are to be gained by seeking out that walking tour no one else seems interested in, or chatting up that park ranger, or seeing exactly where that trail goes.
Check out camping resources like REI for exhaustive checklists of what to bring for every contingency. Make sure, at the very least, you’ve got basic first aid kits, and don’t forget your common sense. If you’re going boating, double check the life jackets and the sunscreen. If you’re hiking, take more socks than you think you’ll need. Always, always bring a rain coat, and always, always make sure your tent doesn’t leak before you go.
Speaking of common sense, look into local restrictions on things like bringing in your own firewood (the spread of invasive species like the emerald ash borer is a real concern) and remember not to feed the wildlife. No matter how cute they are. Even if they walk up to the door of your tent and beg for your blueberries.
One of the beautiful things about nature is that it is bigger than we are. When it comes to unplanned adventures on a camping trip, though, that can cause a heck of a headache. Come in with a plan, but don’t be married to it. Don’t let a little rain wreck your trip. Be prepared and be willing to go with the flow and everyone will have a better time. Besides, you just might have more fun bonding with your family playing cards in your tent than you would have on that hike; you’ll never know if you’re too busy being upset about it. (Besides, if you were super-prepared, you’d already have one of these easy-up canopies to keep yourself dry during rain.)