This article originally appeared in the Jayco Journal.
Isn’t it great when you can look back and laugh at an epic camping fail?
We have all had those trips that did not go exactly as planned, and ours was four years ago on a chilly weekend at Camp Taylor in the Skylands Region of New Jersey. Our family was still new to RVing, and we had only been on three trips with our pop up camper.
Let’s just say our lack of experience was embarrassingly obvious that weekend. From running out of propane in the middle of a 35-degree night, to an epic toddlers’ meltdown during a wolf preserve tour, we had our fair share of ‘moments.’
This past week we returned, and the experience was everything a great camping trip should be, full of playing, hiking, fishing, and lots of great eating.
So what changed? Mostly us. After spending over 100 nights in our RV, we have learned a few things. Here are the three most important lessons we can share from the past four years…
1. The campsite is everything, so do your homework.
It took us a while to realize that no matter how nice the campground is, your personal site must suit your needs as a family. A waterfront site sounds amazing right? Well, it turns into a stressful experience if you have twin two year olds trying to take a swim in the creek every moment of the day.
Our first site at Camp Taylor four years ago was surrounded by a beautiful, rocky landscape. Guess what? Toddlers love two things: climbing on rocks and throwing rocks, so we spent much of the weekend kissing boo boos and telling them no, no, no. Not ideal.
Now we take the time to talk to campground owners about our needs as a family. We are very specific about what we want—close proximity to the playground, little to no through traffic, and a bit of distance from neighbors who may be bothered by our children’s noisy antics. It may take a long phone call and a bit of persistence, but the perfect campsite for your family will change your vacation experience.
This year at Camp Taylor, we had a wooded back-in site with a wonderful open field in front for the kids to run, kick a ball, or play tag. The kids had fun and the adults relaxed. That is the very definition of a perfect site.
2. Be prepared, but be flexible.
We do a whole lot of planning before we leave on any vacation. That first trip to Camp Taylor was scheduled from start to finish. So even though our boys were tired from that first cold, sleepless night we tried to stay on schedule and move through the itinerary. Big mistake.
This year we had a general list of possible activities, but were always willing to adjust depending on the family mood. On Saturday the sun came out even though rain had been forecast, so we jumped in the car and headed toward the Delaware Water Gap to hike Mt. Tammany. The next morning we were planning on fishing but saw an advertisement for an Animal Frolic at a nearby farm. This ended up being one of the highlights of our trip, and we still fit in fishing later that day.
It certainly helps to do your research, but don’t get to flustered if you hit a speed bump. Just adjust the plan and keep having fun.
3. Find your own authentic experience.
When we first starting RVing, we tried really hard to create that authentic camping experience. We were packing coolers, cooking over the campfire, and gathering kindling from the nearby woods. Many of these ‘camp chores’ can be really difficult and time consuming with little kids underfoot.
It took us a little while to realize we didn’t have to rough it if we didn’t want to. We learned to embrace all the amenities that our travel trailer offered. The air conditioning, heat, refrigerator, and microwave get tons of use on all of our trips. The crockpot supplies many of our camp dinners.
We travel in our RV to find that perfect mix of adventure and relaxation as a family. Whatever helps us raise the fun level and lower the stress level becomes a part of our own personal authentic experience.
What lessons have you learned from years of RVing? Do you do things differently now than you used to? We would love to hear your stories!