There is a difference.
A huge difference.
And I didn’t realize it until five months ago.
My husband and I have camped off and on throughout our entire marriage. Most of the camping was with tents, but when we had kids, we moved to the camper. Let’s just say that we’ve come to expect a certain experience when we are camping and our children have also adopted those same expectations. We camp because it is an affordable escape that gets our family unplugged and out into nature. Our kids play for hours on end with whatever they can find and it usually involves them getting really dirty and ending their day (and weekend) exhausted.
That is what they have come to expect. When we moved down to Texas five months ago we spent the first six weeks in our camper while we waited for our home purchase to go through. We have no regrets. Yes, nearly four months of living in our house has dulled the pain of camper living, but the lessons remain. Those lessons became all the more real when we went camping as a family almost a month ago. Real camper camping. It became perfectly clear that we hadn’t really been camping when we were living in our camper.
Here’s what we learned five months ago: camper living is not the same thing as camper camping. Now that I’ve had five months to mull over the differences and a Christmas break to write about it, here are the differences that we discovered over that six week period.
We are not your typical camper resort type people. Camping is an opportunity for us to expose our kids to nature and the world around them. While it is nice to have access to nice bathrooms, a pool, and other such items, it is more important that our kids have access to trails, parks, and outdoor experiences. That’s one of the reasons we love camping at state parks. The bathrooms are passable, the outdoor activities are plentiful, and the kids can play at the park and ride their bikes to their hearts’ content. Not only that, but they have access to multiple kids their own ages who are interested in doing the same things.
The camper resort that we stayed at wasn’t terrible. We had a nice concrete slab and we were right on the man-made lake so my husband and our kids could go fishing if they wanted to. Our spot was right next to a covered pavilion with a fire pit and an outdoor kitchen. We never used either, especially since we were there during an August heat wave, but if we had not had a nice outdoor kitchen of our own we might have been tempted to use it. The resort had a pool, Internet access, and free fresh popcorn available on a daily basis. But our kids desperately missed having a playground where they could run, play and climb. During our six weeks there we frequently found ourselves at McDonald’s or Chick-fil-a for the sole purpose of a cool playground where they could run out some of their energy.
Yes, we have a camper with a fully functioning bathroom that got A LOT of use while we were living in it. We stayed at a resort with a fairly nice
bathroom with three shower stalls. The only three shower stalls in the whole campground. Why? Because most people there u
ed their own showers and bathroom facilities in their campers or RVs. With a full hook-up it was easy to just give in to our kids’ needs to use the bathroom that was closest to them. My husband and I still took showers down at the resort bathrooms, but we often washed our kids in the shower in the camper because it was more convenient, even with a small hot
On the other hand, when we are camping, we make every effort to find a spot as close to the bathroom as possible. On our first camping trip since moving here, the bathroom was right behind our spot. If any of us needed to go to the bathroom or quickly wash up there was another bathroom right there. I will say that with full hook-ups in most Texas state campgrounds we are a little less hesitant now to use our bathroom for everything, but I will still send our kids out of the camper if at all possible.
I love to cook. My husband loves to bake and grill. And while neither of those things are impossible while living in a camper, we discovered that they become increasingly difficult. When we go camping for a weekend we get all the food that we need for three to five days (depending on the trip). There is enough room in our pantry and our refrigerator to store food for that expanse of time. And we have mastered the art of camp cooking. We use our grill, our camp stove, and the campfire. Once we got the camper and moved away from tent camping, we added our crockpot to the mix. We have made some pretty good meals and they are usually pretty healthy.
The problem with living in our camper (and working and going to school) was we didn’t have time to go shopping every three to five days to get everything that we would need to cook a meal. And then there was the oppressive heat. We have both an outdoor and an indoor kitchen. We love them both but prefer to use the outdoor kitchen so we can avoid both heating and smelling up the camper. When it was 100+ degrees outside the last thing either of us wanted to do was cook outside. Much of the money that we were saving on living in the camper was spent on eating out because it was easier, cooler, and as I mentioned before, it gave us a chance to go somewhere our kids could run and play without driving us crazy. This is one of the many reasons for some of my New Years goals for the year.
In July we moved from a house with nearly 4000 square feet. While it really was too much house for us, a house that large provided me with plenty of steps a day on my Fitbit tracker. On some weekends I could get well over 10,000 steps during the day just from cleaning and doing laundry. Then I would add other exercise (walking the dog or going to the Y) which kept me in pretty decent shape. With a 30 foot trailer it wasn’t a lot of work to go from one end to the other and there were no stairs to climb. While I still walked the dog, the natural exercise that I got from standard living was non-existent.
In contrast, when we are camping I get a lot of exercise. There is camp to set up, hiking, sometimes biking, and chasing after kids in addition to the standard dog walking. Exercise is just a natural part of camping, at least for us, and it is something that just didn’t happen when we were living at a camper resort.
While this may seem like a small thing, every mom knows that one thing that NEVER goes away is laundry. There are always clothes to clean. I feel like I have spend half of my Christmas break doing laundry and I haven’t had to worry about other distractions, like work. When we are camping, all of the laundry for three to five days gets shoved into the bathtub in the bathroom. It’s a great place for dirty laundry because it is out of the way and we can hide it when we close the shower curtain. Unfortunately, when we were living in the camper, there was no escape. I did have access to a laundry facility (and for the first time since our first year of marriage I had to regularly pay for a load of laundry) but I couldn’t do it every day and there were times we were walking on or stepping over piles of dirty laundry, especially once school started and some of us were wearing two outfits a day. It was just one more thing to add to mounting frustration as we waited for our house purchase to go through.
Living vs. Escape:
Camper living is living life (school, work, food, sleep) but doing it in a tight space, made all the tighter by the number of bodies placed in the camper. For six weeks we had four people and a dog in our 30 foot camper. With only one slide out, our “extra” space was quickly overrun by all of the stuff we “needed” for every day living. The space got more crowded once school started. Our daughter had homework, I had grading and lesson planning to do, and my husband, who has been working from home since we moved, had to find space to spread out his laptop and all of his other work supplies. Not only were we on top of each other, our stuff was on top of our stuff. We did everything we could to cut everything down to the bare minimum but we needed stuff for school, work, play, and daily living. We were also dealing with mail and document after document related to our upcoming home purchase.
Camper camping is an escape from everything: technology, work, school, household chores, etc. Our kids are allowed to bring a select number of toys and activities, my husband and I bring a couple books (and depending on the time of year, grading for me), and we head out with the intention of hiking, biking, and chilling. When we went to Sam Houston National Forest at the beginning of December, it was a welcome, much needed break. And it was real camping. We had campfires and s’mores, we went hiking, the kids played outside in the dirt, and we cooked outside. I know that some thought we were never return to our camper for a real camping trip, but we were finally back doing what we love doing as a family.
We don’t regret our month and a half living in our camper. It really was memorable and it works out for us. But it wasn’t camping. And now we are glad to be back to camping for real, we just need to pick out our next Texas adventure.