In case you haven’t noticed, we are in the middle of a global pandemic, one which is wreaking particular havoc in the United States. For most of us, it has caused significant changes in our lives, forcing us to make choices about even the most routine activities. We have avoided friends and family for fear of making them or ourselves sick, we have set up new home offices for those who are now working from home, and we are in the midst of trying to figure out what the 2020-2021 school year will look like.
COVID-19 is going to be with us for awhile. No one knows when it is going to end and when we are going to be “free” of it. If we’re being honest with ourselves, normal as we knew it is never going to be normal again. That’s not a resignation to the virus, but an acknowledgement that things are changing, quickly, and we are going to have to make adjustments that many of us probably needed to make anyway.
So do we just resign ourselves to staying at home for the rest of our lives?
No, there is another way to get out of the house, regain quality family and couple time, and still adhere to social distancing guidelines that keep you, your family, and your neighbors safe.
Maybe it’s time for your family to finally explore the possibility of camping.
Why should you do it?
I think that it is safe to say that most people agree that all of this time in our homes has not been good for our physical and mental health. While distancing from friends and family has kept us from getting ill, it has also made us lazy, lethargic, and depressed.
If your family is anything like mine, the longer you were isolated at home the more you heard about the desire to do something. Honestly, while I am still really cautious about stores, going shopping became the only real escape for our whole family. When we finally let our kids go with us on occasion trips (with masks on, of course), they were just happy to leave the house and see people besides us and our neighbors.
We should be avoiding crowds, which means amusement parks and waterslides are out, at least for our family. However, we all need a break from the monotony that has taken over our lives and we need to do it in as safely a manner as possible. Camping, in its many forms, gives families of varying budgets and outdoor toleration levels the ability to obtain a needed change of pace in the relative safety of the outdoors.
It isn’t perfect. It isn’t like you are being given your own personal island to explore with zero contact with strangers. However, it is a lot easier to take the necessary precautions and still see the country, or at least travel a couple hours away from your home to see something new.
What are the advantages?
It gets you out of the house. For families likes ours, who have spent the last four months of our life 90% isolated (we still went to the store and we occasionally took the kids to the park to ride our bikes), we needed a change of scenery. Once the Texas state parks reopened, we made our first reservation since the parks had shut down. We didn’t care how hot or miserable the weekend might be, we just needed to not be at home. That first weekend out in June gave us the emotional lift that we needed before we were able to take our planned summer camping vacation to the Rocky Mountains and back.
The outdoors are natural therapy and excellent classrooms. Outdoor exercise, even in the most unfortunate of summer climates, exposes us to sunlight, fresh air, and can improve our body’s rhythms. For parents concerned about loss of learning over the last part of the school year, state and national parks offer a wealth of science and historial education for kids of all ages; just contact parks before you go to find out which opportunities, including Junior Ranger programs, are still available for your kiddos.
Camping adventures can fit most budgets. Once camping becomes a commitment, whether you are in a tent or an RV, it can get expensive. This is mostly because the longer you do it, the more likely you are to seek higher quality goods to make the camping experience more enjoyable for the whole family. However, if you are just starting out, it doesn’t have to be very expensive, especially if you can find someone who will loan you sanitized equipment so you can give it a try. Ask any seasoned camper and they will be more than happy to share their expertise, and sometimes their supplies.
It forces you to unplug. When we went to Colorado my husband and I both took our computers so that he could work (as an IT manager, there are moments when our vacations can feel theoretical, but he’s pretty good about shutting it down) and I could write. I checked my school email once and regretted it and otherwise the only time I was really on my phone was to post pictures to social media. Otherwise, we were in places where data was either spotty or non-existent. If your whole family is struggling with electronic addictions, it is an excellent way to go cold turkey for a weekend and experience books, board games, and outdoor play.
The space is yours. This was especially important to us when we discussed whether or not we were still going to do our summer vacation. We were traveling with a self-contained unit. Our kitchen, sleeping arrangements, and bathroom were all our mess and our germs. We didn’t have to worry about mixing with the germs of others because there were no others for us to worry about.
It helps to support struggling tourism economies. Let’s face it, COVID-19 is destroying cities and towns that are heavily dependent on summer tourism dollars. When we were in Colorado, we were painfully aware that each of the businesses that we chose to support actually needed our dollars. This is especially true of most of our nation’s state and national parks, which are typically underfunded during a healthy economy.
So where do you start?
Pick a location. Normally this is an important part of vacation planning, but this has gotten even trickier over the last couple months. There are states that are requiring quarantine periods and there are hot spots that should definitely be avoided. Make sure you are selecting a location where there will still be things for your family to do and where you can explore outside without endangering your family’s health in a different way.
Decide how you want to camp. We started out as tent campers and we frequently joke that we became the people we used to mock. However, we love our RV. Our camper trailer has allowed us to camp in Texas when it is ridiculously hot and it has kept us from freezing while camping in the desert in the winter. We are able to pack everything but the bikes into one space and just go. RV camping, even if you are going to rent, is still cost prohibitive for some families, but there are many different options, including a couple Air-BNB type groups that allow for RV rental without going through a more expensive rental company. Another option could be finding a camping family who you know has also been responsibly distancing and see if they are up for showing you the ropes. The options really are limitless.
Decide on a reasonable time frame. If this is your first time, go close and only go for a couple days. If you have done it before but it’s been a long time, perhaps go only a couple hours away so that you can come home if you change your mind. But give it a try. I thought I would hate camping forever, but my sister-in-law changed my mind in the Rocky Mountains the summer before I married her brother. We’re still married and I love camping more than ever. It is important to remember, however, that there can be too much of a good thing, so gauge what your family is ready for and don’t overdo it.
We are living through an uncomfortable time, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t explore ways to make our present and our future better. It might be just the right time for your family to explore, learn, and instill a lifelong love for creation.
Sarah is a high school English teacher, yearbook adviser, wife to an amazingly supportive husband, and mom to two quickly growing kiddos. When she’s not working to balance life as a working mom, she uses this space to write about the wonderful complexities of life as a wife, mother, and teacher, as well as her family’s camping adventures whenever they can get out of town.
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