When my husband and I first started dating, I didn’t give him much of a choice when it came to how we would be vacationing. My extended family had been camping together since my mom was in grade school and the memories of spending our summers together were — and still are — some of my favorites. If you’ve been on the fence about trying a camping adventure with your family, here are a few reasons it might be your best trip ever.
You’ll make memories your kids will never forget.
I was a much older child before I realized that everyone else’s summer vacations did not look like mine. I’m not sure when I noticed that people stayed in hotels and didn’t pack in laundry baskets, but I’ll never regret those simple family vacations. Maybe you’re dying to ask why we would want to spend seven (or fourteen!) days in a travel trailer with our three kids, but the close proximity breeds a different atmosphere and it’s one of my favorite things about camping.
- While the inside of our camper is pretty darn cute, we spend the majority of our time outside. All of the Alabama State Parks provide ample trails for hiking and biking, but Gulf State Park’s are our favorite. Their newly expanded bike paths and boardwalks make navigating the park a breeze and make it even easier to access local restaurants, the beach pavilion, and other areas outside of the campground.
- We make sure to pack plenty of things for the kids to do, because they will say “bored” just as quickly on vacation as they do at home! We have a cabinet in our camper filled with boredom busters like jigsaw puzzles, board games, card decks, and no mess craft supplies. In one of our outdoor storage bays, we keep hammocks, a sprinkler, Frisbees, sand toys, and sidewalk chalk. Don’t panic if your little ones are really little — we’ve been camping with our girls since they were newborns. It might require a little more gear, but some of our favorite trips have been in their first few years.
- The slower pace is one of my favorite things about camping. When I was a little girl, camping in a tent, it was understood we went to bed at sunset and woke up bright and early. I’m sure this wasn’t an accident on my mom’s part, but we’ve adopted that schedule as our default when on vacation. Unless we head out for dinner at a nearby restaurant, you’ll find us under the covers with a book by 7:00 p.m. Many campgrounds enforce quiet times, so you won’t be the only ones going to bed early.
“Camping” can be as luxurious or primitive as you’d like.
To those who backpack or spend their adventures in a tent, sleeping in a relatively cushy travel trailer might not seem like “roughing it”. But for those used to a five star hotel, the thought of a public bath house probably sounds like a nightmare. When I was a little girl, my mom carried us to the beach on a shoestring budget — we had a very simple tent, kept our clothes in laundry baskets in the trunk of her car, and made all of our meals from items stored in our ice chest. The older we got, the more upgrades our camping trip got, but it wasn’t until after I married that I slept in a travel trailer. Those tent memories are some I’ll never forget, but I wouldn’t trade my air conditioning and apartment sized fridge to go back! You can certainly push your boundaries a bit, but there are plenty of ways to “camp” without sleeping on the ground.
- A tent is the simplest and quickest option, when it comes to packing and setting up. If you’re adventurous, it’s a great place to start since it doesn’t exactly require a commitment. Most state parks offer tent-only sites, and some even have primitive camping areas, if you’d like to forego water and electrical hookups.
- Shortly after we got married, my husband and I bought a tiny travel trailer that was perfect for our family of two. We upgraded once our family started growing, but you can make do with much less space than you think. While they can be an investment, they aren’t as complicated as they seem. If you purchase from a dealership, they will show you all the bells and whistles and give you great advice on how best to use them.
- During cooler months, we have opted for a cabin rental instead of hauling our camper. Many state and federal parks have cabin rentals, but you’ll need to book farther in advance, since these fill up much faster. They are often pretty basic, but having your own bathroom makes it worth it.
There are plenty of campgrounds right in your back yard!
The movies always show families taking their inaugural trip to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but you don’t have to plan a grand vacation for your first. Did you know that Alabama has 22 state parks to choose from and many of them aren’t too far away?
Here are a few of our very favorite Alabama State Parks:
- Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores is our favorite park for summer vacations. With two miles of private beaches and 496 campsites to choose from, it’s a no-brainer for the warmer months. There is a nearby dog park, golf course, plenty of hiking and biking trails, nature center, splash pad, and more.
- DeSoto State Park in Fort Payne has hosted our family’s Thanksgiving many times. With only 94 campsites, it’s a much smaller park; but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in personality. There are so many dreamy trails and hiking destinations and it’s the perfect backdrop for campfires and cooler weather adventures.
- Wind Creek State Park in Alexander City is not only the largest state park, but one of the largest state-owned campgrounds in the United States. With 696 campsites and seven cabins available to reserve, it is easily one of the most family-friendly camping destinations and less than two hours from the Birmingham area.
Camping can be a really inexpensive option for travel.
We’ve often been asked why we would purchase and maintain a travel trailer for a few trips each year, but the reality is — owning a trailer is still much cheaper than a few weeks’ stay in a hotel or condo. Those savings aren’t our only reason for camping, but if you’re trying to budget and your vacation is on the chopping block, it’s a fun and inexpensive option.
- Would you believe it if I told you an entire year of RV payments, plus insurance premiums and camping fees, comes in just under what a two-week stay would run us at our favorite beach? That means we can double the length of our trip and still have room in the budget for dinners out a few fun excursions.
- If you aren’t in the market for a camper of your own, there are plenty of reliable places to rent one, and I think you’d be surprised at how inexpensive they can be. Many places offer senior citizen discounts, seasonal specials, and reduced rates if you rent for a full week. Renters will demonstrate how to use everything in the trailer and can even set it up on your campsite for an additional fee.
- Camping in a tent is obviously the least expensive option, but that depends on how much additional gear you might need. The lower maintenance your experience, the less expensive it will be!
There is a place for luxury amenities among your vacation memories, but I love that my kids have to work a little harder for their fun when we camp. It isn’t an easy trip — have you ever emptied the sewage tank of a camper? — but it is a simple one.