Now, I'm not saying we never stay in hotels on our trips. There are obvious benefits to sleeping in an air conditioned room with a sink and outlets and an ice machine down the hall. Also, if you just need a place to crash for one night when driving across the country and you don't want to unload all your gear, or if it's raining cats and dogs, or if you are spending most of your vacation in a city, a hotel is obviously enticing. But if you are visiting a national or state park for at least a few days, go ahead and pitch that tent. It will make for a more fun, efficient, and all around better trip. Here are some reasons why:
1. It's cheaper
Even the rattiest motel is going to be more expensive than booking a campsite. And if you are staying multiple nights, we're talking a difference of hundreds of dollars. $25 a night is the most I've ever paid for a campsite, and usually it's $15 or less.
2. More room to spread out
You have all been smushed in the car together for hours and hours. You need some space. At camp, people can spread out. The kids have room to run and play and explore. The adults can actually have conversations without shouting. In a hotel, you're always within arms reach of each other. There's no privacy. The kids bounce off the walls. It's just a little bit more difficult to relax. And by a little bit, I mean a whole lot.
3. You get an earlier start
No sleeping half of the day away in a tent. The great outdoors wakes up with the sun, so you usually will too. Getting started earlier has so many benefits. Wildlife is more active in the mornings. By visiting popular hikes or must-sees early, you avoid the heat and the crowds that come with midday. Plus, you are closer to everything because you woke up in the park instead of a hotel 20 miles away.
4. Evenings = Quality time
After a day full of amazing adventure, don't head back to your room and watch tv until you fall asleep. You can do that at home. When the sun goes down, that is the time to sit around the fire with friends and family and just enjoy each other without distractions. Share stories and relive the day as the frogs and crickets provide background music. Let your days end slowly and richly.
5. Truly experience the park
Am I saying that unless you camp, you're not really visiting the park? Of course not. But there are some experiences that only campers can have. Like watching a bison wander by as you eat breakfast. Or falling asleep to the sound of the nearby creek and the smell of spruce trees filling your tent. When you camp, the park stops being a destination, and becomes your home.
6. Food tastes better when you're camping
This may not be scientifically proven...but it's true. Ask anyone who has ever camped. I don't care if it's hot dogs over the fire, or a cold pop tart out of the box, it's just tastes better. I don't know why. Maybe it has something to do with how hungry you get when you're out hiking and exploring. Maybe it's something about eating out in the open air. Maybe it's something more primal. Who knows
7. Kids love it
After so many travels, we have learned that some of our children's favorite times are running around and exploring and playing at camp. They collect rocks and pinecones and frogs. They divide the area up into different imaginary lands with names like "The Forest of Yecch" or "Mossia." The freedom and newness of a campsite feeds their imaginations and lets them truly play. So now, we no longer zip around the parks with barely a 15 minute break between hikes or sight-seeing. We make time to hang out at our campsite, to let the kiddos create their own memories. After all, it's their trip too.
8. It's an escape that you didn't even know you needed
No assault of advertising billboards and commercials. No temptation of fast food or gas station junk. No florescent lights. No constant checking of social media. No binge-watching Netflix. No constant reminders of the latest social outcry, celebrity scandal, or political anything. If you find that you have a phone signal at your campsite. I highly recommend turning it off until you need to intentionally use it.
9. Camping builds character
Sorry to steal from Calvin's dad, but the man had it right. Camping is a challenge. Setting your tent up correctly on the first attempt is a victory. Sleeping, eating, and functioning out in the wilderness is enjoyable, but that doesn't mean it isn't tough. Giving up amenities of your daily life teaches you to find comfort in being uncomfortable. Experiencing these things and coming out on the other side builds confidence and strength and if I'm not laying it on too thick... it just helps shape you into a better person.
10. It instills a love of the outdoors in our kids
My girls will play on iPad just as much as the next child. But if you offer a hike or night in the woods, they will drop just about anything and jump at the chance. They like swimming in lakes, rivers, and the ocean way more than a swimming pool. They've been to Disney World, and they loved it. If you ask them about their favorites trips though, Lily will say Acadia and Sophie will say the Dakotas. We started camping with them while they were babies, and now they love it just as much as we do. Even at their young ages, they instinctively know that the outdoors has so much to offer. They respect wildlife, but they don't fear it. They snooze in a tent just as soundly as they do in their beds at home. They don't whine and quit at the first bump in the road (too hot, bug bites, skinned knees, rain, etc.) They want to explore every cave and hike every mountain and climb every tree. And one of the best things is, this attitude spills over into their every day life. They crave new experiences. They rise to challenges. They set goals for themselves. It may seem hokey, but I truly believe if more parents took their kids camping, this upcoming generation would have a lot more to offer the world.