I will admit it. About 12 hours into our camping trip, I was already fantasizing about bailing. I was lying in our tent’s predawn glow, essentially on the ground (because my circa-1985 Thermarest had slowly deflated over the course of the last 6 hours) and I was trying to stay as still as possible so that I wouldn’t wake Little Bear who was about 18 inches away.
I had it all planned out. The Captain and Junior, sound asleep in their own tent, could stay the course and I would bring Little Bear back to my parents’ house, not far away, where I would sleep on a real bed, in complete silence and darkness, and wake to espresso. It would be decadent.
You have probably already figured out that our family is not one to dabble. We do not in general lightly sample but instead tend to dive headfirst into whatever adventure is next (after The Captain checks the water, that is.) This is how we came to spend four years living on sailboats, how we came to buy a house sight-unseen, and how we came to have two little boys in the span of 19 months. So it should not come as a surprise that when we decided to take the boys camping for the first time, we booked an off-grid site for the middle of September in New England.
Truthfully, the site books up six months in advance so, having not come up with the idea until March, September was the earliest availability. But timing aside, we did purposefully choose a campground that had no running water, no electricity, and no street access. There would be no retreating to the car for a morning coffee run, no asking our neighbors if we could borrow some dish soap, no packing the car full of supplies for every possible what-if scenario. We would have to arrive, with all commodities, by boat and rely only on what we had packed.
But, I did not end up leaving early. I ended up lying perfectly still for another hour, until Little Bear began to stir, and I dared to unzip the tent and step into the dewy morning. After my morning coffee and a sunrise swim, the world was right again.
We only spent two nights out there with the boys, but it was long enough to know that we wished we could stay much longer and that next time, we will. The learning curve was steep, and I’m sure there will be plenty more to learn next time.
To get started, here are ten things I learned this time along the way:
1. Never underestimate the power of simple comforts from home.
My children are creatures of habit and nothing says comfort to them like a cup of warm milk and a snuggle with their lovies. This was one area in which we didn’t skimp. If you have a comfort routine at home, stick with it on-the-go. Along these lines, I left my pillow at home, and missed it all weekend. If you have the space, pack the things from home that bring you the greatest and most basic comfort. A pillow and a steaming mug of hot coffee in the morning are pretty much all I need.
2. Surrender the schedule
Before I had kids, I was one of those extra-annoying people who talked about how, when I did have children, they would be super flexible and “just along for the ride.” HA! I’m officially sorry to everyone who had to listen to that bull. My kids are the opposite of “along for the ride.” In fact, sometimes I feel like it’s me who’s being taken for a ride!
We have a pretty rigid schedule that we usually stick to in order to make sure that the kids are getting enough rest and eating healthily. When we can’t stick to the schedule, they tend to transform from adorable, affectionate little munchkins into holy terrors. Have you seen what happens when you feed a Gremlin after midnight? Very similar experience.
In any case, when camping, it went out the window. The kids were up late with the campfire. They were up early with the sun. They rested multiple times during the day, sometimes napping, sometimes not. They did a lot of snacking. A LOT. But since the entire day was pretty open without any commitments, we were able to make it work. They were still mostly well-rested and well-fed, so this laissez-faire approach worked better for our schedule while camping. It was not easy for me to let go of our usual schedule, but things were SO MUCH easier once I waved the white flag.
3. Good company is key!
Since The Captain and I already spend enough time staring into each other’s eyes (just kidding . . . kind of!) we brought along some good friends and their daughter. It was awesome to have our friends along, and not just because they brought all the things we forgot. Friends also bring a fresh perspective and, when needed, a different voice to tell your kids to quit it. These friends in particular were a huge help because they had spent a lot of time on the island in the past, and could show us around! Plus their daughter playing with our boys is just about the cutest thing ever.
4. Coffee. As much as possible. As soon as possible.
Enough said. But really, this is no different from my daily life.
5. No shame in plan B.
Even though I didn’t end up taking Little Bear to seek refuge with Nana and Poppy, if he had not started sleeping better and had the weather not been as good as it was, we would have. It was comforting to even know that was an option. And there is no sense in making everyone miserable just to say you finished what you started. Remember, 365Outside is not a competition – it is supposed to be fun.
6. The greater the risk, the greater the reward.
Though it would have been a lot easier to drive up to a campsite, pull the tent out of the car, and set it up right there, it wouldn’t have been as fun. We are adventurers, after all! We didn’t want to be in a cramped campsite, wedged between strangers and tripping over each other. Instead we chose a campground accessible only by personal boat, with only 10 campsites total. It was quiet and there was a ton of space to spread out. Our campsite even had its own private beach. We spent most of the weekend blinking at each other, repeating how we couldn’t believe how amazing the place was.
7. Pray to the weather gods
We seriously lucked out! When we booked this back in March, we knew that September could be a gamble. It could have been 50 degrees and rainy. There could have been a hurricane. It could have been completely miserable. Instead, it was 77 degrees and sunny. There is no way we’d have been able to stick it out if it had been horrible weather. We are all for enjoying the outdoors regardless of the weather, but with nowhere to truly dry off and warm up, the kids would have been a wreck within a few hours. We were so grateful to enjoy this last gasp of summer!
8. It gets easier the longer you’re there.
We wished we could stay longer not only because we were having so much fun, but also because it takes a while to settle in and get the hang of things. The second night was much easier (as in, we actually slept) and the kids were really getting the hang of things. It only took a full 36 hours of repeating “Do not wear your shoes in the tent,” before they began to listen. Imagine the possibilities if we’d stayed a week! They would have probably achieved world peace . . . or world domination. Hmmmmmmm.
9. Children are primal, wild beasts.
As soon as we got off the boat and unloaded what was, literally, a boatload of gear, the kids went nuts. It was like returning a wild animal to its natural habitat. They sniffed around for maybe two minutes and then were immediately running in circles, kicking up dirt, making crazy little hooting sounds. Our friends’ daughter was literally picking up handfuls of dirt and rubbing them into her scalp. Little Bear found an old half-burnt log and smeared the ashes on his face before he tried to take a bite of it. And you know what? That’s ok. No, I’m not going to let him eat things he finds lying around in the woods, but it’s ok for them to get filthy. It’s ok for them to let loose. That’s why we’re here. It’s nothing a dip in the ocean won’t take care of.
10. It’s all about the memories.
Our kids had their first s’mores. They watched their first sunrise over the water, in their jammies, before stripping down for a morning swim. They built sand castles, dug rivers, foraged for firewood, and went “bear-hunting.” They went to sleep when it got dark and woke when it got light again. For a few days, they lived a simpler, happier life. And that makes me happy too. We will definitely be back.