If you have children and you camp, then I am going to guess you have at least mentally tackled the question: do you allow friends of our children to go along on camping trips? We have two children (with a significant gap between ages) and quickly found ourselves pondering this question very early on in our camping journey. Because of the way we camp, group camping with friends, our daughter has a playmate at every single camping trip but that has never been the case for our oldest.
We had a popup trailer the first time The Boy asked us if he could bring a friend along on a camping trip. Wayne and I processed the request differently. I started calculating bed space and extra food. He never made it past the bathroom situation. The popup camper had a cassette toilet and the only privacy was a shower curtain. Knowing an unrelated person was behind the curtain made him super nervous. We never took that friend camping but we did start looking for a different camper.
The great thing about children is they continuously present you with second chances. Last year The Boy asked if he could take his best friend along on our family vacation to the Smoky Mountains. Two weeks traveling in the campers with The Todd family. It was a simple request on the surface but not a simply decision.
There are several considerations for us to mentally think through before we agree to take another child on a trip with us. Even though we enjoy less structure during our trips, there are still camper rules: pick up after yourself, no running or jumping in the camper, no feet on furniture, and leave the outside voices outside to name a few. There are even campground rules: respect the other campers, no cutting through other campsites, quiet hours, no wondering off alone or without permission. The question we must ask ourselves is, “can this guest follow our rules or be redirected if needed.” Our agreement to take another child camping with us hinges on the answer to this question.
If we make it past the first step, the second step is to ponder the personality of the invited guest. Your child obviously gets along well with this friend but how well does the rest of the family? At the core you are simply assessing family dynamics. The addition of one can, and will, alter the status quo of your family. Big brother can be less likely to play with younger sister when his friend is around. Hopefully this child has spent some time around your family so you can assess what type of impact their presence will have on your camping trip. Do they interact with everyone in the family? Are they standoffish? Do they join in during activities or do they watch from the side lines? Camping trips can be fun moments for a family full of adventure and new experiences but also be full of moments of down time. Do you know enough about the invited guest to make an informed decision about the impact they will have on the camping trip just by being there?
I am thankful that my children love camping, and even love camping with us. I can count on them to be salesmen when talking to their friends. They are going to point out all the reasons that camping is cool and why their friends should go along with us. I, on the other-hand, am the realist. I want to explain to their friend all things that a novice to camping might not think is cool. Things like; all the kids sleep in the same room, or that conserving water is a really big deal to us and all showering will happen at the campground bathhouse. I will even let them know about lack of internet, cell service, general activities we engage in, and the fact that we generally do not eat out. I am hoping that between my children glamorizing our time together and my realistic preview, the guest has a good idea of what is about to go down if they decide to join us for a camping trip.
I would imagine some would add expense to the list of considerations; and I believe that is valid. Of course and extra person comes with expenses: food, activities, or even camping fees (some private campgrounds charge a per person fee). There are ways of handling the extra expense. You could ask the parent to cover some of those cost but we have always taken the stance that if we take on the responsibility of taking another child we also take on that expense. This has worked for us.
Lastly, before we say yes, we go right back to the popup camper and the close quarters. Do you have physical space for another child? Everyone needs privacy and a sense of boundaries. Families have a long history of establishing these but a newcomer to that mix won’t have that history. Walking around in your skivvies may feel comfortable at home or in your camper with your family but suddenly with a stranger present feels inappropriate and naughty. Even having a cocktail after dinner feels different when looked at from a strangers perspective.
We did consent to taking our sons friend with us on a two week vacation. The inclusion of one more balanced things out for us; everyone had a buddy and everyone got along so well. I actually think we had less sibling spats on that trip than we have ever had. The vacation ended up being one of the best vacations we have ever had. My son and his best friend still talk about that vacation and the memories they made and now share.
We have said yes to taking other friends of our children on trips since then (our camper upgrade in 2015 has made that so much easier). We love camping and love sharing that with others. Every time a child goes with us and they say, “I have never done this before,” “I did not know that,” or even, “this is so cool,” we get excited. We hope that we are planting a seed, a seed that will continue to grow and might just develop into a love for the outdoors and for camping. We hope we are introducing a new generation to something they will see as an escape, or a way to disconnect from a busy world, or a lifestyle. Enjoying life can be about small moments. Our biggest hope is that besides our own two children, one of the “extra” kids we have taken camping will grow up to be a camper.
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