It's summer, and summer is a time to go CAMPING—at least four times, according to my husband. As a kid who mostly preferred reading on the glider to any other outdoor activity and an adult whose idea of a good time is trolling garage sales and making lists in coffeeshops, spending a quarter of my summer (or something like that) in the woods has taken some getting used to. I do it because Jon has brainwashed our kids into loving camping, and if they're going to be tenting it up all of those weekends, I will tag along. I also do it because Jon mostly plans camping excursions with a giant posse of people I REALLY like, which sort of spins the whole situation into a party I don't want to miss.
So now I camp. Four times a summer. Which makes me an an expert camper of a sort—the sort who doesn't really do any of the set-up but comes along and has a good time. I've learned a lot along the way. And I like to share. Here are my secrets:
1. Stick to the packing list.
The one you saved on your iPhone—the little "I've got your back" post from the past. The one that looks super personal because it mentions your favorite hat (which you bought for $38 four years ago to bribe yourself into happy camping) but can't really be because it mentions RAIN PANTS. Which you must definitely do not have. Or maybe you do. What are they? "Booties"... ??? Anyway, you probably will be OK if you stick to this list, or any list, and you do not unpack half the things when the Doppler radar and your dad-in-law who's visiting result in your leaving a day later than planned.
Upshot: that "shoes suited to the terrain" bit is really important. PS: If you're going to forget all terrain-suited shoes, make sure your posse includes a friend who literally gives you the flip-flops off her feet and a 10-year-old who lends you his hikers so you can hoof it to the cool beach with his mom. PPS: As it turns out, you actually probably don't need that beanie or those mittens in late June. Or the leg warmers, really.
2. Know what you're getting into.
Are you staying for two days? Three? Are there things to keep your kids and your brain busy? Where will you get your coffee? Will you be driving in (and can escape at any moment)—or do you need to boat to an island where you'll stay until morning even if it there's a lightning storm? Maybe you'll be canoeing to that island with two bikes, a cot, a tent, a cooler (but not terrain-suited shoes), your two children paddling alongside in kayaks. Just know. And go. KNOW. AND GO.
3. Find your happy place.
When you find yourself in an uncomfortable place, find a positive perspective. Literally. Look at a pretty flower. Or a cloud. If maybe you're in a canoe with allll the things, ask for the seat that faces the gentle waves and your strong, brave children, not the one behind the pile of bikes and things that, at any moment, might topple out of the boat and tip everything else.
4. Don't forget sunscreen.
And by don't forget, I mean APPLY. Vitamin D, shmitamin me. And I have olive skin too. Outdoor adventures require adequate protection. Even if you're just chasing two kids on kayaks who paddled away. You may decide you want to circle the whole island. If you do that with naked thighs, believe you me, you're going to be sorry.
5. Eat good food, drink good coffee.
If you're a reluctant camper, a propane grill and a coffee press will change your life. If you're feeding kids—or impatient adults—heating up ready-to-go foods is a fine idea. If camping isn't camping without your cooking famous smoky meat sauce from scratch and boiling pasta over the fire, you're not a reluctant camper. For those friends who are, bring snacks.
6. Soak up the scenery.
Basking in the beauty of nature is the reason you go camping. So watch every minute of that sunset. Wake up early and gaze out over the water. Take pictures, too, so next time, when you feel that anxiety rising, you can look at the pictures, get super psyched, grab your fancy Happy Camper hat—and your Tevas or hikers or at least flip-flops—and head for the woods, happily. (Or willingly—and be be super happy you did.)