Pitching Camp

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Growing up, I don’t ever remember going camping.

Backpacking yes, camping no.

My father was a bit on the extreme side, you see. (Fortunately these traits are not at all dominant) so backpacking meant packing light, and fishing for dinner, and carrying heavy things for long distances into the Stanislaus wilderness area with the entire family in tow.

Someone would usually catch heatstroke. Each kid would cry at least once. There would be fly fishing. There would be the construction of lean-to tents made out of stones and tarps and tree branches. There would be the building of huge bonfires out of found wood. And there would often be the construction of a sauna/”sweat lodge” next to a swimming hole.

And my memories of these trips are overwhelmingly vivid and positive.

But the thought simply never occurred to me that we could drive to a campsite as a family, and pitch a tent next to our car, and build campfires and make smores, and wake up the next day and do it all over again.

So last year when I went car camping with my family for the first time, it was a bit of a letdown.

It wasn’t exactly the wilderness experience my upbringing had taught me to expect.

But I’m coming around.

I just got back this evening from a lovely little camping trip on the McKenzie River in Southern Oregon.

And while there were no Outward Bound/survivalist overtones to our adventure, I’m fairly confident we all had a ball.

Here then is the case I would make now to my father then for taking one’s family on a simple camping trip.

  1. Kids plus a running river equals hours and hours of self directed entertainment.
  2. If you really think Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, you’ve probably never taken your children to a beach or to a river and watched them catch minnows with nets, or throw twigs into a raging bonfire.
  3. Never underestimate the atavistic pleasure of cooking marinated chunks of meat (too heavy to pack in in a backpack) over a live fire.
  4. Sometimes, not being able to look at your smart phone is the greatest break in the world.
  5. Though my kids would probably choose Disneyland over camping, if given the choice, if you really look at them during the experience, there is no question that they’re much happier playing in the wilderness
  6. Never underestimate the happiness inducing qualities of Smore making.
  7. Good lord camping is cheap, (and so it is completely compatible with early retirement planning.). Talk about a value proposition.

campy

Children on vacation, not asking for plastic souvenirs

And it strikes me that the simple joy of camping is pertinent to many other areas of our lives.

We are constantly bombarded by messages telling us that will be happier if we purchase this exclusive experience or that expensive item.

And we are certainly very receptive to this message. The grass is always greener. And it is easy to become distracted by the shiny object just out of our grasp.

But once our basic needs are met, happiness is not such an exotic quarry.

At the risk of being too Hallmark, happiness to me seems to be more about;

  1. Spending time with people you love.
  2. Removing distractions.
  3. Fresh air and sunlight and nature.
  4. Primitive and delicious food.
  5. Creating ceremony out of the mundane (pitching a tent, scrabbling together a meal, making a nest, feeling like a small cog in a larger natural context.)

And because everything for me, on some level, always comes back to a central message of early retirement planning, let me put it in those terms.

If you’re trying to kick up your savings percentage, you lose little by foregoing an expensive vacation trip to an exotic locale***, and opting instead for an inexpensive trip to the local campground. (At least as far as happiness is concerned.)

***Not that travel hacking is not very value-added….

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One Response to “Pitching Camp”

  1. Robert July 20, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    My kids are now grown and married, but they remember our family road trips (with camping) very fondly. Those may have been our best family bonding experiences ever.
    Now that I’m retired, my wife and I enjoy camping on our travels because it saves money and we get fresh air (no stale room air), away from highway noise, peaceful settings, beautiful sunsets/sunrises, nearby hiking, and more. Of course, we give up some creature comforts, but it is worth it. And even there, we have found that we can buy some of the best quality gear and not feel badly about. For example, our $300 tent is lightweight, rain-proof, easy to set-up, and durable. Sounds expensive, right? But we have used cheaper tents in the past (Coleman etc.) and there is no comparison to our Big Agnes. If you are staying in cheap motels, you might pay on the order of $50/night. That expensive tent now looks inexpensive, since we’ve used it for more than 50 nights and it is still in great shape. Likewise, our $170 super comfortable and lightweight NeoAir air mattresses sound ridiculously expensive, but again, we’ve probably used them 100 times (more than the tent, since we do indoor camping at relatives sometimes); ditto for our custom backpacking quilts. Add it all up, and it sounds expensive, but it is a bargain. And since we are camping, we tend to prepare our own food, which is healthier and cheaper than eating out. (Certainly healthier than those “free” breakfasts that are loaded with white flour, sugar and fat). There are certainly times when a hotel is preferred. But throwing camping into the mix enriches our lives (and our pocketbooks).

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