What do you do when your ten-year old son begs and pleads for you to take him camping? While my husband clutched his pearls, dramatically announcing that he’d sooner go to a Trump rally than sleep outside in a tent with bugs, I decided to face my fears head on and give my son, Maxwell, the best damn camping trip of his life. But first I just had to figure out one small detail—how to camp. Sure, like most men, I have some experience pitching a tent, but, like, not an actual tent. I needed help… and fast. So I called one of my best friends, Harold, a true camping maven. Instead of telling me everything he knew, he offered to teach me in person and so we made a plan to take our kids—close friends since they were babies—on the ultimate camping adventure.
Spoiler alert: We’re still alive.
Harold’s lovely wife and my loveable—and totally high-maintenance—husband decided to RSVP hell no to our weekend in the wild, which meant that I would be on solo dad duty for 72 hours straight. “You got this,” my husband said with a condescending smirk. And you know what, I choose to believe him—I mean, what could go wrong?
Port-a-potties and footballs and beef jerky, oh my!
Three days in the wilderness with my little dude left me with filthy fingernails, ridiculous back pain, a John Candy in Summer Rental-like sunburn and 10 valuable life lessons that made this trip a once-in-a-lifetime bonding experience my boy and I shall never forget.
#1. BEING BASIC CAN BE A GOOD THING
Did you guys know that life can be lived even with basic necessities? I was as shocked as you are. Sure, showers, air conditioning and iPhones are great and all, but going without those luxuries for a few days lets us experience the simple pleasures that life has to offer. Without all of the technological distractions of our modern lives, you’ll have more time to talk, listen, laugh and chill the f out. How good does that sound? So go on, be a #basicbitch. You’ll be glad you did.
#2. TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
I learned very quickly that when it comes to camping, we are better together! From pitching tents to cooking dinner, teamwork is an essential life skill you learn when camping. I assigned my son important tasks that made him feel like a valuable contributor, which in turn made him feel more responsible and confident. Did Max like doing dishes? Not so much. But knowing that he had to finish the dishes before he was allowed to make S’mores sure lit a fire under his feet.
#3. ALWAYS BE THANKFUL
We don’t truly understand what we have until it’s gone. Camping teaches kids to appreciate the things they do have. In fact, by the time we arrived back home, I honestly believe that Max was more grateful for all that he has. Plus, during our last meal around the campfire, we decided to go around and say what we’re most thankful for. All four of us said we were thankful for being together and for being in nature. Off the record, I was also thankful to see the shirtless college guys having a football catch outside my tent.
#4. NOTHING BEATS A GOOD CAMPFIRE CONVERSATION
The real magic happens around a crackling campfire. Without all of the stresses and hectic schedules of daily life getting in the way, campfires give us the opportunity to truly enjoy each other’s company and appreciate the joys of just being together. We entertained the kids by telling stories about what life was like when we were their age and we played games like two truths and a lie. I got to witness my son’s imagination, creativity and engagement (which rarely happens without being immersed in video games). I savored every second of these deep, silly and soulful conversations.
#5. LIVE IN THE MOMENT
The opportunity to hike through thorny trails, skipping stones in the lake, pissing in the bushes, getting ridiculously smelly and making real-time decisions about surviving an un-forecast downpour results in moments that you’ll learn from and not soon forget. When you leave behind conference calls, clients, deadlines and social commitments, you have the unique opportunity to get fully immersed in nature and living in the moment.
#6. WE ALL NEED TO UNPLUG SOMETIMES
Most parents have a million and one things going on at any given time. Camping is the perfect excuse to slow things down and give your children the undivided attention they deserve. So unplug those smartphones, leave those laptops at home and just be present with the grass, trees, mountains and the campers you love—it’s one of the best perks of camping. Mother nature… there’s no app for that.
#7. LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL
When Max was sound asleep next to me in his sleeping bag—and Alex was at home chilling by our pool eating Sugarfish sushi and sipping White Claw—I had no iPad to scroll through, and no TV to keep me company. Instead, I just looked up at the netted roof of my tent and gazed up at the twinkling stars, realizing how lucky I am to be this kid’s dad and how beautiful life is when you stop to think about it. Not so beautiful was the chirping bird wakeup call at 5am. C'est la vie.
#8. FEELING UNCOMFORTABLE IS GOOD FOR YOU
Max learned a very hard truth during our first night—tents aren’t as comfortable as his cozy, soft bed at home. Like Max, your kids are bound to miss their favorite toys and video games and some might struggle with the limited items on the dinner menu. Camping requires you to go with the flow, which can be tricky for some kids, but it can also teach your child the importance of flexibility and resilience. No one likes to be uncomfortable, but learning to manage those tiny discomforts will help us grow. Sometimes it’s about just getting by, and learning that getting by is okay.
#9. STOP WAITING TO EXHALE
With our busy schedules it’s sometimes hard to stop and breathe. Silence and stillness can be especially hard for kids who are used to being entertained 24/7. Learning to relax is something we can all benefit from and camping will help us do just that. There’s just something about kicking back, sitting in front of a crackling fire without a care in the world and enjoying the fine art of doing not a damn thing. As the incomparable Whitney once sang, when you’ve got friends to wish you well, you’ll find a point when you will exhale.
#10. HARD WORK PAYS OFF
Camping is exhausting AF. From setting up your tents and collecting firewood to preparing dinner and blowing up your mattress, camp outs can be a workout. Yeah, it’s hard work, but so is life… and yet we find a way to make it work. Something very special happens when kids realize how capable they are of surviving based on their hard work—they suddenly become more independent, more confident and more proud of their accomplishment. #NoPainNoGain
So there you have it. 10 life lessons learned from three days in the wilderness. If you’re a parent like me, chances are you desperately need to reduce some pent-up tent-sion (see what I did there?). I strongly recommend you grab some basic camping gear and a backpack and head into the woods with your kid(s). Spend a couple nights roasting marshmallows by the fire, sleeping under the stars with your loved ones and then come back with your own life lessons.
P.S. Big shout-out to my buddy, Harold, for being the ultimate camping guide for beginners like me and Max.