We’ve all been there. The camping trip that couldn’t get any worse if you tried. So how do you go about ensuring that your trip is the absolute worst possible? Without further ado, I proudly present 13 Lucky Ways to Spoil Your Camping Trip!
1. Don’t Check the Weather.
Ah yes, of course this would top the list. The two main things you want to be concerned with are precipitation and temperature, both during the day and at night. Our first cub scout camping trip was in October, with a low of 20°F at night, and we were unprepared. Needless to say, we bring more than enough blankets ever since. You also want to bring clothing to dress appropriately for the weather. Layering is very versatile, in that you can adjust throughout the day as the temperature changes.
Preparing for rain is important, but it can also be helpful to look at what the weather has been during the week before you arrive. If it’s been raining for days, you can expect muddy conditions, even if it’s bright and sunny while you’re there.
2. Food safety? It’s fiiine…
Lets face it, food poisoning is no joke. Nothing can spoil your camping trip faster than becoming intimately reacquainted with last night’s meal. Be sure to keep your cooler stocked with ice to keep your food cold until you’re ready to cook it. On the flip side, you also need to keep hot foods hot, which can be a bigger challenge while camping. A rule of thumb is that bacteria can grow between 40°-140°F. So be sure to minimize leftovers, and any food that is left over, put it back on ice until you’re ready to re-heat it. If not, your trip might not be the only thing to spoil.
3. We’ll learn about the wildlife when we get there!
Okay, this one can go so many different ways. First off, unless you’re camping in the dead of winter, bring bug spray. Especially if you’re camping near water, there will be bugs. Oh dear.
I remember a certain state park website (I won’t say which) had a warning about copperhead snakes in the area. A word of advice, if they feel the need to put this kind of warning on the front page of their site, this is a red flag. However, some sites may mention specific things you may want to be aware of, and that can be very helpful. For example, when camping or hiking in bear country, there are certain precautions you want to take with your food and personal safety.
4. All the gear was fine when we put it away three years ago.
It’s always a good idea to check your camping gear as you pack before you leave, especially if it’s been in storage for a while. Some materials may dry rot (or grow mold or mildew, if you store it in a high-humidity location). Propane cans may not be completely full, leaving you without fuel for part of the trip. And heaven help you if you kept the batteries in your flashlight, lantern, or other electronics when putting it away. You may find that you’ll not only need new batteries, but you’ll need to clean away any corrosion from the old ones, or that your device may not even work anymore.
5. Which way to the restroom?
There IS a restroom at this state park, right? Always check the facilities and amenities when you’re selecting a campground. Believe me, nothing can spoil your trip like your wife asking, “you want me to poop where?” While nearly all commercial campgrounds should include a full bath house, state and national parks can vary in the types of facilities that they provide. (Hint: if you see the words “pit toilet”, it means an outhouse-style bathroom.) Likewise, you should check if you need water and/or electrical hookups at your campsite. For water, it may be provided at your site, at water spigots around the campground, only at the restroom, or you may even have to pack in your own water supply. The same goes for firewood, although most parks (or a nearby store) sell it, to prevent invasive insects.
6. I thought you packed the ____?
When you camp, pack like Santa Claus: make a list, check it twice. (Naughty or nice is up to you – and the park rangers.) Don’t assume that you will remember everything. Nothing can spoil your camping trip like getting miles away from it all, and realizing you forgot something important. If you are camping with friends, be clear about who will be bringing what, if there are things you’ll be sharing. Again, check the levels of fuel and batteries to make sure you’re not stuck without them.
7. What reservation, it’s the woods!
If possible, make a reservation. Many state parks will allow you to not only reserve a spot, but you can choose a specific site, view it on the map, and see pictures of the site itself. (For a hammock camper such as myself, that’s a great way to see whether a site has suitable trees.) Making a reservation also helps you gauge how busy a campground might be at the time you’ll be visiting. Knowing that you have a spot can prevent you from having to go to Plan B (or C, or D…). Yes, some Walmarts do allow people to stay overnight in their parking lots, but unless that’s your plan, it’s better to reserve a spot where you really want to stay. (Plus they might frown upon my hammock.)
8. Roughing it builds character!
Yes, camping with little ones can be a great way to instill a love of the outdoors in your kids. However, you should be aware of their abilities before going too primitive. Nature Girl, 2yo at the time of this writing, loves camping in our pop-up, and it’s an adventure to her. Tent camping might be fun as well, but I would not take her somewhere without facilities. She may be fine with a short hike in the woods, but too long and we would end up carrying her. It’s good to start slow with camping, hiking, and other activities before you find yourself in the middle of the woods with an upset toddler. Likewise, some personalities – children and adults – may not have a pleasant experience with camping. It’s a good idea to take all of these considerations into account when planning your trip.
9. Who knew the trail was this long?
Before you head out on a hiking trail, it’s a good idea to know what to expect. There are many online resources, such as AllTrails.com, with such information as length, elevation change, how strenuous it is, and user comments. (This site is not affiliated with AllTrails.com.) One thing to be aware of is whether a trail is a loop, one-way (there-and-back), or connects to other trails. Also, be sure to know whether the posted distance is one-way or round trip.
For very young children, look for trails that are fairly short, with an easy paved or gravel surface. Handicap accessible trails are ideal. If you can find one with a waterfall or other “wow factor”, you could easily spark a lifelong love for hiking. As children get older, feel free to increase the distance and challenge. Trails marked as “strenuous” or that mention steep inclines, climbs, or rock scrambles should only be attempted by more experienced hikers. Online user reviews are a great resource to find out ahead of time what to expect on a specific trail.
One final consideration, be aware of the distance, your expected travel time, and when the sun goes down. Sure, it might be great to enjoy the sunset at the end of that one-way trail, but it makes for a dark and potentially dangerous hike back to the trailhead. Not knowing your distance, expected travel time, and the trail intensity can definitely spoil your trip.
10. Now, where’s that map?
Okay guys, I’m going to say this once: you wife is right, stop and ask for directions. Whether you’re navigating a campground to find the pool, hiking a trail, or getting to your campsite in the backwoods, you need to know where you’re going. That means having a map or GPS device. After all, nothing can spoil your trip like not even making it to the campsite. (Or worse, going hiking and not making it back to the campsite!)
11. We’ve got so much planned!
Growing up, my mom would always plan our vacations to areas where we had an activity or day-trip every day. It was amazing, and we saw and did so many things. One thing we noticed, though, was that the days we enjoyed most were those where the plans didn’t work out, and we just had a day of fun, with nothing planned. Those were the most relaxing days of each trip. Now, with my family, we still plan trips with something to do in the area, but we also build in at least one day to just stay at the campground. We do look for campgrounds with lots of amenities of things that we could do, but don’t plan anything for that day. Being over-booked might not completely ruin your trip, but it can make you miss out on relaxing times and experiences you wouldn’t otherwise get. It can also raise the stress level of those on the trip with you. Speaking of stress…
12. Sure, honey, your brother can come along.
Okay, first up, I love my in-laws, and I’m not talking about them. In general, consider who you will be camping with, whether family or friends. Are there any individuals that may cause conflict or stress? (At the moment, I’m thinking of Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.) Will you all get along and sing Kumbaya or will you start to wonder how long it would take them to find a body buried in the woods? Keep these things in mind, along with how long you’ll be with them and how close (separate tents, anyone?). A little breathing space can go a long way toward maintaining the peace.
13. You’re THAT family…
So this one might not spoil the camping trip for you, but rather for everyone around you. Don’t be THAT family. The obnoxious ones yelling, blaring their music into the wee hours, leaving trash, and generally making a pain for everyone else. I guarantee, for every one of these that feel like they had a blast on their trip, there are at least a dozen around them who wanted to set their camper on fire. Be respectful of others around you. Follow the campground rules, including quiet time. Pick up after yourself and your pets. A little courtesy and respect go a long way.
Ready to spoil your camping trip?
Okay, so you wouldn’t really try to spoil it, but hopefully I’ve provided some insight into how to plan ahead for the best trip you can have. One last word of advice: expect the unexpected. Things can and will go wrong. Murphy’s Law doesn’t stop at the edge of the woods. Go with the flow, make the best of it, and have the best time you can. Oh, and eat a s’more for me.
Got some spoiled camping trip horror stories? Feel free to share in the comments section below!