What I Learned From Growing Up Camping

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Summer means time off from school, but if you grew up like I did, it also means camping. School would end in June and I’d anxiously await our annual trip to Pinery Provincial Park on the shores of Lake Huron. Looking back on my years camping with my family, it’s so much more than just a family vacation. What I learned from growing up camping are lessons that I’m instilling in my own children today.

June is National Camping Month, but we know in Michigan that camping season lasts all summer long. Whether relaxing at the beach or making smores on the campfire, endless opportunities for fun and adventure are waiting for you at a campground. But camping trips are so much more than that. What I learned from growing up camping is that there is more than meets the eye to going off the grid.

growing up camping
This was our campsite setup every year – so many memories!

We are but a tiny speck in a great big world.

One of our favorite things to do at night when we went camping was walk down to the beach. We would lay on the boardwalk and stare at the sky. Looking for shooting stars, listening to the waves rolling in… the beauty of the night was incredible. Here we were, away from the city lights, just tiny specks on the boardwalk. The whole, clear sky was above us.

Our little campsite, and all those campsites together, made this whole campground full of memories. All these people brought together by a love of the outdoors. Growing up camping taught me that we are a small campsite in a sea of tents; we are a tiny speck in a great big world. It’s a unique perspective that anyone who camps can relate to.

Even today, when I look up on a clear night and can see the stars, I’m taken back to those chilly nights on the boardwalk. I’m laying on my back, making wishes on shooting stars. With our kids now, we look at the stars at night and search for the moon. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces this summer when we let them stay up way past bedtime and hunt for the Big Dipper.

Friends are family.

How does that quote go, “friends are the family we choose”? We attended family reunions some summers, but we also went camping every year with friends who were like family. We went with friends of my parents, whom my parents had known since high school and college. They had kids somewhat close in age to my siblings and I. Growing up camping, these were the people I went on my family vacation with. They were our camping family.

When that annual camping trip would come up on the calendar, it was like no time had passed since the previous year. We’d make s’mores, swim at the beach, and go into town together. We were inseparable — yes, we were at the same campground, but we genuinely had a lot of fun together. We saw our camping family throughout the year, but having the shared experience of camping together really helped form bonds that will last a lifetime. Though the camping trips ended years ago, we all still keep in touch via social media.

Now that some of our friends have kids, it’s exciting to think about raising the next generation of “camping family.” Friends who are family because we have made the choice to bring our families together and share in the joys of childhood and adventure with them. Our children may not see each other every day or go to the same schools, but these are friends for a lifetime. They are family.

Simplicity brings memories, too.

We camped in a two-room tent. Air mattresses, dog crates, and two bunk bed cots — that was all we needed. Okay, and a food tent with a week’s worth of snacks and meals. It wasn’t fancy, and there was dirt everywhere, all the time. And we loved it.

I can’t tell you what I ate for lunch last week, but I can tell you about the pudgy pies we’d make at night over the campfire. I remember listening to a Red Hot Chili Peppers CD while sitting around the campfire at the kids’ campsite. We ate french fries dipped in malt vinegar from the Spud Shak in Grand Bend. Our night walks to the beach included running through the sand dunes. These are the memories I hold with me to this day.

With our kids, I always think about what they’ll remember from their childhood. Will they remember going to Disney (when we eventually go)? Probably. But they’ll also remember playing in the dirt and going to the beach and making s’mores on the campfire. The simple joys of summer, of camping, of embracing the outdoors. Growing up camping taught me that simplicity brings memories, too.

What I learned from growing up camping is that there is so much more to it than just sleeping in a tent for a week. Walks to the boardwalk at night helped form a love for the outdoors. Friends became our camping family that we looked forward to seeing every year. Memories that seemed so simple turned into the lasting impressions in my mind. Going off the grid is so much more than sleeping in a tent. Growing up camping taught me that.

Do you love to camp? Be sure to check out Katie’s post on the 12 best campgrounds in Michigan!

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