7 Things I Have Learned From Camping
I know some folks camp more and perhaps better than me. Many millions of people have homes that mirror what I would call camping throughout their entire lives. However, we all work with the lives we are given and no matter who you are, we all hope to learn and improve ourselves through our experiences.
This being said, I did manage to sleep under the stars 45 days last year, which for a guy with a pregnant wife and a three year old son isn’t too bad. Most of my camping is done in or west of the Rocky Mountains. In case anyone is curious, last year found me camping in: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.
1. The ability to make do with what you have.
With most of the places we go camping, heading into the store because you forgot a can opener or a grill is not an option or at best an option that would tarnish your day. So if you are missing an item you need, you have three major choices, use something else you have to complete the task, make something from scratch, or just live without it. Sometimes making do or creating a new item can turn out being one of the most enjoyable parts of the day. It leaves you feeling good and perhaps a bit proud that you were able to figure out how to get the job done.
2. Anticipating what you need while balancing not taking too much.
Everything you bring needs to fit into your ride. If you bring too much it often becomes such a mess that it will take you ten minutes to find what you have. Also the more you bring the longer it takes to pack and unpack. If you only have a few days for fun, why waste an extra hour or two just dealing with all your gear. Yes, you do not want to be stuck without some essential item, but conversely, there have been times I wanted to put a bunch of things in a box and label it ‘all the things we bring but never use box.’
3. Allowing relaxing moments.
At home I tend to keep insanely busy for there is always a never ending list of things I would like to accomplish. There is often a lot of work to do while camping as well, but at a certain point I have learned to just sit down and soak it in or read a chapter in the middle of the day. Also, unlike other people, I tend to actually sleep in more while camping than at home. I know, I am a little weird.
4. Set yourself up for success
For various reasons, things become more difficult at night. Whether you have enjoyed a few ales or the forest has enveloped you in darkness (or both), it is good to get certain things done during the light hours. Sometimes it is a simple as making sure you have enough fire wood, because that late night stumble through the woods can not only be a little dangerous, but it usually is not what you are in the mood to do at 10PM. And if you are in the mood to do it, you will still have more fun just enjoying the walk and not trying to lug huge branches through a thicket in the dark.
Also things like loose rocks and eye level branches between the fire pit and your car/tent/pee zone, should be removed. I know… I traveled all this way to be in nature and here I am altering the environment. Guess what, I do not care. Animals are allowed to build nests in the forest and so am I.
Lastly, and this is a hard one for some people even after years of camping, I like to prepare my dinner before dark. It can really suck to be cutting onions on your lap at night and then trying to figure out if your steak is raw or about to be shoe leather. Better to at least have the prep work and cooking done before sunset. Believe me, you will thank yourself later.
5. Be honest about what you wish to see happen.
This may not be as big a deal for those trips where you hit a spot, stay there, and then go home. This is more for those long traveling multiple camp site trips. Yes, of course we want to see more and explore more areas, but… what will really make you happier? What will you look back on as your favorite day of the trip?
It is different for all of us, but I figure I have at least a two hour set up and a two hour take down for each spot. Figure in breakfast and driving and we could be looking at only having a few hours of down time each day. If you spend 4 hours a day with take up/downs and you are camping for say 9 days that equals 36 hours or a day and a half of your trip just, well, working. Even if it is a road trip, figure each day you allow yourself to stay in one place gives you 4 extra hours of fun. Do that 3 times and you have a whole extra day. Something to think about.
Last year we camped in Montana to the northeast of Yellowstone. We took a few day trips into the park from the sight, but I have to say my favorite day of the whole trip was when we allowed ourselves to just explore the area around camp for a whole day.
6. Camping teaches cooperation and reciprocity.
I tend to try to take care of everything on my own, but that is not always possible in the wilds. Whether it is your mate or your bud, sometimes we just have to admit we need help with things. It could be carrying back some giant log for the fire or admitting your forgot your skillet or the mustard.
Out in the wilds we are not just a team, we become a tribe. For a brief time we make our own rules. No one will tell me it is my turn for the dishes. I just figure I should get them done. No one says we still need to collect wood, we all know it needs to happen and if we are not busy with a project, we step up and do it. You can learn a lot about a person camping. Are they a giving person that shares food and pitches in with the chores or are they complaining about the weather and their broken camp chair, which they could probably fix themselves with a few minutes of effort?
Camping is probably the closest many of us come to being in a T.A.Z. (Temporary Autonomous Zone). A TAZ is a place where we make our own choices and rules. Our motivation is driven by character not laws. We can approach our own definition of the perfection of anarchy if only for a short time.
7. Camping has helped me reflect on what I really wish to achieve in life.
Stop for just a second. Hey, you are almost done with this article and you made it this far. What do you really want out of life? What goals are you seeking to fulfil?
Camping helps you crystalize these choices and directions. You are pulled out of your ‘real life’ and given a chance to reflect on it. Yes, other types of vacations can help with this as well, but often with camping we have more alone time (even if it is just when we are collecting fire wood). More normal vacations involve busy site seeing and airports. Meeting friends and family. Out in the woods you are on your own time table.
On a related note, what are your goals when you have time off? Do you want to get your personal work done? Do you want to see new sights? Some people might just be looking to relax a bit. There are many times in life we think we want something and when we have it, we discover that it was not what we wanted after all.
Next time you go camping, be sure to bring a paper and pencil. Jot down some notes or some goals you would like to set for yourself. This is often easier to do when they are all on hold because you can not plug you laptop into a tree. Reflect on how things are going and what you might like to change or perhaps strive for. If you get a chance, let me know how it goes.