7 tips for going to family camp

7 tips for going to family camp

The first time I saw, “Dirty Dancing”, I was 11 years old and I fell in love. You’re probably thinking, “Of course, you fell in love Osheta! I mean, just look at Patrick Swayze and his swaying hips!”

And yes, my friend, for most blossoming young girls in the 80’s, Johnny Castle was their dreamboat. He could climatically lift us up over his head anywhere— in a lake, in a field, on a stage…we do like swooning, sam I am…

He was a bit of a distraction for me during the movie, but I have a confession, my heart was not taken by the romance between Baby and Johnny but the the setting. It was the family camp, or as they called it, “resort” named Kellerman’s that represented my idea of a swoonworthy summer. Set in the Catskills complete with a big lodge, gazebos on the lake, and green as far as your eye (or the camera) can see.

Throughout the movie, I saw families eating together in a dining hall, competing in potato sack races, and planning for an end of the summer talent show. I wanted to be at Kellerman’s so bad, that at the end, when most normal girls would turn to their mamas to ask to take dance lessons, I turned to mine and asked, “Can we go to Kellerman’s next summer?”

I needed to be among the mountains and trees and cheesy family games.

7 tips for family campShe chuckled and told me that Kellerman’s didn’t exist, and when I pressed her if she knew of any place like it, she said she didn’t. Most places like Kellerman’s were exclusive and you had to know the right people or have a lot of money to get to one.

We didn’t know people of the family resorting type, nor did we have the money to afford to go to one. So, then I jumped on the Johnny Castle bandwagon and gushed over “Dirty Dancing” like a proper redblooded girl.

But deep in my heart, I pined for family camp.

When our youngest was old enough to enjoy it and the stress of travel was more manageable (around five years old) one of the first things we did was book a week at a conference and campground center a few hours from our home in Boston in New Hampshire’s White Mountain, called “Pilgrim Pines”.

There’s a unique simplicity to family camp that we love. There’s no passports to deal with or meals to plan or activities to organize. Usually the Wifi is spotty at best so we leave our devices at home (except this summer I have to take my laptop to work on my book).

It’s an all inclusive time to reconnect with your family and nature. And as I eventually learned from Gary Thomas in his book, “Sacred Pathways”, I grow in my faith and my purpose as a Naturalist.

Nature and the outdoors energize me. And as the saying goes, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

At the time you’re reading this, I’m with my family near Santa Cruz at camp. I can’t wait. I’m excited about free time in nature: hikes and reading by the lake and just waking up when the sun comes up. It’s going to be amazing.

7 tips for family campThinking through these 7 things when planning our week at family camp helped us choose the best place for our family to bond this summer:

1. Cost

Most family camps are 6-7 days of all inclusive fun. Which typically means, lodging, food, activities, and in some cases, excursions off site. I have found family camps to be more cost effective than other vacations simply because I don’t have to pay for plane tickets or several meals out.

We usually budget $400 per adult and $300 per child, which for our family is around $1700. When we first dreamed of going to “Pilgrim Pines” their rate was way more than our little ministry family could afford, so I emailed the office and explained our budget and they had some great suggestions on saving money.

Our favorite was book a camp site at their adjoining campground instead of staying in one of the cabins. That saved our family nearly $1200! Also ask about affiliation discounts. My husband is a pastor so we get discounts at certain faith based camps. If you have a family friend that attends a camp like this, ask the office if they offer a referral or first time camper discount.

2. Extra Expenses

Once the basics like food, shelter, and fun are covered, you’ll want to find out about excursions like a day trip into a nearby city, hikes, local tours, etc. If your family is interested in some of these, book your spot early and plan to bring extra cash to pay for them. There’s almost always a camp store where treats and souvenirs are available. You’ll want to plan for those too.

And we always set aside an extra $150-$200 for a deposit for next year. If we loved our cabin or we know a speaker is coming the next summer who we want to hear from, we usually just book our vacation for next summer at checkout. This helps in budgeting over the course of the next twelve months and builds in excitement.

3. Location

Are you like me and love a good road trip or do you want to be able to get to camp in less than a couple of hours? Decide how far you’re willing to drive and then look for a campground within that radius.

I tried to find a camp here in Southern California that we could afford, but I didn’t. I’m so glad I came across Redwood Pines in Northern California, though. We got a great discount that made the 5 hour drive worth it, and from what I hear traveling on the Pacific Coast Highway is a must do.

4. Content/Speakers

Some camps offer workshops and large group sessions on one theme. Like I mentioned, ours is about family togetherness and our faith, which we love. We’re a nerdy family who enjoys learning so a camp that offers classes and sessions in conjunction with family time was ideal. You should decide if this a value to you and then research the speakers.

Check your cheesyness capacity! There’s going to be some camp songs and silly skits—this is summer camp after all, but know your threshold and keep that in mind as you’re checking out the speakers. We chose our week because one of the speakers is a black man and we’re constantly trying to keep leaders of color in front of our biracial kids.

Family camp tips5. Camp Staff

Ask the office where they recruit for their staff and what background checks they do. In most cases, your kids will have classes and activities you can drop them off and go about your business for a few hours.

I like to do this step just to put my mama bear in check and know that the leadership of the camp has done everything in their power to ensure my kiddos are safe. I also ask about the camp nurse and her hours/availability.

6. Schedule

What time is check-in and checkout? Can you hang out on the grounds if your cabin is not ready? What about meal times and quiet hours?

These are things you’ll want to know as you’re planning your vacation. For instance, if check in is at noon, but you’re a five hour drive away, then you’ll have to decide if it’ll just be a long day with an early start or if you’re going to split the trip in half and plan a stay at a hotel which could affect your budget.

7. Freedom

This is, after all, a vacation. I want to have as much control over our time as possible. So I check to see if there’s a good balance between scheduled activities and free time.

It’s important to me that my kids learn how to prioritize, so when we’re looking at the schedule, we usually say something like, “archery is at three, but if you go, you won’t have another chance to rest after a full morning on the lake until bedtime. Do you think you should maybe skip it on Monday and do it on Wednesday instead?” We also make our kids bring a backpack of quiet activities and institute a family rest time (usually after lunch when it’s the hottest).

You don’t have to be rich like the Houseman family or searching for meaning (and a little dirty dancing) like Baby to enjoy family camp. Its for all of us who want to see our families happy, healthy, and living wholeheartedly. I hope you find your own piece of Kellerman’s this summer.

All it takes is a little planning, some patience for cheesyness, and a desire to get out of your own little corner of the world with your family. If you do, I’m confident you’ll have the time of your life.

Happy Camping!

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