“Can this just be our home?” – our four year old daughter, waking up in the tent

On our second straight week of camping, with many more to come as part of our cross-country road trip, we are absolutely in love with living in a tent. We knew we already enjoyed camping before we took the leap into long-term traveling this way, but we underestimated how much we would enjoy it. In fact, we were a bit nervous the shine would wear off rather quickly. As I planned to mix up staying in a tent with home stays and rentals, but we collectively kept opting out for more camping, it was clear something was going very right here.

 

But exactly what made tent camping so special took a little while to crystalize. Here are 10 surprising and unique benefits of tent camping we’ve found so far, some which I didn’t expect at all, others to greater degrees than I anticipated:

 

01. More Time Outdoors

Of course you’d expect to be outdoors more often. It’s camping. But the beauty of living outdoors – which camping is – is that you’re always outdoors. When it rains, you stand under a shelter, but you’re still outdoors. When you’re cold, you put on a sweater, but you’re still outdoors. When you’re hot, you take it off, but, well, you get the picture. We feel so very connected to the earth in ways that take much more of a concerted effort when based out of a house, rather than a tent. In a house, we make the choice to seek out nature. In a tent, we make the choice to seek out the indoors, and we rarely do. We wake and sleep with the sun and the birds. We are in tune with wildlife and weather. And we are generally just much happier. Which, given the well cited benefits of being in nature, of course, makes sense. The outdoors is beautiful and we’re always part of that.

 

 02. More Time Meeting Other People

Going into this trip, my husband and I were mildly concerned with the seemingly limited opportunity for our daughter to connect with other kids. After all, we were leaving a community of great friends to embark on this journey, and while we were visiting friends with kids along the way, that largely felt few and far between. But at every campsite we’ve watched children bond together. Kids, well, kids just love playing with each other. I’ve watched them go off bike riding, explore nature together, visit each other’s “houses”, exchange pen pal information, talk about the differences from everyone’s home state, laugh, play and hug. I’ve also watched our daughter find confidence to be a child who introduces herself to others when she first arrives. The culture is much more communal that I ever would have expected and that brings a richness to the entire experience.

 

03. A Different Kind of Diversity

As we adults meet more people it becomes apparent how much the culture of campgrounds is more open-minded as well. People become more than the state on their license plate or any of the other markers we use to make a first impression. Conversations just seem to naturally come up. While each family is on their own adventure, there is much overlap in the way of a shared experience. We are all on a journey, enjoying our family and enjoying the outdoors. But everyone brings with them a different background. It means we’re talking with folks we’d never run into or with whom we might never find ourselves in conversation otherwise. Kids largely have little in the way of reservations, but it has pushed us out of our comfort zone. From this, we’ve met delightful and inspiring people, we’ve heard fascinating stories and helpful recommendations, even in brief, we’ve challenged ourselves to open up our worldview and remember, we’re all human beings just out here enjoying this good earth. Let’s be friends.

 

04. More Family Bonding

You’d expect, yes, of course camping together you’d have more family time. True. But the bonding element has been more beautiful to watch unfold than I could have imagined, going beyond proximity. With fewer distractions, our time together has been so meaningful. We cook meals together. We wander together. We talk together. We play together. We work out problems together. We share a family bed together. All of it, as a family unit. The nature of camping provides us more opportunities to physically and emotionally connect, but it also provides the opportunity to do so in a deeper way than I expected. It is constant and it is powerful.

 

 05. A Minimalist Lifestyle

While camping, we simply have fewer things with us – mostly out of necessity – we can only bring what fits in our Honda Civic. Our clothes fit in a hiking pack and smaller piece of luggage. Our living space includes our tent to house our bed and our rain fly to cover our table. Our “kitchen” is a cooktop stove or campfire, and all our cooking supplies fit into a box. We are carrying around – and taking care of – fewer things than we’ve ever done before. Likewise, our daughter is surrounded by less in the way of toys and things in general. But this has turned out to be kind of transformational. We were surprised to find there is a little we miss and instead, how much we even subconsciously celebrate our freedom from it. This may have something to do with the white space our things have left behind. I didn’t realize how much of my time had been spent cleaning, tidying, focused on what purchases we would choose to make next, saving, sorting and minding things for a future date. Instead now, our time is spent together as a family, exploring, talking, anything. It’s incredibly freeing.

 

06. Fewer Distractions from Living

On the heels of having fewer things to mind and clean, there is much in the way of fewer distractions across the board as well. We obviously don’t have a television here, but do use other technology. It’s an important part of the way we work, of keeping in touch with folks we love, of planning our trip as we go, and of expanding on all our daughter learns along the way. Still, it seems our technology-use has found a way of regulating itself in nature. I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle somewhat with checking my phone. I do it and I don’t even know why, even after I just checked it a few moments earlier. But not here (my husband says he’s still “working on it.”). There’s too much to take in around us, even in the simple moments, ones that might otherwise make me reach for my phone. We’re just present and tuned in. It’s grounding in a way, and challenges me to rethink how I’ll choose to spend my time after we pack our tent back up.

 

07. Healthier Habits

Walking and biking are our primary modes of transportation while camping. This means we’re always active, from the time we get up to the time we go to bed, whether we’re going to the bathroom (usually not an insignificant walk to the closest facility), cleaning our dishes or filling up our water. We walk further and more often. And when we walk elsewhere, it’s because we’re going to enjoy something active, like a hike or a swim or to explore nature. But it’s not just mobility, we’re eating healthier too. When your refrigerator is a cooler and your pantry is a box, you have to be picky about what you house based on it’s size and ability to last. This means we’ve had to pack the punch with what we eat and drink to have it last longer. On top of that, sleep is more regular and we get fresh air and Vitamin D from the sun everyday. It feels great.

 

08. More Childhood Freedom

Coming straight from suburbia, we didn’t realize how much our daughter is limited in her mobility. There isn’t much of an opportunity for her to roam without hitting a hazard, like a main road or elements that simply seem inappropriate for her to encounter yet at her age. But at a campground, we have much more space for her to safely explore. She can walk a quarter of a mile and still be in eye shot. She can explore and be on her own or with new friends, where we all feel safe. It’s given her the ability to flex her independence, to engage in her own risky play and for us to feel reassured while she does.

 

09. More Eco-Friendly Choices

This still surprises me. We make more environmentally-conscious choices while we camp. Many of these elements go hand-in-hand with minimalist living and healthier habits, certainly, but the nature of camping reduces our carbon footprint tremendously. Our house and our life requires few utilities. We use electricity, water and battery-powered electronics occasionally, and even then, sparingly. No refrigerator, just a cooler. More often than not, no dryer, just a drying line. We’ve reduced our waste and increased our resourcefulness. Aside from limited use of natural resources, our mindfulness of the environment has increased. Sharing the same space as wildlife, we try to be more conscious of what we leave out and how that’ll affect them. Camping! Doing good, all around.

 

10. Showing Up Instead of Showing Off

Before leaving on our journey, I attended a farm yoga session (further proof I’m a living hipster MadLib, according to my husband – fill in the blank with an incredible place to do yoga and feel transformed – the experience really was amazing, but I digress….). At the close, our instructor thanked us for showing up instead of showing off. That saying really struck a chord with me. It made me reflect on how much I show off instead of show up, even subconsciously. With camping, I found we are only showing up. There’s no makeup, no hair styling, no fashion trends, no showing off. We bring our inner selves and connect with others on a personal level. That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy keeping up with myself or feeling fancy every now and again. But with camping, there isn’t any pressure to live like that at all times. It’s freeing, in a way I forgot it could be to feel comfortable in your own skin. And beyond the personal benefit, I’m grateful my daughter is exposed to this kind of environment.

Camping and long-term traveling are not always easy. Aspects can certainly be challenging – stay tuned for more on that next week – but overall, it has been incredible. Enough that I imagine it will be hard to transition out of it when we end this journey. Our biggest challenge may turn out to be the way in which we incorporate the benefits of camping, long after we stop. But we’ll certainly give it a go. Our family, the place we’ll call home and we ourselves will no doubt be better off for it.

 

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