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camping with kids

Camping is a great way to unplug and spend time with family on the cheap. Ever since my 5-year-old was 6 months old, we've camped as a family. That first camping trip was very memorable!

We are by no means adventure campers. I like my creature comforts while communing with nature. We don't hike in with all our gear. Rather, we drive to well-groomed campsites and blow up our air mattress. We don't eat MREs (meals ready to eat) and rub two sticks together to start a fire. We cook on charcoal grills and propane stoves. We are definitely "Gucci Campers" but even our most thought-out camping trips have left us bailing water out of our tent or covered in mosquito bites.

My husband and I had been camping together for years before children so it was natural for us to bring the baby along. Besides, we thought, all we need to bring additionally for him was a pack and play, portable swing/bouncer, and diaper bag with a change of clothes. How difficult could it be?

Obviously, since I can write about it, I can laugh about this experience now! All the planning in the world couldn't have prepared us for his 4am wake up call. Crying loudly (or so it seems in the silence of the night in the woods!), my husband and I scrambled to quiet him, realizing the diaper bag and bottles were in the locked car. Once we found the car keys and a pair of shoes, he was changed and fed and all was quiet again. Let me just say, those five minutes felt like an eternity, and needless to say, the next morning we walked the loop to make our apologies to the other campers.

With our first camping trip with the little guy in the books, and despite the 4am wake up call, we've returned to Rocky Gap State Park in Maryland year after year with our friends and now their babies.

Since we jump at the opportunity to get away from it all and camp, we mostly camp in Virginia State Parks (http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/camping.shtml). Some campgrounds that we've found to be kid-friendly and close to Fredericksburg are Westmoreland State Park, Lake Anna State Park, First Landing State Park and Bull Run State Park. State parks keep their tent sites well maintained, have hot showers and toilets that flush and are inexpensive to stay. Depending on the campground, they also have cabins, playgrounds, hiking paths, pools/lakes, nature centers and activities for the whole family for little to no additional cost.

If you ask my son what camping is to him, he'd say s'mores, staying up late to catch lightning bugs, bringing his backpack with tools to help dad pitch the tent, and sleeping inside his tent inside our family tent.
I've come a long way from my 8-year-old self saying I'd never camp again after my first camping experience with my Brownie Troop when our tent leaked from the pouring rain. My only change of clothes were soaking wet, and I came home with mosquito bites between my toes and in my ears.

So whether you pack the car and go to a campground or you pitch a tent in your living room, camping is an activity you can do with the whole family and will create memories your children will remember for years to come.

Nikki Ducas is a Fredericksburg mom of two boys, a 5-year-old and 22-month-old. She loves going on inexpensive family adventures with her boys.

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