I am a happy camper – or – 10 steps to a great indoor camping excursion (and 1 to avoid)


DeAnne and I took the girls camping this past weekend. We went to that famous campground in Holland, Michigan: Aunt Nelle’s house.

All day long, the girls could barely contain their excitement, shunning both nap times in favor of running around and squealing while I was busy over-packing for our one-night stay. Weather didn’t look good, so I was loading our bags for (almost) every eventuality.

By the time we left, the girls had run themselves out of steam, so they napped peacefully as I made my way to Holland, where I met my wife after work and we unpacked at Aunt Nelle and Uncle Nathan’s place. Once the girls woke up, we perfectly executed a 10-point program for a great indoor camping experience.

  1. Homemade Pizza for Dinner – Nelle and Nathan had dinner ready to assemble when we arrived at their house. The girls had a great time adding their own toppings (with lots and lots of cheese) to our evening meal. Having a hand in dinner prep helped keep the girls entertained and gave them a little ownership over their food.
  2. Setting Up the Tent – The girls have never been camping before, so before we dove right into roughing it in the wild, we wanted to give sleeping in a tent a trial run in a safe and more manageable environment. It turned into an even more manageable environment than we were planning for when we moved the whole operation inside due to a nasty looking overnight forecast. And when I woke up at 3am to the sounds of a downpour, I knew that setting up inside was the best idea.
  3. Sleeping Bags – Since we were staying inside, my wife and I borrowed an air mattress and some blankets and we gave our daughters our sleeping bags to use. We don’t have any kid-sized bags yet, but that didn’t really matter since the girls were so happy in ours. As it was, they fell asleep on top of them anyway, so maybe it was more of the idea of sleeping in a sleeping bag that they enjoyed rather than actually doing it.
  4. Indoor Plumbing – I’ve camped in nature, backyards, and campgrounds, but there’s nothing quite like having indoor plumbing at your disposal. Not once did I have to put on my footwear and trudge uphill to a stinky public restroom, wondering what kind of disease or fungus I was going to bring back with me.
  5. The Campfire – I don’t know if it is possible to call it camping if you don’t have a campfire. So once our camp was set up inside, we moved the party outdoors for Aunt Nelle and Uncle Nathan’s fire pit. Uncle Nathan is a fire wizard and quickly had a blaze going, developing some good coals over which we would cook the next point on the list…
  6. S’mores – Can you have a camping trip without s’mores? Probably, but no one would have any fun and nobody would ever go camping with you again. Enough said.
  7. The Hammock – Around the fire pit sat enough camp chairs for everyone to enjoy the campfire. But right next to the chairs, swung a hammock. I’m sucker for hammocks and this one was so perfectly comfortable that I don’t know if I’ll be able to go camping anywhere else without bringing one along.
  8. No Fighting in the Tent – As any parent who has had to put a child down for bedtime can attest, children are not designed to pleasantly retire for the evening. They bargain, they plead, they dawdle, and occasionally they fight with whoever happens to be close (with our daughters who share a room, they often choose each other). But the tent where they slept must have had some kind of magic camping dust inside of it. I’m not saying they fell asleep instantly (goodness no, they did not), but they didn’t fight at all. They just giggled and played and giggled some more until about the fourth or fifth time we told them to quiet down and get some rest.
  9. Uncle Nathan’s Famous Homemade Blueberry Pancakes – We awoke in the morning to the delicious smells of blueberry pancakes and bacon wafting to us from the kitchen. Uncle Nathan treated us to a homemade breakfast feast. I’m already trying to book our next overnight visit, just for the amazing breakfast.
  10. Kollen Park – After breakfast was neatly tucked away in our bulging bellies and our gear was safely stowed in our car for the trip home, we all drove down to Kollen Park on Lake Macatawa a few minutes away. My only wish for their playground was to be younger and more spry so I could keep up with our kids. That park has one of the finest outdoor playground setups I’ve ever seen. The park is beautiful and well-kept and the lake has plenty of boat traffic to keep watchers entertained for quite a while.

And one stinky part.

  1. Keeping Hold of Our Belongings – The one black mark on an otherwise perfect camping trip was when my 2-year-old realized that dropping her hairband over the railing of the walkway along the lake meant that the hairband was gone for good. I’ve never seen a more instantaneous or expressive sad face in my life. But with assurances that the mermaids and fish of the lake would take good care of her headband and that we would replace it soon, she seemed okay by the time that we left.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip and I’m looking forward to doing it again. Thanks for reading!


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