It’s summertime! Oh, the glorious days of lounging by the pool, running through the sprinkler with a sticky Popsicle grin and spending all day, every day outside until the sun finally sets. While it does have its own share of woes (I’m looking at you, pollen), I’ve come to absolutely love this time of year, especially after having kids. For so long, I practically missed summer while working in my office. I’d go to work before the sun and leave long after it had set and even though the hours that passed were balmy and beautiful, I couldn’t look up from my computer long enough to notice.

Now that I have kids, I’m basically forced to slow down and smell the roses. Any mama who’s ever tried to get her kids to hurry up, put on shoes and get out the door for goodness sake can relate. My days move like dripping honey and this is especially true in the summertime, when there are fewer activities planned, fewer events to scurry off to and more free time to just play.

One of our favorite things to do as a family is to pile into our camper van and hit the great outdoors. I’ve never been a big hiker or camper by nature, but I did marry an Eagle Scout and that comes with the territory, right up there along with learning how to tie a million kinds of knots, start a fire from two twigs and MacGyver your way out of any situation, apparently.

So in the 10 years we’ve been married, we’ve been on more than our fair share of camping adventures and we were determined to keep the summertime tradition alive, even with two little ones in tow. Here’s how we do it and keep our sanity at the same time:

1. Don’t cram the days with activities.

I tend to keep a strict and very detailed itinerary when it comes to family vacations. No one needs to see the three-ring binder (complete with sheet protectors) I created for our excursion to Disney World last summer, or maybe it’s a work of art. Either way, I normally like to know precisely how we’re going to spend our time so there’s not too much mindless wandering around. (After all, if we’re going to spend our hard earned money on an expensive vacation, I’m not spending the entire thing holed up in a hotel room.)

Camping, on the other hand, is a relatively inexpensive adventure and it’s the perfect time to relax and do next to nothing. Other than a little fishing, making s’mores by the campfire and telling silly stories, there’s nothing on the agenda and everyone is calmer, happier and less stressed because of it.

2. Plan way ahead.

You don’t want to get to your campsite only to find that you forgot a key piece of camping gear, like your tent! While it’s fun to “wing it” and really embrace the outdoors, you’ll need plenty of stuff to make sure it’s both memorable and enjoyable for your entire family. How much you need to pack will depend on where you’re going, how long you’ll be there and what you intend to do while away. It will also depend on how old your children are.

Though each family is different, we’ve found that roughing it isn’t the way to go right now while ours are still little. We’d much rather drive up to the campsite than hike there, but that’s totally our preference. I’ve got plenty of friends who strap their babies into hiking carriers and hit the trails and everyone absolutely loves it.

If you’re going to be away for a while, you might need items such as a water purification system, plenty of easy to grab snacks, changes of clothes, cooking equipment, insect repellent, sunscreen and more. Plan and pack all of these items ahead of time so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.

3. Do a test run.

Especially if you’re going somewhere new or unfamiliar, do a quick test run to make sure you know how to get there and where to set up camp. This is a tip that we learned the hard way after pulling into an unfamiliar campsite near midnight one evening after driving all day to get there. We couldn’t find the hook-ups, didn’t know where to go and there was no one there to direct us. Make the test run fun and incorporate some memorable experiences along the way, such as a quick stop for ice cream. When the time comes to attempt the real thing, you’ll be glad you did.

These are just a few of the tips that have worked for our family and that we use each time we’re ready to set out and explore the great outdoors together. The summer can be an incredible time to make lifelong memories with your brood and the high temperatures and bugs don’t have to be a deterrent. When it comes to camping, a little pre-planning and consideration go a long way, so start brainstorming your next adventure today!

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