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Is Camping The Right Vacation For You And Your Family?

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In these times of financial strain, screen-time overload and general family fragmentation, camping has become the go-to vacation plan for many. Tent, trailer or lodge camping can provide lasting memories and family bonding at a surprisingly affordable price.

But before jumping on the camping bandwagon this summer, take a good look at your family and ask yourself "are we — or can we be — a camping family?" Nothing is more frustrating than when good intentions and exciting plans result in a miserable or simply disappointing experience.

Things to consider:

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Do you mind getting dirty? If you need to bathe every day or have your kids clean and sparkly at all times, camping may not be for you. Do you require fancy accommodations, with air conditioning and cable TV, and a constant connection to the world? If Hilton hotels are your idea of slumming it, camping may not be for you. Do you need gourmet meals, prepared and served by someone else, as a part of your vacation? If cooking over a gas stove or open flame seems more annoying than relaxing, camping may not be for you.

Now that you are ready to take the camping plunge, let's look at the who, what, where, when and why of camping.

Check out our summer grilling guide.

Who? You can really bring almost anyone camping, as long as you have room and the proper equipment. Newborns aren't be the best candidates, however, as they require more than their fair share of supplies and attention. And tending to them by the glow of a flashlight is difficult. But kids young and old, who don't necessarily depend on a strict routine, will love the novelty and adventure of camping. It's also a great way to stage family reunions on a budget. Many parks and campgrounds have facilities for larger groups. People can go their own way and meet up with others when they feel like it. People get to see each other without the family overload.

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What? As in, what to bring. Like any other vacation, camping requires efficient packing. It's important to bring all the necessities without overpacking. You'll need food, of course, and somewhere to put it. Dry goods and anything that can be grilled are the easiest (don't forget the makings for s'mores). A cooler and plastic bins work great for storage, and they can be stowed in the car trunk so wildlife doesn't indulge in your next meal. Look up the weather where you'll be and bring along the clothing layers you'll need to be comfortable. Have enough for numerous changes, especially for the kids who will inevitably get dirty. You'll need somewhere to sleep, whether that be a tent or a trailer or, in a pinch, the backseat of a car. Accommodations will depend on just how close your family wants to be to each other. Camping supplies will also vary from family to family, but there are a few constants. Never go camping without a first aid kit, sunscreen and bug repellant. A few games can be helpful too, for evenings and when it rains.

Learn how to stay safe in the sun.

Where? Camping is an extremely versatile vacation. Your family can go to the beach. Your family can go to the mountains. Your family can visit historic sites and natural settings all over this great country of ours. Big cities are perhaps the only destinations not convenient to affordable camping. There are state and national parks with campsites, not to mention private campgrounds, pretty much everywhere. Figure out where you want to go and what you want to do, and then research camping facilities nearby. But plan way ahead since popular destinations, like national parks, often fill up months before camping season begins. Here's one resource to help with the planning.

See our country's national parks.

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When? Warm weather is the best time for camping with the kids. The amount of supplies is enough without the added heavy clothing. And with warm weather comes all the outdoor activities that make summer so much fun. If you don't mind sleeping bags and extra clothing, late fall is also a beautiful time for camping. The parks are less crowded, and the foliage can be spectacular.

Why? That's easy! Camping is fun and affordable, giving everyone a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life and creating lasting family memories. Just be sure to bring your camera.

Enjoy your trip!

Check out the Summer Guide at CBS Local.

Alma Schneider is a licensed Clinical Social Worker helping individuals overcome their psychological and practical obstacles to cooking and parenting on her blog and consulting business, Take Back the Kitchen. She is a native New Yorker transplanted to the suburbs with her husband, four children and loving yet stubborn Beagle Shiloh.

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