Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency
Tent, RV, or camper? Cabin, yurt, treehouse, vintage Airstream, or hammock strung between two trees?If you’re thinking about taking the kids camping, perhaps for the first time, you’re not alone.Camping was the one segment of the travel industry that didn’t suffer during the pandemic. In fact, it enjoyed unprecedented growth.In 2021, according to the KOA North American Camping Report 2022, camping accounted for 40 percent of all leisure trips with more than half of all travelers adding camping to their travels.Significantly, many were urbanites. More than half of new campers came from non-white groups. Thirty-six percent of campers went on a “glamping,” trip defined as luxury camping with amenities and staff. (In 2020, our experience at Paws Up in Montana, at more than $1,000 a night, included a claw-footed bathtub in our platform tent and a butler to see to all of our needs.)
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RVing has never been so popular nor is it the purview of retirees. According to the RV International Association, more than 45 million people plan to RV this summer, many with kids, in a vehicle they own, rent or borrow. RV ownership is up more than 60 percent since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, with strong interest among millennials, the research shows.The RV association’s 2022 North American Camping Report concludes that millennials, campers with children in the household and higher-income campers will drive growth. The research suggests that there will be 61.3 million camping households in the coming year. The net gain is estimated to be around 5 million more campers. The trend is expected to continue.Also significant: Many of the new campers have higher incomes than campers in the past withnearly four in 10 campers reporting an annual income of more than $100,000, according to the 2022 KOA Camping Report. (The profile pre-pandemic was solidly middle class with only two in 10 reporting that income.)These new campers, like all campers, perceive that getting outdoors is the safest way to vacation during the ongoing pandemic. Staying in an RV or cabin, they cook for themselves and have private bathrooms. And once they have experienced camping—in whatever form – they want to do it again … and again, the research suggests.High gas prices aren’t dissuading travelers, though they may opt to vacation closer to home or park an RV in one campground and explore from there.According to RVIA, many RV models allow a family of four to save up to 64 percent on vacation costs, even factoring in the cost of gas.But saving money isn’t the only reason families turn to camping and RVing. “Sometimes the kids forget we are driving,” said Trina, a mom from Denmark, RVing with her husband and two kids to visit Utah national parks. “It’s not a lot cheaper but it is a lot easier than staying in hotels with the kids and we are closer to nature.”“There is something magical about sleeping under the stars and being lulled to sleep by crickets,” added Nicky Omohundro, creator of LittleFamilyAdventure.com and an avid camper.For families whose kids have severe food allergies, cabins or RVs can be a significant vacation de-stressor as you can bring and prepare your own food.Parents love that kids can have more freedom in a campground, making new friends as they ride their bikes or scooters. “You always get to meet new kids in a campground,” said Stella, 10, from Colorado and one of the many kids I interviewed for my Kid’s Guide to Camping.Kids and parents alike love that they can bring their pets along. “We take our cat,” said Brittany, 12, from Arkansas and one of the many camping kids interviewed for my Kid’s Guide to Camping. “Our cat loves riding on the motorhome dash … you should see the looks we get from other cars.”But there are still rules to keep everyone safe. Make sure the kids know to ask permission before leaving your campsite — and walking through someone else’s, especially early in the morning when neighbors are sleeping. At a big campground, make sure the kids know where to go for help (the campground office) if they get lost and they should have your cellphone numbers, if they don’t have a phone.That’s why you need to book ahead, perhaps renting directly from an owner at rvshare.com or gaining bragging rights for unique glamping digs outside on top of your sleeping bag when it’s hot? Enjoying the sunset from your cabin porch?“For new campers, my first suggestion is to seek a campground location that offers more amenities and services,” said Toby O’Rourke, president of KOA. She added that according to the North American Camping report research, new campers had a better experience with access to those who could help solve a problem (campers and RVers are a friendly lot), as well as a camp store (in case you forget the all-important fixings for s’mores).Borrow or rent the equipment you need. REI, or LL Bean, for example, have knowledgeable salespeople who can talk you through must-haves (a good first-aid kit and cooler).Your first time out, consider opting for a shorter trip, especially with record gas prices. Set up tents in the backyard or RVs in the driveway for a trial run. See if you have everything you need. See what you can leave at home.Of course, the best part of camping is when you are out of your tent, cabin or RV — hiking and biking, exploring national parks and famous and not so famous places, watching birds and wildlife, always from a safe distance of course, or sitting around a campfire together.Do something new. How about exploring a cave? Mountain biking? Fish for dinner?(For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow TakingTheKids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. The Kid’s Guide to Philadelphia and The Kid’s Guide to Camping are the latest in a series of 14 books for kid travelers published by Eileen.)
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