Adventures in Camping
How do you feel when you hear the word camp? Does your heart jump with excitement to whip out that already packed box that sits at the ready in the garage? Do you happily revisit the superb learning experience that went along with your summer camp experience? Are you happy to go, but would rather head to those permanent sites where you can cook up your own meal on a clean barbecue and lay your head in a pre-prepared cabin? Or is the idea of camping not at all your thing? Whatever level of camper you are, we can all agree that there are many soft and hard skills learned in that period of camping. What we do with those skills when they’re called upon is up to us.
As a child, I went to camp. From the age of six through to the age of relatively recent, my June, July, and August months were spent at summer camp. They ebbed and flowed from camper to counselor to lifeguard to aquatics director and ran the gamut of day and sleep-away, but a lot of what I learned in life came from camp. It was there where I met counselors from Camp America who shared their international cultures with me and most likely sparked my love of travel. It was there that I learned the definition of true friendships, how to live alongside nature, how to dance in the rain, and how to accept people for who they are - right alongside the skills of making a one-match fire, silk-screening, and learning to swim. It was there that I found a desire to be a swim instructor, knew I wanted to work in some way with experiential learning, and developed a love of s’mores. Those experiences and so many others did far more than shape me – those lessons continue to come in handy in more ways than one.
flynets in Australia's Red Centre
I recall a former student of mine who at the impressionable age of 14 was being ‘forced’ to take a family camping holiday. Her tone was far less sarcastic than mine when she talked about the struggles of being away from her friends, no access to unlimited Wi-Fi, and the unfathomable possibility of no cell service. Upon her return to class over a week later, her story, tone and demeanor had shifted. Sure, she still griped about limited access to her lifeline (read: phone and friends), but the terrible time she thought was in store for her turned out quite the opposite. Talking to people was a good thing, spending time away from technology wasn’t as awful as she first expected, and even being outside kept her refreshed, open minded, and feeling more relaxed. Considering (almost ten years later) she now has a job at a world-renowned theme park, spends most days outside, and is ‘forced’ to use her personable demeanor to make people smile all day long, I’d say the lessons of camping were a complete success.
For me, it was later on that traditional camping entered my life. Since many of my most challenging experiences often come while traveling, it’s not surprising that my first camping experience came on an adventure in southern Africa. It was two nights of tent camping in Namibia’s Etosha National Park that provided my entrance into the camping world. We put up and took down our own tents, made our own food over a permanent stone barbecue, had access to electricity in a small screened in kitchen, showered in the nearby ablution blocks, and kept our shoes inside the tent so the jackals wouldn’t treat them as play toys. Here we worked together, led each other on safe paths amidst the dark skies, reminded each other to take our anti-malarial medicine, watched the patterned lifestyle of herds of animals, and communed with nature and each other around a well-positioned watering hole.
first tent experience, Etosha
A few days later, we spent two nights bush-camping in Botswana’s Okavanga Delta. Here we rode in by mokorro and carried in (and later out) all we would need. We pitched our tents, built our kitchen, cooked over a man-made open flame, and placed the shared roll of toilet paper on a branch right next to the key (read: giant shovel) to the bathroom a few feet away from the hole we dug in the ground. Going to the bathroom was done in pairs, so one could keep an eye out for slithering or pouncing wildlife while the other did their business. The locals who came with us carried machetes for safety, bug spray and headlamps were deal breakers, and making a meal became an ‘everyone pitch in’ arrangement. Our stay here was coupled with impeccable sunsets, being chased by a hippo, introducing Botswanan locals to their first taste of s’mores, finding a scorpion inside a tent, having our first taste of South African Ouma® rusks, and learning the ins and outs of the way of life in the Delta. Again, hard and soft skills combined to make an outside the box learning experience that much more incredible.
9 days tent camping in southern Africa
It was only two weeks later where the real test (of how I felt about camping) came. It would be nine days spent in an overland truck and nights spent tent camping from Zambia through to South Africa. Some campsites were equipped, while others were not. Some nights we were in wildlife parks where the only boundary between the baboons, hyenas, lions and us was the canvas layer of our tent, while other nights were spent in campsites with fabulous hot water showers and covered-over cooking stations. Setting up a tent meant working together, checking the ground for scorpions and their mates, and finding the best way to pack a soaking wet tent after a heavy downpour. The skills acquired were both hard and soft. Setting up and breaking down camp, packing a truck, and cooking a meal were set amidst working with people from all over the world, sharing experiences while bringing different ones to the table, embracing a culture different to your own, and having patience with the experience and your engagement within it. I loved it all. Who knew then the effect that would have on my future?
Three years later, we found our way back to the Dark Continent to experience another camping experience – this time in East Africa. At this point, we knew how to pitch those tents like a pro, but the other elements were new. Here we needed to have certain colored clothing on top of taking anti-malarial pills to hopefully avoid disease-carrying insects. Here we made certain to limit our liquid intake after six o’clock so as to not have to step outside our tents to check for watching eyes seeking their prey. Even though we learned the difference between animals with green eyes and red ones, still, the situation was not optimal. One of our campmates even learned to repurpose his own water bottle when he needed the loo in the middle of the night but knew there was wildlife lurking nearby. Here we slept under a glittering night sky as our tents skimmed the rim of one of the continent’s largest craters. Here shifts in temperature meant sweaty days followed by cold nights and making sure to carry what you needed, as the nearest town or doctor was often hundreds of kilometers away. Here we met with members of the famed Masai tribe who shared their way of life with us. We learned about their housing structures and how and why they were built, we learned of the different roles for men and women, we learned of their reliance on and caretaking nature with their cattle, and we were incredibly thankful to have their handmade blankets to keep us warm on chilly evenings in the Serengeti.
tent camping through Tanzania and Kenya
Seven years later I looked forward to (what I thought was the ultimate camping experience) camping in Australia’s Red Center (Northern Territory). Here we learned to accept things you cannot change (like the overwhelming abundance of flies), try new things (like baking damper over an open flame), and have new experiences (seeing first hand what a ‘swag’ is, and geocaching), all the while experiencing the magic of Uluru sunsets, the grandeur of a clear night sky, and the interaction with the learned Aboriginal culture that teaches patience and love of land above all other things. Here we watched as Aboriginal women created beautiful works of art, respected space when asked not to photograph an area, discussed the reasoning behind the belief of refraining from hiking up Ayers Rock, and learned the exact amount of time necessary to get medical attention in the event of a snake bite. Skills learned, education increased, comfort zones blown open, and experiences had are only a few of the many experiential learning episodes from a few days in the Northern Territory.
tent camping in Australia's Red Centre
That same year, we bought our first tent and used it on a camping adventure with friends. Although there was limited wildlife to be wary of in southern California’s Cleveland National Forest, still, we were without a tour leader to show us a good spot to pitch our tent or make sure we had what we might need. This time, we got to put into practice what we learned. This time, we got to feel the pride of choosing to find a spot to set up camp, spend time making our own dinner and breakfast, and again using the power of our awesome headlamps to work alongside the stars to illuminate our way. Seven years after that first time, we don't hover around outdoor stores only looking for cool travel gadgets; now we find ourselves in the camping aisle pointing and dreaming of the endless possibilities. Weekend web searches aren’t reserved for travel dreaming, but also find us checking out neat camping gear, reading reviews, and thinking about if we’d like to add anything to our camping arsenal. Who knew we’d have those insulated Stanley® cups, keep heading back to Coleman® sites to check out the zillion grills available, and ogle a camping set of cutlery to throw in the car alongside the picnic backpack that regularly makes visits to surrounding beaches and hiking trails?
trying out the new tent at home
first time out for the new tent
My own transformation in the world of camp provides me with insight I never thought I’d have. We have friends (who we consider to be camping pros) who spend their entire summers camping in spots of varying degrees of awesome, and who are equipped with all things one might need to be at a campsite for weeks on end (who knew there was an innovative invention of a camping oven – in case you have a bread, pizza, cupcake, cookie, or muffin emergency?). We have friends who have upgraded their tent to a pop-up camper, which comfortably enables them to haul their favorite cycling gear while giving them ample room to cook, sleep, and even a place to stay dry if it happens to rain. We have friends who take their toddlers glamping once a year and have begun to instill in them the love of life away from their everyday luxuries. I feel lucky to be a part of this camping club. No matter what level of camping we each choose (from the lessons of summer camp to those of the open range), learning continues to happen every time we decide how and when to spend our journey, each time we pop open that tent or put on that bug spray or teach a new friend our favorite way to build their very first s’more.
food prep for bushcamping in Okavanga Delta
Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand. Check out her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com for more of her travel musings.
All photos courtesy and copyright Stacey Ebert