How a Philadelphian Goes Camping

City dwellers conquer the great outdoors.

I’m getting ready to go camping with my own family (one boyfriend, two teens, one teen+), a friend who is flying in from Tokyo, and another good family friend and his girlfriend. I have steaks, marinated chicken breasts, Angus burgers, bratwurst from Esposito’s, one case of assorted wine, a case of Mike’s Hard Mango, a case of Yuengling, a bottle of port, a handle of vodka, a bottle of our homemade strawberry cello, our portable ice maker, a cooler of salads, peaches, tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries and about a half dozen assorted cheeses, three books, four magazines, two laptops—for writing only; no Wi-Fi—six board games, and our anti-gravity chaise lounges.

If you are getting the sense that the primary objective of our camping trips is eating and drinking, you are right, though you must also include sleeping, reading, and game-playing. Colleagues and students are often surprised that I like camping; I don’t look, dress or act “outdoorsy,” but when I explain that camping is my excuse to do only the things I most love for three days (eating, sleeping, reading, playing board games), they get it. Sort of.

Several years ago, when I had only been dating my boyfriend a short while, we decided to plan a camping trip with my three kids, two of whom had no memory of camping or desire to go camping. We took along my boyfriend’s nephew, and a hard-to-define family friend and his sister, who none of us had ever met.

We were in tents. We had no electricity or running water. It rained. We grilled steaks. We played charades and Apples to Apples. We made s’mores. We had a great time. Since then, we go camping at least four times a year, and I don’t even have to cajole the kids—they love it.

In the five years we’ve made camping part of our lives, we have definitely pimped our camp sites. We own a pop-up trailer—getting out of bed by standing up instead of crawling out of a tent is a big benefit—but if I haven’t convinced you yet, pop-up trailers can be rented. We have a screened-in cabana, because yes, some bugs are to be expected, but we might as well do what we can. We have numerous multi-day coolers, better cookware and dedicated sheets, grilling utensils, lanterns, etc. We only go to campgrounds with bathrooms, because yes, we love the woods, but that doesn’t mean we are animals. We like picnic tables and fire rings and the occasional shower.

Yes, there have been burns, mosquito bites, and bruises we can’t recall how we received. But these war wounds are part of the stories we get to tell, like the one about the recent storm we weathered, grateful for our precious pop-up that rocked in the wind while we watched the lightning flash as fast as a strobe light, like when my son Christopher parkoured right into the picnic table and split his chin open, like when a tree fell not three feet in front of us as we hiked a trail.

I realize that many people wouldn’t even call our version of camping “authentic” camping, but it works for us. Basically, we live primarily outside for three days, reducing life to the things we like best (again, eating, sleeping, reading, playing board games). Despite the alcohol and meat consumption, we feel like we’re doing something healthy. I know they are good for my family—interacting without furtive glances into palmed cell phones is rare for us all. Every trip, I am struck by how much we have to say to each other, even after (very little) talking to anyone else but our own group, even by day three.

I recommend it for all of the reasons above and this: Camping takes you away from so much of what we accept as normal, urban life: crowds, traffic, constant city noise, multitasking. Camping buys you head space.

On longer trips, we do sometimes take day trips into rural civilization, and visit places like Cabela’s, or take fall foliage steam engine train rides. Making transactions with strangers, moving in a car, seeing other sights, can be fine, too. But I love it when one of my kids says, “When are we going home?” and they mean our campsite.