If you take your grandchildren tent camping, they will think you are the coolest grandparent ever, guaranteed. Just don't wait until they are too tied to technology and to their friends. So do it now, but be informed before you go.
These tent camping hints are geared for grandparents who are not wimps, but who may not be as vigorous as they were a few years ago. As for the age of the grandchildren, much depends upon whether you'll be going it alone or traveling with parents. Most grandparents advise that camping with grandchildren who are school-age or older is optimum, but if you really love camping, you may not be able to wait that long.
What Size Camping Tent Should I Buy?
A too-small tent can be a problem. You want your tent to be big enough for everyone's air mattress, plus everyone's suitcase, with a little room left over for people to walk. On the other hand, if your tent is too large, it won't fit on most tent pads.
I think it is far better to have two smaller tents than one that is too big for the tent pad but not large enough to be roomy. The two-tent system works if some of the grandchildren are old enough to be in their own tent without panicking. Or you could separate by gender -- granddad and the boys in one tent, grandma and the girls in the other. In some locations you will have to rent two campsites if you have two tents. In other locations, you will be able to fit two tents in one site, one on the tent pad and one on a reasonably flat piece of land nearby.
Will I Be Able to Put the Tent Up?Tents, all tents, are easier to put up than they used to be. When shopping for camping tents, ask for one that is easy to put up. They actually have tents that you toss in the air and they set themselves up, but these will probably be too small for your purposes. Ask the salesperson to recommend a tent that is easy to put up. Another general guideline is that the fewer poles the tent requires, the easier it should be to put up.
What Other Features Should My Tent Have?Most grandparents will want a tent that they can stand upright in. It's easier to make a bathroom run at night, for example, if you can actually stand up rather than having to make your way out of the tent while crouched over. Here's another hint. Put something in your tent, such as a folding chair, to hold on to. Use it to steady yourself or to sit on while putting on your pants and shoes.
When Should I Say Uncle?Tent camping is not fun if it is raining. Yes, you can survive rain. But sitting huddled in a tiny canvas enclosure listening to the rain is not fun. If it is raining and it appears that it is going to rain for a day or more, you may want to decamp. The same goes if violent weather is expected. Spend a night in a motel, take the grandkids to a movie and have a nice restaurant meal. You don't get any points for being a martyr.
What If Someone Gets Hurt or Sick?
When you are planning your trip, it's a good idea to use a mapping program to locate the medical facilities closest to each of your campground destinations. If you are going to be camping in a national park or other staffed facility, the rangers or other personnel can give you that information. But ask ahead of time. Don't wait until you need it. While few of us plan to visit a medical facility, we are senior citizens traveling with children. It's best to be prepared.
Many campgrounds are located near water. Be sure you are up-to-date on water safety, and watch even older children closely.
Do I Dare to Have a Campfire?If you are camping with toddlers, campfires are not a good idea. For older children, they are one of the most magical aspects of camping. Establish firm rules about the perimeter to be maintained around the fire. It helps to draw a line in the dirt. Children also love to put sticks in the fire and wave them around, which is excellent way for someone to get burned. Ban that activity. A good rule for roasting marshmallows or hot dogs is taking turns so that everyone doesn't have something in the fire at the same time. You will have to be firm about all these rules, because a fire exudes a powerful attraction.
Where Do I Go If I Have Questions?Many campgrounds today have campground hosts who receive a free campsite in return for performing certain duties. Campground hosts are great sources of information about the area. Lots of them are grandparents whose grandchildren visit, so they may know about kid-friendly sites and activities.
Above all, relax and have fun. One of the great things about camping is that you really don't have to entertain the kids. They entertain themselves by climbing on rocks, watching the wildlife and just being kids. If there is a break in the action, though, you can always go geo-caching or collect specimens on a nature hike.