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How to Turn Your Dirt-Free Family Into Happy Campers

Confession: If given a choice of vacations, my husband and I would likely stuff our backpacks and head into the wilderness. We are avid backpackers and car campers, happy to trade in showers and shelter for sleep under the stars.

For many years, our close friends and next-door neighbors would watch our home and feed our pets when we ventured to out for camping trips on BLM land and in state and national parks. They had taken day trips to some of these destinations but couldn't really fathom the appeal of sleeping on the ground, becoming saturated by campfire smoke, waking up bleary eyed to a cold morning and getting their socks dusty from nature's carpet.

While we certainly acknowledge that many people are more inclined to enjoy indoor attractions vs. vast expanses of wilderness, to appreciate and understand us is to understand—though not necessarily appreciate—camping. So when we invited them to join us on a trip, they accepted—though with a bit of hesitation.

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Admittedly, they still aren't clamoring to get outside every weekend like we are, but here are five things we did to help turn these dirt-free friends into occasional campers and how you can get your own family started on weekends in a tent:

1. Gather their gear

One of the huge hurdles with camping is gear. It is expensive, overwhelming and, unfortunately, a necessary evil for safety, comfort and success. Luckily we have a lot of extra stuff on hand. We borrowed the rest of the big stuff—tent, sleeping bags and pads, etc.—from other outdoorsy folk for the weekend. (For those who don't have access to gear, many outdoorsy stores rent it.) We encouraged them to pull together the small stuff like mugs, hand sanitizer and head lamps, and made suggestions on appropriate clothing and footwear.

2. Choose the right destination

A multi-day backpacking trip was out of the question, but a weekend excursion in a campground at Zion National Park was a good middle ground. On-site amenities included flush toilets and cold running drinking water—but no showers or electrical outlets. In a worst case scenario, they could pack up and rent a hotel room in the nearby town.

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3. Plan meals

Before leaving home, we discussed what we would eat, who would provide what and how we would divide chores. Our friends provided most of the food while we manned the camp stove (my husband is a master chef in the wilderness). With meal-planning and other chores around camp, such as pitching tents and washing dishes, we made sure to delegate tasks appropriately so everyone was involved in our camping success without any frustration.

4. Honor tradition

Camping is second nature to us, but it's a novelty to many people, so we honored camp traditions with our friends. We made s'mores and told stories by the campfire late into the night. In the morning, we lit the campfire again and drank coffee and hot chocolate until the sun warmed us up.

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5. Set limits with our friends—and family members' limits—in mind

We can set up camp in the dark, wake up before the sun and choose the most strenuous hikes to fill our days. But we also wanted our friends to enjoy themselves. We kept the schedule loose, helped choose appropriate activities for the group and turned back when they were no longer comfortable on one of their chosen hikes.

Let your kids' ages and interests guide you. And give it more than one try. What seemed like a thing to check off the bucket list may actually turn your kids into nature enthusiasts for a lifetime.

Image via Twenty20/spacehalide

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