Our family tent camping fails

Camping and life lessons learned from tent camping failures

I’m a relatively simple person. I enjoy the small things in life and quiet moments. I love nature and feel at peace in the solitude of being in the mountains or on a lake. And so I feel like tent camping should be a great activity for me. I mean, of course, I’m not all that outdoorsy and am kind of allergic to the sun (I get hives). I also can’t sleep on the actual ground because my fibromyalgia-ridden body would complete revolt. But otherwise, this camping thing should be perfect for me, right?!

In theory, tent camping is completely up my alley. It’s something I’d enjoy and be happy with. I don’t even mind too much getting dirty. I’m the kind of girl who baits her own hook when fishing with worms. (I’m also the kind of girl who goes on said fishing trip with a full face of makeup!)

But, alas. Tent camping seems to be something I just don’t have a knack for. Or maybe it’s just something that I have bad luck with. Each time we go tent camping, I go with a positive attitude that this time will be different. And, other than two overnights in a tent at a theme park (which doesn’t completely qualify as camping), I have been wrong.

Tent camping fail number one

My husband and I took our first camping trip just the two of us a few years before we had kids. We headed about three hours away. We left most of our belongings in the hatchback of our vehicle because the tent wasn’t huge. It worked just fine.

We camped in an area surrounded by sand dunes and lakes. We rented a dune buggy and had fun. Then we decided to rent a jet ski. While I grew up nearly constantly being in the water, my husband didn’t. Without thinking, he put the car keys in the pocket of his athletic shorts. He wasn’t planning to do much swimming.

But the jet ski tipped over on a wave in the huge lake and into the water we went. Back on shore after our rental ended, we realized my husband didn’t have the keys. Yep. They floated out of his pocket and were somewhere in the lake. We couldn’t get into our car, back to our campground or to any of our dry clothes. We were stuck. Doh!

My parents came to our rescue and headed to us with the spare set of keys from our house. They got an unexpected trip and rescued us. I’m not sure this fail was from tent camping or just our crummy luck, but it was my first experience as an adult with camping. It is certainly an unforgettable one!

Tent camping fail number two

Fast forward about eight years and our family had grown. We bought a larger tent on sale a couple of years previously and decided our kids were old enough to try some tent camping for a night. They were 3 and 6. We loaded up the car. Our first stop was to see Thomas the Train and then camp. But, the town where we planned to camp was inundated with rain with more forecasted. My husband suggested we look somewhere without rain and change our plans. So, we did so. We drove in the opposite direction and found a campground.

The campground was a bit soggy, but no rain was predicted for a couple of days. We didn’t get to roast marshmallows or anything by the time we got there, but we did get settled in for the night. I woke up in the middle of the night to hear the pitter-patter of raindrops on the tent roof. I thought it was relaxing. When I woke up cold soon thereafter cold, I even felt wet. As I woke up even more I realized it wasn’t a brain trick; I was wet. It was the middle of the night and the roof of our tent was leaking horribly.

We all woke up, cold and wet. I settled the kids in the car then helped my my husband tear down our tent in the rain and mud. We were soaked through and covered in mud. In our frustration, we threw the tent in the dumpster, assuming the rain protection was faulty.

Because all the nearby hotels were inexplicably booked, my husband drove us three hours home. I tried to keep the kids happy since they were tired.

When we got home and reasonably clean, we fell asleep — after remembering that we had packed ponchos in case we needed them. Doh!

Successful camping

Our next camping experiences were about two years after the rain leak fail. The kids wanted to go to a theme park nearby to ride roller coasters. I discovered the theme park offered an in-park camp night once a summer. It was a great deal, and we decided to go for it. We did that camping trip two years in a row.

I’m not so sure it was actually so much camping as it was sleeping in our (now new, bigger and easier to assemble) tent on a manicured law. But we liked it and made good memories. So, I’m calling it successful camping!

Tent camping fail number three

And that brings us to the most recent tent camping failure that happened just a few weeks ago. My kids keep wanting to go camping. As summer break wound down, we had a lapse in the heat and headed to a state park for two nights of tent camping. Our kids are now older (8 and 11). We were now wiser. This would be the camping trip of our dreams. Plus, the state park offered horseback riding — something both kids love right now!

The first night went swimmingly. We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. We played some games and had a good time. It rained overnight, and we didn’t get wet at all. The next morning we were raring to go and hit up the horseback riding. After lunch and a couple of excursions, we headed to our camp site to rest. Backing into our parking spot, we hit a tree stump that pulled about 1/3 of the front bumper loose.

It wasn’t a great way to start our downtime that afternoon. With some ingenuity and a carabiner clip, my husband got the bumper to stay in place until we got home the following day and he could repair it.

We all had a rest after that and then decided we’d go out for dinner. The sky was a beautiful blue. The weather forecast said 0% chance for rain. We talked about it and decided leaving our tent windows open was a good plan to keep the tent cool while we ate our pizza in town.

As we sat down for dinner, the wind dramatically kicked up. The sky grew dark. The rain poured down for about 10 minutes. We hoped the trees shielded our tent. We speculated that maybe it didn’t even rain at the campground, which was about five miles away from town.

But, we were wrong. We arrived back to camp to find our tent wasn’t in standing water, but it was wet. Our bedding, chairs and clean clothes were all wet. We discussed options and decided heading home a night early was the best choice. We tracked mud through the tent as we packed up to leave. In the end, we tied the wet, muddy tent on the roof of our vehicle. On the way home we frequently checked to make sure the bumper and tent were still attached.

The next day, we spent a few hours (quite literally) cleaning mud off of things. We hosed down the tent a couple of times and used the wet vac. My husband repaired the bumper. The kiddos sprayed down the chairs. We took a brush and hose to our shoes. Exhausted, we got everything put away and ended our camping adventure.

What we taught our children

While our oldest daughter remembers the second tent camping fail, our son doesn’t remember it quite as well. But now at 11 and 8, they certainly remember the most recent fail. We had discussions while we were unexpectedly packing up our campsite and the following day as we cleaned.

We told our children feeling disappointed by cutting our trip short was normal. In fact, we were disappointed, too. I mentioned that having had very minimal positive tent camping experiences, I felt all the more determined to go tent camping again and not let it defeat me. (Though I had a moment the day of scrubbing mud from the tent where I was fine to let camping be the victor!)

We also talked about working together. I was incredibly impressed with my children. They helped us pack everything up at the campsite and also clean everything up when we were home the following day. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but we determined this crummy thing happened and we got to choose how we reacted to it. Both packing up and dealing with the disappointment were much easier working together.

My husband and I each felt some responsibility for the soggy tent. We decided to take the risk and leave the windows open. But we didn’t blame each other. We explained to the kids that we had certainly learned a lesson. (Never again will we leave tent windows open while we’re away from the campsite!) And that’s what failure is about. We learn lessons, take them with us for the next time and move on. I pointed out to them that everyone messes up, and we don’t have to get really angry at ourselves when it happens. It’s an important lesson to learn.

In the end, our tent camping fails have given us memories at the least. And they’ve allowed us to teach our children how to react when life goes sideways. These weren’t the first time we’ve taught them that lesson, and they won’t be the last. I want my kids to be prepared for times life goes unexpectedly, because it surely will.

Now we just have to gather the courage to take on tent camping again with our lessons learned. One of these days, we will prevail in tent camping. At least I’m pretty sure we will!

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