Friday, July 23, 2010

Our Evolution of Camping

This is a story about how I went from a hotel kind of gal, to an RV and camping enthusiast. If you want the shorter version, without all of the photo illustrations, you can click twice on the following image from July 18th's Beaumont Enterprise. But if you want the rambling version (oh, joy), with all of the photo illustrations, scroll on down.

In 1994, my husband purchased a used pop-up camper. On the day of its delivery, we popped the top and unfolded its canvas walls—right in the middle of our driveway.

My friend next door walked over and presented a dubious scowl. "Is this yours?” Kathy seemed shocked.

“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

She laughed. “I’m sorry, Dayle, but you don't look like the camping type. You’re much too…. prissy.”

Truth is, I haven’t always considered myself the “camping type” either. I thought folks who frequented RV parks were either a) not very bright, or b) broke. Possibly both.

But early on in our marriage, my husband insisted camping might be fun. So, in the summer of 1982, we borrowed a friend’s trailer, invited my sister and brother-in-law to join us, and headed to Florida.

(1982 - The Man on our first camping trip, in a tiny borrowed trailer)

Our campsite was a shady spot. A picnic table rested under a grove of pines, and just beyond a hedge of shrubs, white beaches and emerald waters awaited us.

As we set up camp, I was acutely aware of the sounds around me. Birds chirping. Gravel crunching as folks walked past. An occasional wind rustled the trees. Everything seemed alive, and yet the noises were remarkably calming.

In the past, I’d always been a hotel kind of gal, but I was curiously being mesmerized by this natural setting. I remember thinking: I can’t believe I didn’t know this existed.

As the week unfolded, I had a revelation. Chaos and busyness ruled my life—even my vacations—but a natural environment calmed the mind and body.

Such a thought seemed radical, but by stepping out of my normal routine I was able to identify exactly what had been missing. Previous vacations were spent doing and going and rushing, all sandwiched between irritating encounters. Crowded hotel elevators. Televisions blaring from hotel rooms and caf├ęs. Children screaming while being dragged from amusement park rides. No wonder I returned home from such trips exhausted.

Out here in nature, things were different. Even the children seemed more relaxed as I observed them playing board games at picnic tables, riding bikes down dusty trails, or throwing a ball around. In spite of earlier doubts about camping, I was close to conversion.

On our final evening, we sat talking in soft tones beneath the pines, a stream of moonlight falling across our laps. The impact of that peaceful moment was unforgettable and impossible to put into words. A moment like that can only be experienced.

On our second camping trip, in 1983, we went for the whole tent experience, and I’d say it pretty much climaxed when I crawled in one evening and found a snake coiled up on my cot. Yikes! After nearly tearing the tent down, I still managed to finish the night—and the trip—in a good mood, but a girl has her limits. That was the beginning and the end of the tent-camping era for this gal.

(1983 - The year of the tent ... and the snake.)

Our daughter turned eight the year we bought the little pop-up, and I discovered that camping with children is less stressful than the hotel scene, for several reasons. Children are calmer in a natural setting. You don’t have to worry so much about what they’re wearing, or if they get dirty. There’s room for them to unleash their energy. And they don't want to stay glued to the television all night.

(1994 - My sweet daughter and Princess, the year of the pop-up)

In 2000, we sold the pop-up and bought a used 30' bumper-pull trailer. Going from a pop-up to this had us feeling like the Jeffersons—we had moved on up! While it was still close quarters inside, it had a full kitchen, a queen-size bed, a sofa that made a bed, a dinette that made a bed, roomy closets, an indoor bathroom (hello!) and a bathtub, to boot (double hello!). Heaven on wheels. This was our home-away-from home for the next nine years.

(2000 - We enjoyed this 30' RV for nine years.)

So, what attracts me so much to camping, you might ask. For starters, camping is more economical, but more importantly, it offers a chance to “unplug.” It allows the mind and body to disconnect from the synthetic world of artificial noises and electronic bombardment, and connect to the real world—a world filled with life and soothing sounds. But that's not all. Consider the following:

* You don’t have to squeeze into an elevator several times a day.
* Your pets are always welcome.
* Whatever is in the fridge is yours for the taking.
* You know the sheets on your bed are clean, because you washed them. And if they’re not, it’s your dirt.
* You can go to breakfast in your pajamas.
* There are paths and trails that beckon the curious soul.
* You have a front-row seat to nature’s wonders.
* Camping brings you closer as a family.

After three decades, we now consider ourselves camping veterans. In 2008, The Man retired. A year later, after much research, we sprang for a 38-foot Fleetwood and are so blessed to be able to travel extensively, something we dreamed of doing for many years, and something we never take for granted.

But I've discovered that the charms of camping have less to do with whether you travel by RV, or enjoy camping in tents or in on-site cabins. Camping is mainly about getting out in nature and drinking in the magnificent views by day, and inhaling the night air. It's about slowing down the pace.

(2009 - Cloud Nine, as we call our Fleetwood coach,
with Goldilocks following behind.)

Gary Smalley, founder and president of Today's Family, an organization which sponsors family enrichment seminars, traveled across the country interviewing "unusually happy" families, trying to find a common thread. Speaking with each family member separately, Smalley discovered one activity they all enjoyed: camping trips.

If you don’t know beans about camping, here are a few suggestions.

Start small.

State parks are a great choice. Click on this link to find the destination of your choice.

Plan ahead.

Many campgrounds fill up early, especially on weekends. It’s a good idea to make reservations.

Gear up.

Check out this website for advice from the camping pros.

Have fun.

Take board games, books, puzzles and things like dart-boards and horse-shoes. Bicycles make nice additions for afternoon rides through the park.

RV parks usually have swimming pools, and some offer a large variety of sporting equipment for your pleasure. In addition, look for paths and trails for casual hiking. Lazy evenings are a good time to bring out the guitar for a little round-the-fire singing, while roasting marshmallows and talking about the day’s activities.

Until next time, happy camping!

Article first appeared in The Dallas Morning News, by Dayle Allen Shockley. All rights reserved.


  1. You make so inviting and sound so easy!

  2. Love our marriage of 30 years I was the camper, my husband the hotel boy. We camped some before kids...then after five children we bought a pop-up that slept all seven of us...and off we went. I loved it, but life got busy with everyone's sports and it has been five years, also another child was added....I have missed it so much...our last camping trip was before our first son got married...I have got to get back camping again...our four year old would love it
    Thanks for the wonderful reminder...I totally agree!!!!

  3. That was a good post, Dayle. I have NEVER EVER EVER been the camping type. I think one look at that snake and that would have been it for me for-e-ver. But I know a lot of people LOVE camping. I might try it again (once?) before this life is over. ha ha ha Susan

  4. Oh Dayle ~ I couldn't agree more! We spent many anniversaries camping :0) (it falls over Memorial Day weekend.) The kids always made us cards out of flowers, tree branches, leaves etc. Just precious! It is just as you described ~ a way to UNPLUG!

  5. A masterpiece, sis! Loved it immensely!

  6. I read the long version, of course. I wanted all the details and pictures.

    First, I have to say that this is so funny to me, considering Gayle's recent post about camping. Giggling.

    Growing up, our family "moved on up" from a pop up much like yours to a more schmancy one. Although today I'm not a camp out kind of girl, you are RIGHT about the family camping adventure.

    Snake? On the cot?
    You would find me at the Motel 6... with the lights on.

  7. Hi Dayle,
    We bought a pop-up camper after renting one for a trip to the Adirondacks with friends (in their own camper)and we had such a great time. The weather was cool, water brisk, campfires warm everything was perfect! After a few disasterous camping trips here in Jersey - not so much! Mosquitos, heat and crowded ccampgrounds made us give it up for motel rooms and we never looked back! I enjoyed reading about your camping adventures!


  8. Dayle, Just came upon your blog and sure enjoyed your camping. I've been camping for many years. I've been single for sometime but I still pull my 19 ft and go camping with family. Beside the nature it makes me slow down and be thankful. I'm sure Cloud 9 is the Ritz in camping compared to the pop up!

  9. love your post! We are just like ya but still own our pop-up. We dream of the hard side next camper. lol

  10. Such a wonderful journey - those 30 years. You prissy?? I could never have imagined that!

  11. I feel more relaxed just reading your post and viewing the photos! Lots of wonderful family times, for sure! If Cloud Nine ever heads east to southern NJ, be sure to let me know? Would be such fun to meet you!

  12. I love this!! I grew up camping with my family from the time I was a baby. Now that I am married, my husband and I look forward to getting a camper someday so we can enjoy camping without sleeping on the hard ground. We love the outdoors and spending time "unplugged" too.

    By the way...thank you so much for visiting my blog yesterday and for leaving such encouraging words. I am honored!!! Today was a big day for me...I gave my blog a new name and a new look. God is really transforming my life right now and I am humbled to be in His service encouraging women in their relationships. Meeting wonderful women like you who are doing what I aspire to do someday is one of the greatest blessings. Thank you for touching my life!

  13. I love the idea of camping - theoretically speaking. It's the darn bathrooms (or lack thereof!) that I can't get past! But you're very close to having me convinced...

  14. Oh, I love this. So glad you shared it. We love primitive camping. The boys especially. I think it's the challenge that enthuses them. Our most memorable trip so far was one where we spent the first night in a thunderstorm while our tent was staked out under huge pine trees. Leaky tent, chest thumping thunder, blinding lightning. We were too scared to hike to the car. Yeah, it took a while to camp again.

  15. Dayle, AWESOME post! I saw this sale this morning and you might be interested! I'm thinking of getting the marshmellow tree fork! When I was little we had a motor home that we LOVED. Out of the 25 times I've been to Disney world, we "camped" there about 18 of them! Such a GREAT campground and a sweet and calm respite after a day in the park. THANKS for the invitation to your Thursday party, I'll try to remember!

  16. Thanks for visiting my blog, Dayle. We moved from Houston 45 years ago so I can see where camping would be a blessing, although we dearly loved Houston. I think the snake episode would have had me advertising my tent for sale and would have put the brakes on camping! I may join the Quiet Pleasures if my computer behaves. This 103° F weather is playing havoc with our internet, I think.

  17. i found your blog by way of an google image search for *prissy camping*. ha! what serendipity! your camping post alone has drawn me in like a cup of hot coffee on an early morning in may. love it!

    we camp. er ... we GLAMP. glamour camp. we also do vintage trailers and glamp. vintage trailer rallies, etc.

    just bought a new little baby - she's a dream and just for me. i pick up on february 7. she's 12ft including the hitch and weighs a tiny ounce i'm sure. she's a '62 totem and i've yet to name her. here's the link:

    we have a '65 kencraft that's 28ft long and 6000 lbs. she's an elegant old girl and aptly named Lady jAne. here's the link:

    i believe in giving personality to a little or big home on wheels - really making it *home*.
    i believe in camping with Ralph Lauren bedding.
    i believe in camping with excellent cuisine,
    using nice dishes and utensils.
    i believe in camping while wearing my favorite pearls.
    therefore ... i glamp.


  18. GLAMP! Love it!

    Yeah, baby! I love me some RV! We've had two-- the first one our family of four traveled in for three years before we went on AIM in the Philippines. Then three of us deputized in it for a year. The next RV we had is only for two and we call her the Li'l Dutchgirl. She's the greatest! I canNOT imagine staying in hotels................

    And we loved camping as a young family for sure! Got lots of pictures but they're in storage back in Missouri. Wonderful, blessed memories of family time outdoors in tents and KOAs. God's been so good to us!

  19. Well, I'm enjoying all your posts here today, Dayle. First read your blog post, then your marriage page, now this one. My hubby and I used to camp. We started out with the tent, too. We bought a class C RV when our son was in elementary school. We sold it several years ago because it seemed that camping was getting as costly as staying in a hotel. But we sure do miss it and we talk about buying a new RV, once my hubby retires in about 4 years. We have so many good memories, and when I think about it, those vacations were the most relaxing, for the most part. We do have some memories of flat tires in the middle of nowhere, gas leak, engine trouble, the breaks going out driving down a mountain road - yeah that one was scary! But still wonderful memories!


  20. Dayle!!! Are you back to blogging????
    (Be still my heart)


Dear Readers, I adore your company and your comments. If you ask questions here, I respond to them here, so please check back when you have a chance. Kind regards, Dayle