Camping can be a fun and great time for a family, but without the right experience, it may not initially be for everyone. Having experienced and upgraded from tent, to pop-up, to travel trailer camping, we'll take you through the pro's and cons of each experience, and show you how just about anyone, can love being outdoors, even when not completely roughing it.
Having a large family can mean activities such as camping or just about any event can have its challenges. Each person whether it's mom, dad, or kids has a set of needs and comforts that they are accustomed to and expect. Camping, particularly tent camping, doesn't afford much in the way of creature comforts and may be enjoyable for some, but isn't always enjoyable for all.
My family, as most, started our camping experience with a tent. A tent is easy to pack and allows you to take off to a campground in a moments notice, without too much preparation. Though this is an advantage tents have, tents also have a number of disadvantages that are hard to overcome for a large family.
Though tents are advertised in 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, and 10 man sizes, the reality is that fitting any of these amounts of people in a single tent, is next to impossible. This comes to light very quickly on your first trip out.
Another thing that you learn very quickly is the ground is extremely hard, and a tent gets very cold at night. Kids can be rather forthcoming with these two issues; so what I am really saying is they can turn these issues into a much bigger problem than they really are. But, I am going to say with absolutely no sarcasm whatsoever, cross my heart and hope to die; "A significant other would never, ever, have these same issues and would never, ever complain about sleeping on the ground or being in the cold!"
Though tent camping was an interesting experience for us suburbanites, we still enjoyed being together, the cookouts, campfire stories and all that went along with camping; that is, outside of the sleeping arrangements. This small dilemma had me on a hunt for a better way, and a better way I found.
A friend mentioned, after discussing camping, that they had an older pop-up camper they were looking at getting rid of cheap. For about $500 I was the proud new owner of a 1985 Palomino Pop-up. The camper wasn't free from small issues, but it was functional and overall OK.
Immediately, our camping experience improved. Everyone was sleeping off the ground and the camper added a sink, a stovetop, an indoor table, electric lighting, and a few other small creature comforts that made the transition from city folk to campers a bit easier.
The downsides to a pop-up are, small interior space, limited storage, and no bathroom. Even some pop-ups that do have bathrooms have little to no privacy for their toilets.
Hybrid Travel Trailer
Though the pop-up camper was a good option and we enjoyed the experience with few downsides, I found myself doing the "guy thing" and eyeing/drooling over all of the really cool rigs other people were rolling up to the campgrounds with. After touring a couple campsite neighbors' trailers, I decided to get back on the lookout for something larger and more suited for our big family.
After some time of Craigslist searching, I found a used Hybrid Travel Trailer for $4500. Hybrid means that it has the interior of a hard travel trailer, with the addition of bunks on both ends that fold out like a pop-up camper. This seemed like a good mix of the outdoors and indoors, with all of the amenities and upgrades of a modern trailer.
The major pro's for the travel trailer are, integrated bathroom (this one is a lifesaver for a family), stovetop with oven, TV and radio, plenty of storage, which means you can load up days before your departure if you would like, refrigerator and freezer, heating and air conditioning, and a long list of additional upgrades.
Now I know what you may be saying, "That's not camping" and to a certain degree I would agree. However, by having the trailer we have been able to go on so many weekend trips to places we would have never gone before, and have been able to spend more time in the outdoors than we ever would have without. The hybrid gives us the ability to enjoy ourselves no matter if it starts raining, or if it gets extremely hot or cold.
Though a hybrid has been a great choice for us, there are some considerations for those deciding between a travel trailer, or a hybrid. Hybrids are known to leak some water when they are closed up and stored in winter months. This means maintenance and replacements down the road. Our hybrid is eleven years old and we just had to replace a bunk end due to rot. This was at a cost of $1000 with parts and labor.
Another thing that few are aware of before their purchase is that the bunk ends are made of canvas, like a pop-up camper. The canvas sweats and can drip water onto you when you sleep. You can reduce or eliminate this by unzipping windows, but that introduces cold air. Canvas sweating is very apparent when you run the heater or have a lot of people in the trailer.
Even with these couple of cons, we have had our hybrid trailer for over five years and really love it. We have slept as many as ten people in our hybrid, of course that was six kids and four adults. For us, the hybrid has been a worthwhile investment and we continue to enjoy it to this day.
As much as I love the hybrid, there are many times I consider stepping up to a full-blown traveling domicile, but not for the reason you might expect. It's not for the features, additional comforts, niceties, or otherwise.
The reason I have considered this upgrade (though I most likely will stick to the hybrid) is purely for travelling with six kids. When we go on long trips with the hybrid today, we take everyone in a Chevrolet Tahoe SUV. Everyone fits in the SUV, but long trips can be cramped, cause arguments, and often requires multiple bathroom breaks, and snack/food stops.
An RV on the other hand, provides the ability for passengers to move about, utilize the bathroom if necessary, make food, play games, watch movies, and sleep. This could be a major advantage for those with kids and could make the whole travelling experience much easier.
The disadvantages for an RV are, higher fuel costs, maintenance, storage costs when not in use, maneuverability due to size, and more campsite restrictions.
Whatever you may choose whether it is tent camping, pop-up, travel trailer, or RV; taking the family on regular camping trips can significantly strengthen bonding and relationships. I would definitely recommend starting in the tent though; this will give you a better understanding of roughing it, and whether you, or better yet your family, are made out for that type of camping.
Having the hybrid has changed the way we travel and saves us money on overnight stays. If we are travelling to amusement parks or any other event, we always check to see if there are nearby RV sites where we can hook up. This usually saves us a significant amount on lodging, and is much more comfortable for everyone.
All of these things should be considerations when you are deciding on your flavor of camping. The biggest thing is to just get out there and have fun. Your family will appreciate every minute you spend with them in the outdoors. So just do it!