Why We Go: An Inquiry Into Camping With Kids

Meat Cove campsite

Sunrise snacks at our campsite in Meat Cove, on the northern tip of Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island.

The Return Reflection

Words and pictures by Kate Paine

It’s 1:39 a.m., and our truck is in the driveway with a trip odometer reading 2369 miles, the hood still hot from a long trek home. Our girl is in bed with an extra blanket thrown over her — it’s gotten chilly in the two weeks since we’ve been home. Our little guy is nestled in his bed, too, surrounded by three new stuffed seals picked up on our maritime roadtrip. My husband is wandering the house checking faucets, breakers and windows. And our Pyrenees, Arlo, is finally eating a late dinner, after refusing to eat at rest stops for the past 15 hours.

And me? I’m sitting here at the kitchen counter, winding down and reflecting.

Out in the truck there is a day’s worth of gear waiting to be unpacked. Tomorrow we’ll set up the tent once again, air out the pads and sleeping bags, wash boatloads of laundry, return all the flashlights to their rightful positions in drawers around the house, and salvage what’s still edible from the soggy cooler. It’s a solid five hours of work, and for once I was smart enough to plan a day buffer at the tail end of this adventure to return to normal life. I feel happy about that choice.

But anyway. All this work … why do we do it?

Kids in the car

Fifteen hours in the car with two kids and a dog.

Vacation for Parents

I’m guessing most moms have read that joke about vacation with young kids: that it’s simply doing all the work of parenting without any of the modern day conveniences. In our case, we trekked up to the tippy top of Nova Scotia from our home in New Hampshire, and pitched our tent at a walk-in site, cliffside along the ocean on Cape Breton Island. We huffed all our gear up (and down) a steep trail to the site, took rainy midnight treks to the potty, and drank coffee with grounds in it every morning due to lack of skill with a percolator.

And it was glorious.

We awoke with the ocean waves as the soundtrack to the watercolor sunrise. We slept with our heads just inches apart from each other, and I could hear the soft breathing of my little ones all night. We told ghost stories over burnt marshmallows. We watched our kids grow up two weeks more in front of our eyes and their hair get a bit shaggier as their skin got dirtier and their toes got sandier.

And what’s more? We saw their best.

We saw them be determined when the hike was long, and our six-year-old daughter said, “I want to keep going ‘til we reach the blueberries.”

And flexible when we took a wrong turn and added an hour to a long drive.

And resilient when a skunk sprayed our dog at 1 a.m. and all hell broke loose in our campsite.

And inspired when my daughter played her violin for the ocean and it sang back at her.

And adventurous when we biked along some challenging paths that took bravery.

And sacred when we took a side route to see a Buddhist monastery.

And delighted when the post-hurricane waves knocked us down.

And generous when there was only one cheesestick left and they split it in half.

And downright lovely when they snuggled together in their sleeping bags and she read to him.

Identifying flowers on a hike.

Identifying flowers on a hike.

Prince Edward Island beach

The beach was all ours when we camped in Prince Edward Island on the way home.

Sunrise from NEMO Wagontop

Sunrise from my sleeping bag.

And Disconnected.

We were a pod of four (five if you count Arlo). Each of us disconnected from our usual routine and the props that keep us occupied on a normal day, and in doing so magnified our connection to each other and our moments together. This was the first time in perhaps fifteen years I’ve traveled without my laptop, which is always under my arm, ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice to *save the world* (or at least check some site analytics). We didn’t have cell reception for most of the trip. We didn’t have NY Times, or the Onion or Twitter. Our kids didn’t have their playground or morning cereal routine. And we were okay.

We just had each other, the night sounds, the breeze in our hair, big and little hands clasped together on the trail, and endless moments to just be.

There’s such art in being. As one of my favorite authors, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, “The best way to capture moments is to pay attention.”

Not with an iPhone, or even a fancy digital camera. It’s paying attention. Being.

Each of us have our own reasons for adventuring: to conquer, to discover, to uncover. But for me it is this: I adventure to be. Viscerally present, fully connected, and delightfully alive. With myself, with my family, with the elements.

In our measured number of moments to enjoy, I hope we can all plan to “be” in most of them.

Cheers to your next adventure!

Nova Scotia coast

The Nova Scotia coast is breathtaking.

Hauling two year old around

Hauling my happy two-year old up trails and around cities is constant entertainment.

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The NEMO GO FAR Program gears employees up for adventure and sends them off to have fun and discover something new. This post is part of a series of pieces written by NEMO-ites on GO FAR Trips.

Kate Paine leads marketing at NEMO, while Arlo enjoys running laps around the office with his canine pals and napping in tents.