The Best Way to “Travel” This Summer? Camp Close to Home—Like, Really Close

published Jul 21, 2020
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Summer feels like that quintessential season to pack up your gear and head outdoors. Whether traveling to a campground for an annual trip under the stars or shipping off to sleepaway camp, the precious time you spend in nature seems intrinsic to that sacred summer experience. And while experts agree that outdoor recreation is among the safer activities during the ongoing pandemic, it’s understandable that amid safety concerns, some travel and leisure plans have changed.

For those craving a little camping action from home, gather around the campfire and I’ll share some ways to experience the great outdoors right from your own backyard (or deck, or maybe the yard of a close trusted friend). Here are three reasons to try yard-camping this summer:

1. Camping is a good break from monotony, and a great way to reconnect with your family or roommates.

After spending so much time cooped up indoors over the past few months, every household deserves a break. Joshua Posner, former Assistant Director at URJ Jacobs Camp, is a lifelong lover of all things camp. “I think it’s a good opportunity for everyone to get outside and literally breathe. I know I feel it all the time—it’s very stressful to just be out and about.” Giving your household the gift of a new setting helps to ease that tension.

Backyard camping also benefits the household’s relationships. Says Posner: “Just getting the opportunity to be together as a family or as a house… it’s a great way to center yourself during this time and build a sense of community or family together. And it’s a great way to work together and have a communal project.” Shared goals and experiences that don’t revolve around working from home or e-learning are effective ways to reclaim this chaotic time and build some lasting roses among the thorns. 

Credit: Mumemories/Shutterstock

2. You probably have everything you need—or can get it quickly.

Families, couples, and roommates alike can scope out their backyard space for camping activities ranging from simple recreation to full-out tent-pitching. Depending on your vision for your backyard experience, handy equipment can range from items you already own to some savvy purchases from a sporting and recreational goods store. 

For cost-effective ways to recreate camp, items like tin plates and utensils, coolers, and outdoor blankets (or an old one you don’t mind getting a little dirty) set the scene. The next crucial element? Says Isabelle Portilla, divisional vice president product and strategy for Co-op Brands at REI, “To create an awesome setting outside I always love a campfire.” You can purchase a fire pit or outdoor stove, or with a little effort, you can make one with supplies you may already have on hand.

For those seeking outdoor slumber, invest in some equipment that you can also use for future, beyond-backyard travel. If you plan to pitch a tent, Portilla recommends choosing a tent size that provides a little extra room, and recommends sleeping pads. Folding chairs and tables also add to the setting and can be reused in the future.  

Credit: Shutterstock/David Prahl

3. Camp activities are a great way to pass the time and keep everyone entertained.

Now that you’ve set up camp, the fun can begin. Unless you have an enormous backyard, some classic camping activities like hiking or fishing simply aren’t possible. But there are plenty of ways to keep your family or roommates occupied in Camp Backyard. Says Portilla, “Another way to disconnect is to settle in outside with some games. Cornhole, playing cards, or bocce are great for all ages.” There are plenty of outdoor games for all group sizes, and a little competition and even an awards ceremony could make for a memorable day of gaming. 

Even though many households have been spending more time together than ever before, those interactions can still feel superficial. Former camp director Posner recommends the age-old practice of sharing around the fire as a way to check in. “We kind of like to break it up with song and then give an opportunity for participants to share either a story or… to kind of recap the day.” 

Posner recommends a “rose and thorn” approach. “Every participant has an opportunity to share a rose and a thorn. A rose is something great that happened that day and a thorn is something not so fun.” Campfire sharing is a welcome opportunity for the musician in the house to bust out that acoustic guitar. Conversation starter games like Table Topics fit in well here.

And then, of course, there’s food. Says Portilla, “Once you’ve got a fire, s’mores are always fun and a quintessential camping staple. I also recommend some finger foods or healthy snacks and drinks.” And for a s’mores alternative, Posner recommends the Banana Boat: “Just take a banana, cut it [nearly] in half, put marshmallows and chocolate chips in and wrap it in tin foil and put it in the fire for a few minutes.”