WHY TAKE YOUR KIDS ON A CAMPING TRIP?
"I do it because it's the best way I've found to reconnect with my kids."
– Rue Mapp, Founder, OutdoorAfro.com
Rue Mapp of Oakland knows from personal experience that camping can be the most affordable way to spend a week or even a weekend away from home.
But that's not why she does it.
"I do it because it's the best way I've found to connect with my kids," she said, adding, "When was the last time you had a conversation with your children that wasn't interrupted by a phone call or text message?"
But by taking her children to remote places, often in areas with little or no cellphone coverage, Mapp finds she can hold lengthy conversations with her children without interruptions from text messages or phone calls.
And when she involves her children in outdoor activities, such as hiking or swimming or climbing over boulders, everyday tensions, worries about school or work, disappear, and family can connect with each in ways they can never achieve at home.
"Being in nature, we unplug," Mapp says. "We're able to connect and interact with each other in ways we don't get to a chance to do in our busy, daily lives. We can take our time. We can watch a sunset together, we can feel the warmth of a campfire and share a sense of wonder with one another as we look at the night sky."
Camping and being in nature is also a wonderful way to find peace.
"There's nothing like sitting on the edge of a riverbank and listening to the sound of the water moving over the rocks," Mapp said, "or hearing the wind blow through the trees while squirrels, birds and chipmunks come out to greet us."
Mapp also finds that these precious moments of quality family time with her children or peace in nature are moments she can take back home with her after the camping trip has ended.
"I find that in my daily life, I can call up those images, those experiences of peace, and it can really help to inform my daily life in a very positive and calming way."
Mapp's best childhood memories, in fact, are camping trips. She still vividly remembers a leadership development camping trip she took twenty something years ago when she was a teenager.
"I felt this incredible feeling of independence," she said. "It was the first time in my life that I could experience the world on my own terms. It helped give me a sense of who I am."
Camping, of course, is also a gateway to many healthy outdoor activities that can help improve everyone's health.
"We're facing a crisis of diabetes, heart disease and obesity in this country, particularly in the African American community," Mapp said.
And while camping in itself won't cure these ills, it is a powerful way for people to decompress and get in tune with their minds and bodies in ways they can never achieve back home.
"Camping, and all of the activities that go with it, is something you can never replicate in a gym," Mapp said. "A treadmill or stairmaster is never going to be a replacement for a brisk hike and the benefits you get for your mind and body.
Camping and being in nature also tends to bring out the best in people, she said. "You go to any campground," she said, "and it's like going back in time. People are friendly. They talk to each other and interact with one another in ways they don't do even in their own neighborhoods back home. You see random acts of kindness we don't even see enough closer to home."
Mapp remembers pulling into a campground late one night and having trouble getting her tent set up. "I'll never forget, there was a couple that came out of their tent and helped us get our tent set up. They gave us a hand. That small act of kindness was such a neat experience."
Camping, in sum, is not only a way to improve one's health and family relationships. "It also can be a way to restore your faith in humanity," Mapp said.