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Budget-Friendly Backyard Camping

Family camping trips can create cherished, lifelong memories for parents and kids alike. But it's not always possible to pack up and head off to the nearest national park. Sometimes a busy work schedule prevents a family getaway, and other times the budget is stretched too tightly to accommodate the expenses a vacation entails.

You can create an exciting adventure the whole family can enjoy, including the pets, without ever leaving home by camping in your own backyard. See if some of the following ideas can help your family embark on a thrilling outdoor journey without ever crossing your property line.

A family resting in a tent.

Make a pact to stay outside and unplugged.

To really do this wilderness immersion right, ask everyone in the family to promise they'll only go inside for bathroom breaks. Leave all electronic devices inside and agree that parental phones will only be used in emergencies. Ask all family members to pack everything they would need for a real overnight trip.

Create a cozy campsite.

Purchase a basic pop-up tent that can be pitched in about 10 seconds. Depending on the size of your family, you may want to go with just one four-person tent or add a two-person model to accommodate the older kids or parents. Line the tent floor with yoga mats or thick blankets to make it comfy before putting down the sleeping bags.

Illuminate the area with solar-powered yard stakes or string lights to create a soft glow and help everyone feel more comfortable being outdoors in the dark. Provide everyone with a bright flashlight that can be used to safely go back into the house for bathroom breaks.

Pack a cooler.

Make an assortment of your family's favorite cold sandwiches and pack them into an ice chest with fresh fruit and juice boxes for lunches. Bring plenty of plain drinking water along with nonperishable snacks, such as crackers and trail mix.

Craft a nature collage.

You're going to need some engaging activities to keep the kids entertained during daylight hours. Get them started with a treasure hunt that finds them foraging your gardens, looking for interesting and unique items that can be included in a colorful collage. Ideas include bird feathers, pine cones, dried flowers and rocks. Once the supplies are collected, let the kids glue them onto poster board or a terracotta flowerpot to create a visual reminder of your special backyard camping trip.

Introduce your kids to the joys of bird-watching.

Find an age-appropriate beginner's field guide to birds, and provide your kids with binoculars so they can start spotting the species that populate your area. Some guides designed specifically for young birders have pages for journaling and drawing what they observe.

Get physically active.

If the kids have energy to burn, arrange some physical playtime. Pair off into teams for friendly competition in a game of volleyball, soccer or touch football. Throw the frisbee or tennis ball for the dog too. If you're backyard camping on a hot summer day, pull out the water guns and water balloons for a refreshing battle that cools everyone down.

Cook dinner over a fire.

Open-flame cooking is one of the best parts of a camping trip. Use either a wood-burning fire pit or a charcoal grill to roast hot dogs and burgers. You can wrap veggies and potatoes in foil packets and grill them for a healthy side dish. Of course, dessert has to be s'mores, but if you want to put a fun twist on the traditional method of roasting marshmallows on a stick, try s'mores nachos.

Gather around the fire at night.

Once the sun goes down and everyone starts to unwind, that's the time to sit around the fire, and roast popcorn. Remember to keep children and pets at least three feet away from the open flames. If you don't have a fire pit, you can set a lantern on a blanket and make that your focal point. Tell ghost stories, sing songs or share your favorite experiences from the day. If there's a musician in the family, be sure they bring along the guitar, harmonica or ukulele.

Backyard camping is a great way to introduce the youngest family members to the joy of sleeping under a starry sky without concerns over wildlife or lack of running water. It's also a lot less time-consuming and costly for parents. If done right, backyard camping is one outdoor experience that can deepen the bonds between parents and kids while creating a whole new family tradition of fun.


Family in the kitchen.

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