CAMPING WITH KIDS: A Q&A with Abby Laub
Allison Antram here, a non-camper with a great admiration for the Laub’s commitment to the outdoors! Summer is here, and I love hearing about the creative ways Abby and Jeff incorporate time in nature into their everyday lives. It’s not popular to willingly drag little ones into the woods for camping trips, but they pull it off.
In honor of the official kick-off of summer this weekend, I hope you’ll join me in learning from Abby’s nature-centric perspective and how their family camps with kids and tries to live with an overall outdoors-y focus.
You've established such a fun family culture of being outside, and prioritizing adventure and play. How would you suggest incorporating these kinds of activities?
We love to get outside together, whether it’s just daily tasks, like walking or biking to school; or bigger weekend adventures, like camping, paddling and hiking. In 2021, so far I’ve stuck with my goal to walk outside every single day, even in the freezing snow. Now the kids are totally on board and love joining mommy on her “daily walks.” And Jeff rides his bike to work almost every day.
Also, we live in a place that makes walking or biking to everyday places (grocery, school, coffee shops, friends houses, etc.) very doable, and it is so fun! This was not always the case, and we literally moved houses in order to make this happen - it was that important to us!
And then on the weekends we tackle those “bigger” things when we can. Just last weekend we were at Lake Cumberland and the weekend before that did the Harrodsburg Road bike trail together. The kids are 6 and 8, so they aren’t too cool yet to do stuff with us. We try to get outside as much as possible. Aside from health and recreation, it’s a helpful reminder for us and the kids that jumping in the car and being in a hurry isn’t always the priority. In fact, we lived for three years total as a one-car family! God blessed us with health, and we don’t take it for granted.
Your family finds uncommon ways to connect! What are your favorite things to do together?
Definitely camping and paddling! Thankfully Kentucky has plenty of warm months to get in quite a few trips every year. We standup paddleboard and kayak. Our favorite family activity is to set up camp at Laurel River Lake and spend the days hiking and cooling down on the lake and doing lots of yummy camp food. There is just nothing better!
And then just the simple things, we also love. We love walking or biking to and from school together. The day is just a little more of an adventure that way. We stop at the park, take our time exploring along the way, or visit the neighbor’s chickens, or stop at a friend’s house. I want play and adventure to be instilled into their daily lives and not to be so over-scheduled that there isn't any time to amble home.
Camping?! With kids?! What are the challenges and the joys?
Yes! We love it. There will be snow on the ground and they’ll ask when we can go camping. Every year for our daughter’s birthday, we camp. The challenges were great in the beginning - that’s putting in nicely. I won’t lie; the first time we ever took them camping, the kids were about two and four - there were dirty diapers involved, and it was a nightmare. We camped at a place only about 30 minutes from home, and I nearly packed up and drove away at midnight because it was a disaster. BUT, we pushed through, and now they are truly expert campers! Just had to get over the hump and not throw in the towel before it actually got fun.
There is literally nothing better than escaping the daily grind and getting out into the woods together. Almost always it also incorporates paddling, swimming and hiking. We’ve even taken some trips with friends, and sometimes venture into the woods in a rustic cabin when it’s too cold to camp. We all decompress and get a lot of quality time together. There are many rounds of UNO. This is our fifth summer of regular camping together.
Food when camping with kids - is this difficult? Have you all found any innovative campfire 'recipes'?
I would say that about half of the reason I put up with the difficulties of camping is for coffee outside in the morning, made on the camp stove. I can smell it now. The trees, the dirt, the coffee.
For food, I do a lot of the prep ahead of time at home, and then we pack up our huge bear-proof cooler. I do a lot of simple pre-chopped veggies in foil with some EVOO and S&P, hot dogs, burgers, and bacon. Then we throw ‘em on the fire to cook. I boil eggs ahead of time for breakfast and chop some fruit or make biscuits. We eat very well, and I have most meals planned ahead of time so we don't run out! We have a lot of great camping supplies, like a stove, pans, cast iron skillet, fire starters - the usual supplies!
Can you share a favorite camping story, or two?
There are so many memories, but I’ll never forget the time we went camping when the kids were really young and it was literally 88 degrees and about 90% humidity overnight - a record-breaking heat wave. We spent the entire day in the lake, but trying to sleep at night was basically torture. We have since purchased a quiet, battery operated fan for the tent.
Or the time my son nearly giving me a heart attack by accidentally stepping on a baby snake down by the lake. It was just a water snake. (Pro tip: Learn snake identification when spending a lot of time in nature with kids and be snake-safe!)
Some more positive memorable moments include our daughter learning how to stand-up paddleboard by herself. We were so proud of her confidence and enthusiasm. And get lots of laughs when little brother tips them over. Or bringing along friends and family on trips, and finding lots of new places to explore. One time in the winter we even discovered a freshwater jellyfish washed up on the shore at Cave Run Lake. Google it - it’s a thing!
If you could only give one nugget of camping wisdom, what would it be?
Expect it to be difficult, especially at first. Throw away your glamorous expectations. There is nothing glamorous about camping with kids. We tent camp, often at primitive sites. If you are camping - trailer or tent - don’t go into it expecting not to see ants, mosquitoes, spiders, snakes, and some occasional dirt in your food. Be prepared with proper clothing, bug spray, footwear and first aid. Thank God, we’ve never had any true emergencies, just occasional scrapes and bruises. Don’t do foolish things like forgo life jackets or let your kids stick hands under big rocks.
Get used to the idea that it will likely be difficult, but then embrace it! Look up at the trees, take big deep breaths of the woods and soak in those phytoncides, lie in your tent at night and look out into the darkness. Turn off your phone. Wake up to the birds singing, and just enjoy God’s creation to the fullest.
And, get a van!
What advice would you give to someone looking to make their springtime more active, more adventurous and family-oriented, but not sure where to start?
Start small - just add simple time outside to your life every day. Don’t overthink it. Eat outside, dust off your bike, stop at the park to climb a tree on the way home, or read a newspaper on the front porch in the morning instead of aimless phone news scrolling.
Also, my goal of walking outside every day this year has been so easy and beneficial. Long, short, doesn’t matter. Sometimes the walks are aimless, and sometimes they incorporate something productive, like an errand, listening to a podcast or catching up on phone calls. We are all so deceived to believe that we need to be productive all the time, myself included. Walking outside every day connects me with nature, gets me moving, and gives me time to think, pray or just simply be silent.
Start there, and then see what else you can add to that! I’d love to hear about it!
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