Camping, Glamping, or RV Travel: What Suits Your Family?

Published on June 15, 2020 - Updated on June 16, 2020

With Proper Planning, the Rewards of a Family Getaway in Nature Can Be Accessible to All!

camping

If you haven’t considered outdoor options when planning a family getaway yet, now is the time. The concept revolves around fresh air, some level of solitude, and a self-sustaining lifestyle, all ideal while the spread of COVID-19 remains an issue.

When considering an outdoor overnight excursion, there are so many options to suit your family preferences. Connecting with nature is not a one size fits all scenario. Nature is available for full immersion, or those simply seeking great views and a sense of peace can get out there without sacrificing comfort and convenience.

We camped a few times growing up and, honestly, I disliked it... strongly. I camped as a young adult, and again, strongly disliked it. Spoiler alert, I’m now 38, the mom of an adventurous 4-year-old, and I LOVE camping in all its forms! Once I realized that it doesn’t necessarily mean being cold, scared, and uncomfortable, it looked brighter already. With proper planning and approaching it in the style that best suits your family, camping can be incredibly relaxing.

We generally camp several times a year and have a full camping plan for summer 2020. It’s one of my favorite things in the world. I crave the quiet, the campfires, the opportunity to disconnect from the world, and the chance to be still. When we are camping, I am aware that we are making memories that will shape our family.

Here are a few different ways to “do” camping ...

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Cabin Rentals

Yes, getting out in nature with a bed, running water, comfy sheets, air conditioning, heat, and maybe even a kitchen is still considered camping! Hands down our favorite option for cabin camping is Getaway House. They are perfectly appointed with every amenity while still delivering the recharging powers of time spent outdoors.

Many of the national parks also offer cabin rentals in the heart of the park. This is a great way to be in nature without roughing it. You can still have S’Mores and enjoy access to nature, which is the real motivator for the full camping experience.

cabin camp

RV Travel

Whether you leverage a rental from Outdoorsy or other large RV travel companies or settle in for a longer-term relationship through purchasing, you’ll inevitably fall in love with the comforts of your own space to travel with you anywhere. We love our Airstream Bambi sport trailer and enjoy comfortable beds, linens, pillows from home (never underestimate the joy of your own pillow), a full kitchen, toilet, and shower.

RV travel is becoming more popular than ever because it makes physical distancing more manageable during the pandemic. RV campsites can be found via The Dyrt, The National Park Service and, our new favorite, Harvest Hosts.

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Glamping

Glamping has quickly become a crowd-pleaser with so many fun options popping up across the country. We have now explored several including Under Canvas outside of Yellowstone and Conestoga Ranch next to Bear Lake in Utah, which ranks as our favorite to date.

Both have the comforts of a high-end hotel with quality accommodations, common spaces for entertainment, and fabulous places to roast S’mores. While most of the tents or wagons don’t have restrooms inside, the shared restrooms and showers are top-notch, well-stocked, and clean. If you’re looking to dip your toe in the camping waters without sacrificing comfort, glamping is a superb option. Generally it is priced similarly to a hotel.

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Tent Camping

Tent camping still has a special place in my heart, even after experiencing all of the seemingly more comfortable options. When I told Emily, our Chief of Staff, how uncomfortable I found camping to be, she said if you’re not comfortable, you just don’t have the right gear. Okay, I can deal with that, I love gear.

Excited by the challenge, we embarked on an REI shopping spree and picked out a wonderful tent, sleeping bags, and outdoor cooking gear for a whole new experience. If you want to experiment with camping and are not quite ready to purchase all of the gear, borrow from a friend, or pursue rental options. When you are really ready to dive in, here’s a word form Emily on her must-have camping list and tips and tricks for comfort in the wild!

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Preparation is the Key to Camping Comfort

I want to start off by saying that these tips are IN NO WAY required, or meant to deter you from camping if you are not ready to invest in the gear. These tips, gear recommendations, and opinions are all based on my own personal journey with learning to love camping. They are the things I tell people when they express interest in investing in their ideal camping system, and they certainly add to the comfort of the experience. There are plenty of ways to go about getting out there, but here is my advice for doing it the way I prefer!

-Emily Coleman, Chief of Staff

The Perfect Camp Lantern

I am obsessed with my Luci Light. This compact lantern is solar powered, easy to use, and perfect for hanging in a tent, putting in the "kitchen," and general camp use. It's my favorite non-essential camping item, but now that I have one, I can never go back! It's small, affordable, and easy to use and maintain. Just remember to leave it in the sun during the daytime.

Camp Pillow

Bringing my pillow from home is one of my favorite ways to bring comfort to the wild. You could also consider a Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow if you want something more lightweight. If you're backpacking and need a pillow in a pinch, take your sleeping bag stuff sack and fill it with some clothes!

Sleeping Pad

If you're looking for a lightweight, easy to pack backpacking option, my personal favorite is the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Insulated Sleeping Pad. It's easy to blow up, slips into my Big Agnes sleeping bag so I never roll-off (a feature specific to Big Agnes), and is insulated for extra warmth. For a two-person sleeping pad, the Exped Synmat HL Duo Sleeping Pad comes highly rated.

If you're simply car camping, have a lot of room in your tent, and prefer the luxury of a normal bed, I often recommend just using a quality air mattress. Consider this Etekcity Camping Air Mattress or one that resembles more of a bed, the SoundAsleep Dream Series Air Mattress.

sleeping bag

Photo Caption: Big Agnes sleeping bags have this unique feature that allows you to attach your sleeping pad to the bag so you don't accidentally roll off while you're sleeping!

Sleeping Bag

When purchasing a sleeping bag, there are a few things I always consider: the temperature rating, the insulation fill, and the purpose.

  • Temperature Rating: As someone who has camped in every type of condition, there is one thing I have learned about myself - I sleep cold. So if I had to choose one type of sleeping bag to own, I would choose a zero degree bag every time. The thing about camping is it is always easier to cool down than it is to warm up so if you're willing to spend a little more, and carry a slightly bigger load, the zero degree bag will suffice in most conditions.
  • Insulation Fill: When purchasing your sleeping bag, you'll probably notice that you have two options, Down or Synthetic. Both are perfectly acceptable options, with varying pros and cons. Down bags will be lightweight, great in cold, dry weather, compress very small, and be durable. Synthetic bags will often be more affordable, stay warm when wet, dry fast, and are hypo-allergenic.
  • Purpose: When I purchased my sleeping bag, I wanted something I could easily pack and use on a bike-packing or backpacking trip in mostly dry climates. My down bag is compact, light, and serves it's purpose well. Depending on what style of camping you want to do, there are various types of sleeping bags for you to consider. If you want to err on the side of comfort with your partner, and have opted for the mattress or double sleeping pad situation that I describe below, I would recommend a two-person sleeping bag. The Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed is a great option. The brands I would explore include Big Agnes, Mountain Hardware, Marmot, The North Face, Sierra Designs, and Kelty. They are more expensive than a Walmart sleeping bag but reputable for a reason. If you want a more affordable brand, the REI Co-Op brand is probably the only large chain I would consider.

camping baby

Not Ready to Invest?

If you are new to camping, or not quite ready to go on a spending spree, just bring a ton of blankets! (I'm talking all of your blankets!) Fleece is great for staying warm and I've even brought my comforter in the past. Just bring extra, wear wool socks, fleece pants, and maybe a jacket! Sleeping with a fleece buff is also nice because you can cover your face and neck while you sleep and it will stay warm while wet. Camping doesn't have to be expensive. If it's the difference between going and not going, just go with what you have, but a LOT of it! Bring hand warmers for all of your pockets and socks and get out there!

Other Helpful Tools and Tips To Stay Warm

  1. Fill everyone’s water bottle with boiling water (make sure the water bottle can handle high temperatures - preferably a BPA free or non-insulated stainless steel) and stick them in the bottom of everyone’s sleeping bags. They work like magic to keep feet nice and warm.
  2. Always assume it’s going to feel ten degrees colder than it’s expected to be. Bring wool socks, fleece, and down layers for maximum warmth. It’s a lot easier to cool down than warm up, so packing extra is always a good idea.
  3. Have a high-calorie snack full of sugar, carbs, and fats when you’re cold and it will help your body warm up a little in a pinch. It’s also a great excuse to eat a Snickers bar.
  4. If you are cold, pee! Your body uses a lot of energy warming up urine, so get rid of it and you'll notice the warming effects right away! Not to mention, it's pretty hard to fall asleep or relax when you have to use the bathroom.

The Verdict

At the end of the day, my biggest piece of advice for someone who is developing a love of camping, and ready to make the financial commitment, is to really consider it an investment. If you want your stuff to last for years and work as advertised, avoid purchasing your gear from Big Box Discount Stores. I cannot recommend REI enough for all of your outdoor needs. If you become a member, you also get a dividend return each year which makes you feel a little bit better about spending more for quality. I would say investing in a sleep system is probably the best way to ensure you will enjoy your camping experience.

camping baby


Once you are ready to take the leap, you can drive right up to your campground, or choose a hike in/hike out experience which can range from extremely primitive to very close to civilization, restrooms, and amenities. There are so many options, and with proper planning, all versions can be truly invigorating. What’s most important is that you give it a shot and figure out what works best for your family.

No matter what style is ultimately your preference, you have so much to look forward to! Your family will create countless memories over meals around a firepit, and in the meantime instill a love for nature in your children that will bring them joy for a lifetime!


Please check out the blog for more inspiration, such as Five Survival Tactics During the Summer of COVID-19, get inspired to get outside in Hiking With Kids Tips and Tricks, or if you aren’t quite ready for hiking or camping, join us as we Plan A Picnic and as always, we love seeing your family's highlights! Tag us on Instagram @gethappyly!

Enjoying our content? Please download the free happyly app, the country’s only mobile-first family activity planning app, for fast access to all of our frequent blog content, favorite activities and expertly designed curated days, both locally and in many communities and travel destinations across the country.

Finally, do not miss The Big Thing: Taking Charge of the Emotional Health of Children In Our New World, highlighting an amazing free children’s book created to help our little ones find understanding and a silver lining during these challenging times.

Caitlin Iseler
Washington, DC
Caitlin Iseler, happyly founder and CEO, was born in New York and is one of eight children. Her favorite holiday is Thanksgiving and the chance to sit at one table with her favorite 40 people. Caitlin, her outdoor loving husband, Thomas, and daughter, Hanah, live in Jackson, WY. She is also blessed to be a bonus mom to 2 incredible humans, Max & Elizabeth. Being a mom has always been something she dreamt of and it brings her joy beyond measure. Before starting happyly, Caitlin spent 15 years working in executive search with technology companies, most recently with Korn Ferry. In what seems like a lifetime ago, she attended the University of Virginia and was a member of the National & ACC Championship Teams, a gift that keeps giving.
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