10 MUST Know Tips for First Time Campers

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This past weekend we took my mother in law and the rest of the family on their very first camping trip. It was Jovany, his mom and step dad, 3 teenagers, myself, + 3 dogs! What a weekend (LOL). While everyone had a great time, give or take 1 or 2 teenagers, I noticed first time campers (as with anything new) have some difficulty getting the hang of things that with experience, are very quite simply. Seeing them struggle with their sleeping bags, not bringing the proper sleepwear, etc. really got my attention and thus, the inspiration for this post! Here are some tips that I think are CRUCIAL for first time campers!

  1. STUFF YOUR SLEEPING BAG

    I love seeing people take their sleeping bags out, set them out for a comfortable night’s rest to then FREAK in the morning because they can’t seem to fit it back into it’s bag! How did this even fit in there?! How is it possible?! You probably try to roll in into a tight ball like the way you took it out of it’s brand new bag! WRONG. Stuff that sh*t! Seriously…. Grab one end of the sleeping bag and STUFF it into it’s bag. While you’re stuffing it, you can push out all the air that is currently in your sleeping bag taking up space! This is a much easier and faster way to pack your sleeping bag.

  2. BRING ‘PROPER’ CLOTHING

    Even in the Summer months, most places (with a few exceptions… hello, Miami), will get pretty chilly at night. Do some research prior to your trip so you know what the weather will be like. If you’re camping in the mountains, the weather can change in an instant so be prepared. Bring clothing for all types of weather! Many people also assume that since we’re in the summer months, it will be HOT. While this is different for some people, it usually gets pretty cool at night and your shelter will most probably not hold in heat. Bring clothing that will keep you warm and comfortable at night, whether you’re someone who loves the old or not. You never know how cold you may feel until you’re shaking in your tent at 3am in 50 degree weather. Also, make sure you’re sleeping OFF the ground. If you don’t have something such as a sleeping pad or inflatable mattress, it’s going to get really cold at night on the ground!

  3. BUG SPRAY?

    Do you really need it? Are you terrified of bugs? Well, if you’re going camping, you’re GOING to see all types of bugs! Bug spray may help keep them OFF of you, but they’re still going to be around. I recommend learning about some bugs and how they help keep ecosystems in balance. Bugs will be around and most of the time, you’re not going to need heavy duty bug spray. With this in mind, I recommend purchasing a natural bug spray made out of essential oils. Studies have shown that Lemon Eucalyptus is great for repelling mosquitos and other flying insects, including ticks. Unless you plan on rolling in the dirt, I do not think you should be too concerned with bugs. Wearing proper clothing can help keep bugs off of you too, so make sure you bring long socks, long pants, and closed shoes. If you’re still concerned about ticks, you can choose chemical sprays, but they do come with many possible adverse reactions. Many will argue that the rates of bad reactions are LOW but I try not to use the bad stuff unless i’m going deep in the Everglades, where I know mosquito clouds exist. With this in mind, I recommend doing research on where you’re camping. Is there an increase in bugs during the summer months? Are you camping near a wetland? Is it usually hot and humid? These are things to consider and I recommend calling your campground for more info.

  4. FOOD + EQUIPMENT

    Look up recipes on Pinterest prior to heading out. Make sure you buy all the necessary equipment, in case your campground does not have a grill. Test out any equipment you may have. Don’t forget to bring the necessities… utensils, napkins, plates, and cups. Single use is not the best for the area because 1. you’ll have to buy a lot of garbage bags and store all of that garbage in your car. and 2. you’ll be contributing to landfills. There are many great options that can be reused over and over again on all your camping trips! Also, find a supermarket near your campsite and buy food there! This will provide you with fresh, delicious food and you won’t have to carry it all on your trip to the camping area! You can set up your tent and then go purchase whatever you need! Make sure your campground has potable drinking water, if not, you will need to bring your own!

  5. PRACTICE SETTING UP YOUR TENT

    Sounds like common sense, but many people think setting up a tent is super easy! IT’S NOT! It can be really complicated depending on your tent! Make your camping adventure a stress free one and practice setting up your sleeping area prior to leaving! Set up EVERYTHING! Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad or inflatable mattress, lights, etc. You’ll thank me later.

  6. FIRE SAFETY

    It goes without being said…. Always practice fire safety! If you want, bring a fire extinguisher or have a large container of water nearby (just in case)! Some campgrounds do not allow you to cut or move wood from the area or even bring your own wood sometimes. Double check before purchasing or moving anything! Make sure to put your fire out before going to bed and never any fire unattended. Forest fires often result in the carelessness of individuals. Don’t be that guy….

  7. WILDLIFE

    Some campgrounds are smack in the middle of bear country. This should definitely not alarm you, i’ve camped in these areas and have never seen a bear. There are also great ways you can avoid seeing bears and other critters, if that sort of thing scares you. First, do not leave ANY food out…. Not even 1 bean! Make sure you pack it all back into your car for the night, wash all areas down, and do not leave trash laying around. Second, DO NOT put ANY SORT OF FOOD into your tent. I put Oreos in my tent for a whole 5 minutes (because hello…. I wanted Oreos!) and even after I took them out and put them back into my car… a Raccoon literally unzipped my tent and went sniffing around for them. Learn from my mistakes please. Three, DO NOT KEEP ANY TOILETRIES IN YOUR TENT. I’ve heard bears love deodorant. Four…. You are sleeping within a wild area and therefore, you may just see bugs and critters. Please do not feed any of them and keep your distance. As cute as it is to feed a duck or squirrel, you’re inevitably harming them by getting them used to humans and human food. Once they associate humans with food, they’ll go after them often and not everyone is nice. Other than that, human food does not provide them with the necessary nutrients they need. Let the animals stay wild and let them be!

  8. CHAIRS

    Bring them…. You’re welcome.

  9. TOILETRIES

    More often than not, someone forgets it. They forget napkins, towels, tooth paste, toilet paper, soap, whatever! This is far from a hotel and sometimes, campgrounds don’t even have toilet paper! Call in advance and pack what is necessary! We always forget towels!

  10. LIGHTING

    Yep…. there aren’t any bright spotlights where you’re going. Pack lanterns, head lamps, flashlights, whatever floats your boat! Headlamps are my favorite because they allow you to stay hands free but try not to blind everyone.

 

BONUS

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Don’t be afraid to GLAMP. Bring an inflatable mattress with comforters and sheets for extra comfort! And of course…. Bring wine or beer! Make sure your campsite allows alcohol and always buy aluminum or glass containers so you can recycle them later! Being outdoors is relaxing as it is, having a glass (or bottle) of wine is the cherry on top! 😉

How Birdwatching Changed My Life

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Osprey and Barn Owl feathers I got tattooed!

I’m sure many read that title and thought “uhm… what? How can looking at birds change someones life?” But hear me out…

Picture me, a person so detached from reality that I wasn’t even aware I was really depressed or anxious. I thought I just needed to finish school and get out of debt and i’d be okay. I spent all my spare time looking at my phone and thinking about the future. I was focused…. focused on what my life would look like after graduation or after I moved out of Miami or after I finally had a big butt and a six pack. Do you ever do this?

These are common thoughts that many young adults have. This is what society teaches us. Graduate high school, go to college, get a degree, get a job, buy a house, have a family, die. So more often than not, we just sit around waiting for these things because we believe it’s going to bring us happiness. This was my case. Waiting for something to bring me happiness.

So here I was, a college student who had just quit her job to finish school and FINALLY feel happy after that. The day after I quit my job I went on a road trip with my boyfriend and friends. We visited West Virginia where our campsite was pretty out there in the middle of nowhere. One morning, I woke up to my friend saying “Tasha! Wake up and come look at what’s outside your tent!). I get out and there’s a gorgeous Barred Owl flying from tree to tree in our campsite. After witnessing this curious bird maybe 10 feet away from me, I was hooked.

Fast forward a few months while I was taking Ecology of South Florida and learning about different ecosystems and species, I started venturing to wild places in search of birds. I knew I was birding but I didn’t know JUST how serious it was to me until I visited one of the best birdwatching sites in South Florida, STA 5/6.

STA 5/6 is a stormwater treatment area near Clewiston, FL that provides some of the best habitat for birds! Just on the drive there, we saw a Bobcat, Bald Eagles, Crested Caracaras, and a bunch of different hawk species. After this day, I never looked back and began birding every single week.

I’m sure you’re still wondering, okay well how does this change someone’s life? I’ll tell you how:

How Birdwatching Changed My Life

It forces you to put the phone down. 

You can’t look for wildlife while staring down at your phone or scrolling through instagram. You miss all the great birds doing this. While birdwatching all of your attention is on the trees or grass or water that you’re scanning for a few beaks.

It forces you to use all of your senses. 

When you’re looking for birds, you need to use all your senses. You need to look for flashes of feathers deep in the trees, you need to open your ears and hone in on that call you’ve never heard before. You need to feel where the wind is coming from so you can catch all the migrates that are being pushed to shore. If you want to do some active meditation, birdwatching is a good way to start!

It forces you to stay present.

You’re not thinking about what tasks need to get done at work while you’re birding. You’re focused on the birds and wildlife that you’re most probably listening to but can’t see. You’re forced to stay present and keep walking in the hopes that you’ll see 30+ species today. It’s an awesome way to focus on the now and not the things that possibly give you anxiety.

You spend most of your time outdoors.

Well… you’re not gonna find a lot of wild birds indoors are you? Birdwatching takes you to the wildest and most beautiful places, from beaches and islands to the arctic and old growth forests. If you want to start spending more time outdoors, birdwatching is your hobby. Not only will it give you the itch to travel more but even when you’re stuck in your hometown, you’ll want to go to a local park in the hopes that you’ll see a lifer!

You meet the weirdest and coolest people.

As with many odd ball hobbies…. you’re gonna meet some weird people! And these people…. have stories! Some have traveled to the very tip of Alaska in search for Russian or Asian birds that flew too West. Some have spent months in the Amazon and some have a lifetime of stories with a life list that could make you cringe (I know peeps who have seen 4,000 species of birds). I’m a huge introvert but when I’m birdwatching it pushes me to be super extroverted where I start conversations with complete strangers… and I’m happy to talk to them!

The point of this post is that birding came to me at the perfect time, where I was still an anxious wreck. After committing to birdwatching every week, I noticed a sense of calm within myself majority of the time. This was a huge improvement since I would randomly burst into tears from how anxious and depressed I was. I, myself, didn’t even know what was wrong with me. I thought I was crazy! I’m sure many people feel this way and I only want people who were in a similar situation to take control of their anxiety/life and feel pure happiness. Maybe it’s not birdwatching, but I’m sure there is a hobby you enjoy that can give you similar results!

Leave a comment below with a hobby that you’re thinking of pursuing! Let me know if you’ve ever had similar struggles and what you’ve done (or thinking of doing) to help yourself!

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