The kids are going to summer camp. Time to plan an adult vacation.

by Сашка

The nearby trip can be comforting while also maintaining independence

Michelle Minor drove more than 600 miles last summer to drop off her 12-year-old son at NASA space camp, his first overnight summer camp. Once he was settled in, Minor didn’t drive back home. She and her partner drove about two hours away to Nashville, where they stayed for the week.

“I wanted to be close. That’s really it. I did not feel like I could have him far away,” Minor said, who lives in Evanston, Ill., multiple states away from her son’s camp in Alabama. “I think he kind of also felt comforted by the fact that I was close by, that I wasn’t states and states away.”

It was an added bonus that for the first time in a long time, Minor and her partner got to enjoy a couples vacation. They’re planning a similar trip this August, when Minor’s son goes back to overnight camp.

“We could get to know each other as just adults again, doing things that we like, that aren’t necessarily related to us being parents, like art museums or live music. … We could actually go see live music that starts at 9 p.m., and we don’t have to get up and make scrambled eggs at 7:30,” she joked.

Every summer, more than 26 million kids and adults attend camps, with overnight camps increasing their enrollment, according to the American Camp Association. As some parents sort out their children’s summer plans and make camp packing lists, they’re also planning nearby trips of their own. Here’s how to start thinking about one.

What to consider

Jody LeVos, chief learning officer at the children’s education company Begin, said staying close by while kids go to camp can be comforting for parents, but still allows children to build friendships and independence.

“It’s not going to impact the child’s experience. They’re away from their parents, whether the parent is half an hour away or six hours away, so it’s more about the parent and what makes them comfortable,” LeVos said.

She says each child develops independence at their own pace, but when they’re emotionally and mentally prepared, overnight camp can be a great opportunity for kids to enhance their skills. The transition, however, can be nerve-racking for parents who are seeing their child’s growing independence.

“Parents may be asking the what-ifs, you know, what happens if my child needs me or gets hurt? And so there is some anxiety around, what will the child do when I’m not there to protect them or respond to their every need?” LeVos said.

She recommends practicing overnight camp routines with children who are going away for the first time, like having them sleep in their sleeping bag at home first and practicing other routines that may typically get done with help from parents.

Melanie Gast is planning her first summer vacation spent without her older kids. After years of attending camps near their home in West Palm Beach, Fla., her 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son will attend their first overnight camps during the same week; an outdoors summer camp for the eldest, and a nearby overnight science camp for her son.

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“I look at this as an amazing vacation for my husband and I,” Gast said. She and her husband will bring their 2-year-old daughter along on the trip to Memphis, but they’re planning to take turns entertaining her at the hotel while the other parent visits Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum and other sights.

“We’ll still have a baby, but that’s really different than having a teenager and a 10-year-old,” Gast said. “So for me this is the best it can get.”

Most parents find a camp first then find a nearby city to explore, but it’s possible to reverse engineer that part of the process. The most important thing to do is make sure the chosen camp will be one that keeps your child engaged from start to finish. Once your kid is enrolled, you can start planning your own nearby getaway, but know that unforeseen hiccups at camp could cut a parent’s vacation short, such as illness.

Gast chose Memphis as the city she wanted to visit for vacation, then found summer camps for her children that were within a driving range that made her comfortable. Both Gast and Minor said a city that’s about a three-hour drive or less from camp is best.

LeVos says parents who are nervous about how well their child is adapting to their new environment should make time for movement to relieve stress.

“Going for a walk at night, looking up at the stars, knowing that your child is looking at the same stars can be really helpful and remind families that they may be a little bit apart, but they’re still together,” she said.

LeVos also recommends journaling, for both children at camp and their parents, to explore what emotions come up when the family is apart. Once reunited, family members can use their notes as an entry point for understanding how the time went for everyone.

A win for both parents and kids

At the end of camp, LeVos says children will likely return home feeling proud of the way they cared for themselves and developed new skills for managing their emotions.

That’s what Minor experienced when her son returned from camp last year. He did better than she expected. “I was like, ‘Oh, okay, you did bring all the clothes home? You actually wore all of them versus wearing the same thing? Oh, you did good.’ Those are important life skills,” she said.

She’s more comfortable sending her son back for another overnight camp this year, but she’ll still be vacationing nearby, just in case.

“This is an opportunity to not only still be the best parent – because as a parent, you get a lot of credibility when you send your kid to space camp, but then you also get to enjoy some of the benefits in a rewarding way,” Minor said. “Everybody wins here.”

Sheeka Sanahori is a travel journalist and video producer based in Atlanta. You can find her on Instagram: @sheeka.sanahori.

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