I’ve been a camper for as long as I can remember. I started at day camp while still in single digits and then made my way to sleep away. I was a counselor, lifeguard, and Aquatics Director. I learned to swim, write calligraphy, get dressed in the dark, create silk screens and not to be afraid of spiders – all at camp. I made some of my best friends, have some of my fondest memories and still look forward to when the blue ices turn my tongue that iridescent shade of turquoise – all from camp. It’s that time of year again.
My social media feeds are flooded with photos of all things camp. The children of friends are spending their first summers at sleep away. Some little ones are headed to a day camp they love and many of my friends spend their summers (and some, their winters) working at camp. I’m in contact with former campers and counselors now living life to the fullest. I contribute articles to the American Camping Association’s publications. I still write the newsletters for the day camp at which I spent over a decade as Aquatics Director. I LOVE CAMP!
I’m not sure I ever made the connection between how I felt at camp and how I feel when I travel. Two things I love now seem to be joined in ways I never before realized. A counselor of mine used to sing about how ‘hindsight’s 20/20’ and today I finally get it. Perhaps camp was my first true foray into travel – who knew?
Sleep away camp forced me out of my comfort zone. As a ten year old spending a summer season with no electricity, no parents in reach, no siblings for squabbling, new people, a new place to sleep, new foods, new chores, and even new activities, can be disconcerting. ‘Try something new’ the counselors said. There were counselors from other countries with accents I’d never before heard. There was a set schedule that was different to one I had at home. There were over two-hundred steps to the beach where we’d swim in the Long Island Sound with who knows what floating within. We shared bathrooms, had no locks on any doors, sang songs, learned new things, got dirty, embraced independence and lived and breathed nature. I had nervous excitement and a belly filled of butterflies when it began. To date, my sleep away camp is one of my most favourite places in the world where I count some of my most memorable experiences, accomplishments and significant people in my life. Camp, like travel, is a part of who I am.
Travel, for me, largely, is about stretching that comfort zone. There are new experiences that often begin with nerves, move towards excitement and end with pure joy. A risk turns to a reward and anxiety is obliterated with renewed confidence-just like camp. The first time I went to camp I was petrified. The first time I arrived in a new city as a solo traveler, the feelings were similar. I learned to swim at camp. I learn to take risks through travel. I learned to embrace diversity at camp. I learn through travel that each one of us has a story to share. I learned to be myself at camp. Travel teaches me to continue to grow, challenge, learn, reach, stretch, develop, dream and continue to find happiness along life’s journey.
I never realized how greatly the two were intertwined. I didn’t realize how very much those days filled with bug juice and nights filled with s’mores taught me that today is applied to the world of travel. Camp is so much more than ‘a bunch of old cabins’. S’mores are more than a bit of melted sugar, chocolate and crackers. The stories shared around the fires, whether at age ten or forty, last longer than the sugar high. Lessons shared around a council fire ring or a one-match fire on a beach transcend adolescence. Travel’s endless teachings continue to build on camp’s philosophies of life and individuality. One’s story continues to develop and grow.
Did you go to camp? What did you learn that you continue to apply to life today?