At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: family camping

Why It’s Time to Create your Own Fireworks

Another holiday weekend during COVID-19, altered by the requirements of social distancing. But that doesn’t mean we had to cancel the fun.

So, my ten-year-old son and I broke out our camping gear (and related tech) and had a spontaneous overnight in our backyard to celebrate our nation’s independence.

No, it’s not quite as independent as roughing it out in the middle of nowhere, but my boy and I had a great mini-adventure anyway.


And even though there were no city fireworks to watch, it’s always nice to review some imagery from past years (courtesy of a ‘holidays’ photo folder I maintain in my Adobe Lightroom library).

What immediately becomes apparent in these moments is the pattern. The repeating episodes that structure our lives…both in work and in play. Going to see our city’s fireworks at the beach had been a fun activity we’ve grown accustomed to over the years (although not so much the hour-long parking lot back up after it’s over).

This summer is the perfect time to create new enjoyable family rituals. (It’s not like there’s a whole lot of choice!) It’s a great opportunity to build new traditions.

Our July 4th backyard camping extravaganza was a great start for me.

Today is always a good day to create some new fireworks in your life.

How to Be at Home without Tech While Camping

If you don’t really understand the allure of camping outdoors, I know exactly how you feel. That said, my family and I camp every summer. Here’s how I get through it… and dare say… even enjoy it!

I confess… I am not at home without tech. So what then do I get out of camping in a cramped tent on the hard ground with my family without the power that organizes my day-to-day existence? I’m a born and bred city boy from Manhattan. Not that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but running wild in the ‘wilderness’ for a weekend isn’t exactly my idea of a good time.

Unexpected Pleasures
We’re just back from another Lester camping adventure. This time up in Preston, CT at the Hidden Acres Family Campground.

So why do I do it? Well, partly because my better half loves camping. Should civilization start to break down and you’ve got to fend for yourself, I highly recommend you leave me behind and follow her.

Our nine-year-old son has also enjoyed our family camping trips (and that makes it a quorum).

He especially loves staring into a fire after dark and blasting marshmallows with intense heat to create yummy s’mores…

And even I’ve got to admit it’s a lot of fun when there’s a river nearby, (the Quinebaug) and you can just wade in and tube down part of it… letting nature float you around the bend to some magical, unseen destination.

And experiencing that feeling of triumph after climbing that giant rock in the middle of the river.

And what fun floating over the micro-rapids created by unforgiving rocks that possess the power to shred apart the underside of your inflatable tube.
(That said, the Intex Water Float tubes we picked up from Amazon survived just fine.)

And I can’t tell you how much I always enjoy brewing a fresh pot of coffee the old fashioned way on a Coleman propane stove.

Enjoying the Art of Survival
Some folks crave just ‘being’ in the great outdoors. But I think I fall into another category… I’m something of a survivalist… but not exactly like that word means. For me, I’ve found a certain amount of pleasure figuring out how to simply ‘survive’ the experience of camping. (And don’t forget, our car is only feet away to make a quick getaway if ever necessary.) So, in a less extreme way, I have simply accomplished a certain restructuring of my existence for these few days at a time.

And sure… leaving it all behind for a while may seem ‘freeing.’ But in today’s always on, digitally connected world, how easy (or advisable) is it to simply to disappear from the rest of your life, even for a few days?

Pack Battery Power
So, I still typically bring along some tech to maintain a communication tether back to civilization… and my responsibilities… like keeping in touch with my 86-year-old father.

And that requires taking along some extra battery power to fuel my iPhone.
(Yes, you also need a bar or two of cellular coverage.)

You Don’t Need to Be a Camping Purist
Okay… so I’m cheating a bit and I bring along some technology during these ‘tech-free’ weekends. But hey, I’m not trying to be like Grizzly Adams. We’re solidly within the Camping 101 skill set. And you know what? I think I’ve got it down!

And it does satisfy some instinctual need to know that I can take care of my family next to my Toyota RAV4 and my REI Kingdom 4 tent that I can finally remember how to pitch. And I can build the pit fire… fueled by the chopped wood (and fire starter) that we bought at the family camp ground store.

No, we’re not really out in the wild without a soul for miles around.
(But after dark, I can pretend that we are!)

And let me tell you, I’ve come a long way.
(Ask my wife.)

Discovering Self-Reliance
Yes, I’ve learned to be a ‘decent’ camper, and I can free myself from the shackles of technology with a little help… from technology. Perhaps most importantly, I can make a mean cup of coffee in nature with the early-morning sun illuminating my new day.

For this city boy, that’s a successful recipe for happiness.

And that’s how to be at home without tech!

5 Camping Tips from a City Boy

Thinking of going camping for the first time? On the fence? Here’s the good news: You don’t have to entirely ‘get away from it all’ if you don’t want to. Here’s how to keep your mobile tech alive and well…

I was a city boy growing up. I was raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. My only real exposure to nature was camp outside of the city. And that wasn’t camping.

My wife loves camping.
She introduced me to its allure. I gave it a shot and found it wasn’t so bad.
(Although we endured a terrible thunderstorm over our first night.)

We did a bit of camping, but it wasn’t a ‘thing’ for us. But then our son came along…

Two years ago, we tried family camping with our then five-year-old boy. Specifically, at the annual Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, New York.

I think the sweet spot for any family camping location is to go somewhere that already has built-in activities to do as a family. So, the idea of a music festival that includes a family tent for kids was perfect.

Our kid really digged it. The concept of pitching your own little ‘house.’ It was magical for him.

Now, family camping is absolutely a ‘thing’ for us.
Grey Fox has become an annual event…
(We just returned from our third Grey Fox camping adventure.)

So I think it’s fair to say that today ‘we’ love camping.


My iPhone Goes Camping Too
I haven’t totally played fair. I’ve also spent the last couple of years figuring out technology tricks on how to stay ‘connected’ while on our camping excursions.
(I’m sure purists might fault me for this intention.)

My reality is I simply can’t leave my iPhone behind. My life doesn’t easily let me disappear for a few days. If my 84-year-old father needs to reach me, I’ve got to be able to answer the call.

Fortunately, the giant field we camp on at Grey Fox gets one to two bars of AT&T cell coverage.
(Other service providers are noticeably absent.)
So, my iPhone didn’t fall off the grid.

The bigger challenge was keeping my iPhone powered up.
(Plus, my wife’s iPhone)

Looking to the Sun with Goal Zero
As long as the sun shines, it’s a great idea to bring a portable battery station that recharges with a solar panel to nurse multiple smartphones over the course of days. A while back, I did my research and decided to go with some nifty gear made by Goal Zero.

Goal Zero Sherpa 50 Power Pack
Capacity: 50Wh, 5,200mAH
$178.48 on Amazon

I paired it with the Goal Zero Nomad 20 Solar Panel, which has a 20W solar capacity.
$159 on Amazon

And I added in the Light-A-Life 350 LED
$32.00 on Amazon
to illuminate the inside of our REI Kingdom 400 tent.

Goal Zero Upgrade
We were camping with another family this year, and I found it especially convenient that the other dad was also at home with his tech.

My friend brought the newer and more powerful models that Goal Zero offers:

The Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station, which provides 150Wh and 14Ah of battery power
$199 on Amazon

He paired it with the Goal Zero Nomad 28 Plus Solar Panel, which has a 28W solar capacity.

Important note: Solar-powered battery solutions are not cheap!

You’ll notice that the Sherpa 50 and Yeti 150 are essentially the same price, but the Yeti 150 gives you a much bigger bang for the buck. The only downside to the Yeti 150 compared to the Sherpa is the Yeti is much bigger. But if you’re car camping, that shouldn’t really be a consideration.

We tethered the two Nomad solar panels together and successfully created our very own solar ‘FrankenPower’ Grid.

It worked great and easily kept four iPhones going over four days with plenty of power to spare.






A Cheaper Choice
Over the course of multiple camping excursions, Goal Zero gear becomes less expensive per use. But if you want a cheaper way to power your gear on your first camping adventure, just bring a few basic (inexpensive) power sticks.
(You just need to bring enough since you won’t have a solar recharging capability.)

Last year, I picked up this beefy RAVPower battery pack as a backup option-
RAVPower 26800 Battery Pack (26800mAh)
$49.99 on Amazon
(It has three USB ports and is rated to recharge an iPhone 7 nine times!)

So, you can probably get away with spending less than fifty bucks to power your smartphones on a family camping trip. It all depends on your needs and your desire to generate additional power in the field.

You might be thinking about now… “Maybe Barrett doesn’t really love camping if all he talks about is how to maintain his ‘normal’ life with all of his companion tech.”

And you might be right.

But I’ve decided that for me it’s not about loving the camping experience.
It’s about proving to myself that I actually can camp. And enjoying the fact that I can step out of my comfort zone and rough it for a few days.

To successfully ‘survive’ in the ‘wild’ and provide your family dry shelter… that’s a useful skill.
(Just don’t take all the credit when your more-qualified spouse is also there pitching the tent.)

And to MacGyver your mobile tech to stay connected with the world…That can make you feel a tad clever, although I guess that’s not in the spirt of true camping.

Perhaps this all falls under the category of ‘glamping.’
(Guilty as charged!)

Tips to Take with You
The truth is I’ve not really taken my family that far away from civilization.
(Our car was located a whopping fifteen feet away from our pitched tent.)

So, I’m not pretending to be some kind of Grizzly Adams.

The point of my story is you can teach a city boy some new tricks.

And for all of you out there who think they may hate camping, remember there can be a lot more to the experience than just spending a few days in a tent.

To review, here are my 5 family car-camping tips that will brighten your days in the ‘wild.’

  • As long as there’s a bar of cell phone coverage out there, you don’t have to disconnect from the world if you don’t want to.
  • Just bring battery and/or solar powered backup to keep your smartphones going.
  • Camp with someone who knows more about camping than you do.
  • Camp near a festival or event that can fill your day with baked-in activities for the family.
  • Don’t stress. Remember, you’re really only fifteen feet away from the rest of your world.
    (As long as your car’s battery doesn’t die)

Jump in… the water’s warm!

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