How to Survive in the Wilderness Without Killing Your Spouse

A Swaggerly Guide to Camping, plus bonus Canuck Mini Vocab Lesson

I know what you’re thinking. It can’t possibly be SUMMER yet, can it? Where the heck did spring go? Fear not, my friends, for I am here to guide you through the steps required to have THE MOST AWESOME camping trip EVER. From the dredges of my own fabulous experiences, I will arm you with the knowledge required to survive not only the great outdoors, but the person you’ll be sharing it with 🙂

Tip One: That’s what tents are for

Even in the middle of nowhere, you’re never as alone as you think. Hubby and I loved Backcountry Camping at Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. There are 1900 sites and more than 2000 km  (1200 miles) of canoe and portage routes. You enter the park at an access point and from there on, it’s all up to you how deep you go. Despite its gigantic size, Algonquin is actually a very busy park and everything is superbly well-maintained. There are designated fire pits and every route is mapped with these fantastic signs –>backcountry_campsitesign1

When setting up camp, fire and shelter are priorities. And in many areas, a Bear Pack. No, that’s not a backpack for your teddy bear. It’s a method of hanging your food and food-scented items (which attract bears) from a tree so that bears (who are very crafty, by the way) cannot access it. Keeping bears away from your site keeps you safe.

After that? Well, it’s time to relax and enjoy the great outdoors. Take advantage of the tranquility, ‘cause hey, at 2AM those loons (a kind of bird) will initiate your wake-up call, which has been known to incite homicidal tendencies (Not in me, of course).

Rather than succumb to technology withdrawal (Yeah, Misty. I’m talkin’ ’bout YOU), may I suggest, since you’ve got all that free time on your hands…

Bow chicka wow wow. Yeah. Hubby and I were taking a “nap” (read: gettin’ it on”) one day in our tent, in a remote area of Algonquin, when the sound of a motor boat buzzed by. We thought nothing of it, until the boat parked in front of our site. Needless to say, clothes were hastily thrown back on and we greeted the maintenance guys.

campingguyDon’t have someone special to go camping with? You could always invite him. Cuz hey, he looks, um, handy 😉

So, my friends, when this tent’s a rockin’, don’t come a knockin’, ‘cause that’s what tents are for.

Tip Two: Tipping a canoe is fun, but not if you can’t swim

On our very first camping trip together, my husband (then boyfriend) declared that he wanted to learn how to steer our canoe. First I must add that boyfriend, who grew up on the tiny tropical island of Penang, Malaysia, does NOT know how to swim.

Now, for the canoe novice, the person in the back is the one in charge, the one who steers and whose awesome technique is basically responsible for kicking a$$ in high winds and strong currents. Namely, in our family, that person is ME 😉 Hubby gets regulated to the front, the powerhouse as we like to think of it. He’s the engine, I’m the steering wheel.

Anyhoo, boyfriend takes the canoe out and within, like, five minutes, tips the thing. If any of you have ever tried, it’s actually HARD to tip a canoe (which, yes, we do for fun. Seriously. Remember the scene in Pocahontas where they whisper under the canoe? Yeah, it’s awesome.) There’s a whole lot of “One two three” and rocking back and forth and “You go that way and I’ll go this way.” So, boyfriend tips and I’m standing on the shore, wondering to myself, “Save the canoe or save the boyfriend?” The canoe is our only way out, and hey, he’s got a life jacket on.PocahontasundercanoeNaturally, I saved the canoe.

Okay, okay, I made sure he dog-paddled to where his feet could touch bottom first.

The point of this is, of course, safety first. ALWAYS wear a life jacket. And yep, that means for our dogs too.

People would always look at me and go, “Really?”

To which I reply, “Yes. I DON’T dress up my dogs in frilly clothes, but they do wear lifejackets, for the same reason I do. I can tread water for hours, but not if I’m unconscious.”

When we’re talking about a canoe loaded with gear, a hubby who can’t swim, and two dogs, yeah. I can only save so many all by myself.

Tip Three: Portaging is HOT!

In camping, you will develop a new enemy. The mosquito. You will require defense. My own personal mosquito repellent is… My husband. Yep, something about his sweet Malaysian blood drives those suckers crazy. We can sit side by side for hours and I’ll get bitten once or twice while they’ll attack every inch of his uncovered skin. *sigh* I love my hubby. No, you cannot borrow him. Get your own 😉

Mosquito attacks can be countered with repellents and smoke from the fire, but the time you’re most vulnerable is when you’re portaging. Portaging is the act of carrying your canoe across land using balance and brute strength. Hubby excels at this, and I gotta tell you, it’s a major turn-on.portaging

That being said, it is exhausting and with your arms otherwise engaged, you cannot swipe at those darn bugs.

On one of our first trips, we’d spent the day portaging, canoeing, hiking, and in general exploring the beautiful nature around us. But by the time late afternoon rolled around, we were spent. We had a short paddle, portage, paddle back to our campsite and were really looking forward to resting. Remember those fantastic signs I mentioned earlier? Well, unfortunately we were both too tired to pay attention, and ended up not realizing there were TWO signs beside each other, with separate paths.

When we realized our mistake, we were devastated. Exhausted. Sweaty. Swarmed by bugs. Muscles on fire. We’d just portaged an entire kilometer (0.6 miles) in the WRONG direction.

We looked at each other. And that’s when the magic happened. We gathered up the canoe between us and hauled our butts back to our campsite. Where we promptly collapsed and moaned in agony for hours.

We both look back to that moment as a defining one in our relationship. Hubby even put it in his marriage vows as the moment when he knew he wanted to marry me 🙂

Tip Four: Tp is your new best friend

Sadly, one of the biggest turnoffs of camping is the lack of facilities. Toilet paper becomes one of those “life and death” commodities. Trust me, I’ve been around and tried just about every kind. In Algonquin, it’s the Thunderbox. A wooden box with a hole in the middle and lid that cracks like thunder whenever it shuts. Just so you can announce to the world that you’ve finished your business.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the West Coast, in beautiful Strathcona Provincial Park, they actually have outhouses. Squee, right? Okay, maybe that’s just me, but c’mon, hubby and I have shared a hole in the ground, so an outhouse might as well be a royal throne. On our last camping trip with another family, they actually brought a canister of Febreeze for the outhouse. Ha! I’d like to see one of those Febreeze commercials inside an outhouse.

So remember the “Take a penny, leave a penny” rule? Well, in the wilderness it’s “Take a tp, leave a tp.” It’s only common courtesy for the poor souls who might have actually forgotten to pack some. And hey, I like to do my part to prevent homicide 🙂

Those are just a few of my many fond camping memories. Do you have any to share? If you’ve never gone camping, what’s holding you back? Who’s going to join me this summer?



  1. Hi! Love the post. We just returned from a long weekend at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Tenting beside the car with flush toilets nearby. Not as rustic as your stories. Oh, yeah, and the campsites have secure bear boxes.

    • Hi Dawn! Thanks for stopping by. I Googled that park. It looks absolutely gorgeous! Did you get a chance to visit any of those waterfalls? I LOVE waterfalls 🙂 And lucky you, flush toilets! 😉

  2. Great post.

    When I was in college, I camped every weekend. After I had children, I discovered this lovely new invention…rent-able cabins. All the joy of camping, the outdoors, the campfires, the lake swims, the nature hikes, the early morning call of birds–without all the nasty inconveniences, the setting up of tents, the bugs, the lack of facilities.

    My husband tells me that somewhere long ago I stopped camping and started cabining. Hmmm…I suppose he’s right. There are times when he and our boys want to commune with nature.

    Those are the times I encourage them to pitch the tent out behind the cabin I’ve rented. 🙂

    • Lol. Love it, Mary! I admit to having been lured in by the notion of cabins too, but my hubby always vetoes that.

      So happy to hear that you’re sharing the great outdoors with your children. My fondest memories of my childhood revolve around camping with my family. I think there’s just something about blocking out the rest of the world that really lets you enjoy each other 🙂

  3. Rachael, I enjoyed the post. As a kid my family camped all the time, but I will admit we used a motor home with a bathroom, so we might have cheated a bit. This post brought back some fun memories!

  4. Hahaha! I laughed most of the way through this post! When you opened with “I know what you’re thinking…” I was actually thinking… “she wants me to sleep without hard-sided walls?! WTF?” LOL

    I totally love the outdoors. I spend hours outside listening, watching, breathing, exploring and immersing myself in the natural world. But…I am not a camper. 🙂 And it’s not for not trying! I would tell you my story, but since it’s so long, I think I’d better leave that for my own blog post. Ha!

    You go, Rach! Love that you’re the steerer, that you get your busy on in the tent, and that you put a life vest on your poochies. Long live the great outdoors (and real beds)!! 🙂

    • Lol. I’d love to hear that story one day, Misty! *cheers to real beds* There’s nothing like sleeping on the hard ground to make you appreciate them 🙂 While I can rough it with the best of them, I have to admit… Hubby brought an air mattress when we went camping while I was pregnant and it’s integrated itself into our camping supplies *must haves* ever since then!

  5. Portaging? You’re my hero. That’s truly impressive to a person whose idea of camping involves 5-star hotels – not just with running water and flushable toilets, my love, but full multi showerhead systems with built-in speakers.

    As a HUGE fan of sit-on-top kayaking, however, I cannot agree more that tp very quickly rises to the top of the best friend list when you’re enjoying the great outdoors. Along with waterless soap, sanitizing wipes, sun screen, bug spray and an extensive supply of chilly sparkly beverages for the Coleman party cooler…

    • Great to see you here, Jo! I have just the thing for you: Glamping! It sure sounds luxurious…

      BTW, love your list of supplies! All *must haves* 🙂

      • LOL Good call. Shameful, I know, but I may never amount to much more than a glamper. It’s a sad story, actually. Goes back more than twenty years. First camping trip ever. Cold night. And one one squeaky little mouse that found its way under my bedroll… Been glamping ever since!

        • I’m just glad to see people enjoying the outdoors and their loved ones, any way they can! 🙂 Oh, and chipmunks and squirrels, yes. Mice? No way! Cringing for you 😉

  6. Chickswagger always gives me a chuckle. On a more serious note, camping is just NOT for me.

    • Aw, thanks Angela! From the people I’ve met, I think you either have to have a love for camping beaten, ah, I mean *lovingly encouraged*, into you from an early age. Otherwise, it’s just too crazy to love! 🙂 What do you think, ladies? Gents?

  7. Camping, portaging and Algonquin are three words NOT used in this household. Twenty-five years ago when I was dating in uni, boyfriend & I went portaging in Algonquin with 2 other couples. It rained alot, and when you are in a six foot round tent, you can’t help but touch the sides, so we were always wet (read: miserable). It was so cold on the canoe ride back, that I was wearing mitts. And since this was my first time in a canoe, I was not a very strong paddler. Boyfriend was getting so mad at me, that I threatened to jump in the cold water and swim for the distance shore. It was so bad that his brother and he ended up switching canoes in the middle of the water – not something usually recommended. Have not been portaging since, and have only stayed in a tent in the in-laws backyard.

    • Yikes! I’m so sorry to hear that you had such miserable weather. Of course, weather is the one thing that can make or break a venture outdoors. Thanks for sharing your story, Charlotte. I wish you many happy tenting-in-the-backyard experiences! 🙂

  8. We love to camp. Through the years we’ve graduated from very small tent to large tent to tent trailer to hardsided trailer. We’ve taken a few paddles but have never portaged but am thinking it might counteract the effects of too many s’mores. Would love to spend time in Algonquin, until now we’ve stuck close to the western provinces.

    • Lol. Too many s’mores IS a side effect of a great camping trip 😉 You should definitely give Algonquin a try sometime. It’s absolutely beautiful and I’ve had many great experiences there (including paddling right up to a moose!). Thanks for stopping by, Karyn 🙂

  9. OMG! Shaking my head through your interesting post ’cause I’m worried our apartment in Paris won’t have A/C or the right kind of coffee pot. Getting wet, straining muscles, bears, bugs, sleeping on the hard ground and–shudders–nonflushable toilets may have appealed to me when I was in my twenties, but now…not so much. But isn’t that the beauty of life??? That each of us getd turned on by something different? Diversity is human form, art, music, literature and how we fill our private moments is what differentiates us from animals. Our humaness is often best found in our differenes. Awesome post!

    • Aw, Vonnie! You’re absolutely right. It’s our diversity that makes the world a wonderful place 🙂

      P.S. I hope your Paris journey is filled with amazing adventures!

  10. Hi there friends, fastidious post and good
    urging commented here, I am truly enjoying by these.


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