I remember going to summer camp when I was a teenager. It was a great time to meet new people, try new things, and get away from home for a while! We lived in cabins in the redwood forests of California, ate in the camp’s mess hall at long tables, and took part in activities like archery and a ropes course in the trees.
I enjoyed my time, but I was also nervous. I didn’t know anyone and I hadn’t spent much time away from home before then. The good news is, I didn’t need to be nervous, and neither do you. Here are some things to do before, during, and after camp or any overnight teen summer program to make sure you have the best experience possible.
Summer Camp Preparation
1. Start planning weeks before you arrive.
Don’t hurriedly pack your bag the night before or you’ll most likely forget a few important items. Check the camp’s packing list and check off everything that goes in your bag. Make sure to label everything with your name so that other campers know not to use your shampoo.
2. Save up a little spending money.
Many camps and pre-college programs let you bring an ATM card or open an account at the camp or campus store. There may be a group trip into town, or you may need to buy deodorant. It’s good to have access to a bit of cash.
3. Don’t worry too much about getting sick.
Camps and campuses always have medical staff on hand to take care of you. (Like when I got terrible poison oak!) Definitely bring any personal medication, prescriptions or inhalers with you and follow camp or campus rules about where to keep them.
4. Make friends before you arrive.
Does the camp or summer academic program have a Facebook or other social media group? Join it, introduce yourself to fellow campers, and start talking with people who share your interests. You can make friends before you arrive.
5. Check out activities in advance.
Showing up without knowing what you’d like to do may lead to signing up for archery when you would have chosen lacrosse if you knew it was an option. Some activities, like horseback riding, may have limited space and require enrollment before you arrive. In addition to choosing activities, check out the online map of the camp or campus so that you will have idea of how to get around.
If you play a musical instrument that’s portable, see if it’s OK to bring it, even if it’s not a performing arts summer camp. It’s a great way to break the ice and meet people.
6. Don’t be shy!
Everyone will be feeling shy so be the one to break the ice. Join in on all those embarrassing name games; they will help you make friends quickly. Actively say “hello” to people you don’t know. Chance encounters can lead to lifelong friendships!
7. Make sure not to talk about yourself too much right away.
Begin by asking other people about themselves. Your fellow campers or counselors may come from very far away – even different countries. Talk about yourself after you’ve learned a lot about the other people you’ve just met. Being interested in other people is a great way to make friends.
8. Be extra-nice to the camp counselor.
Day 1 is when camp counselors will see you for the first time. There are a lot of new faces for them to meet, and they’re trying to figure out who will be the easy-going campers and who’s going to cause problems. Don’t be the smart aleck or challenge every rule or you may find yourself under a close watch for the rest of your time at camp. Someday, you might want to become a camp counselor or dorm advisor in a summer teen program.
9. Invite someone to dinner.
Asking a pal to go to a meal with you not only helps you get to know everyone better, it gives your not-quite-so-social friends a way to meet new faces. Inviting a shy camper to sit with you just may change his or her entire camp experience and you might make a new friend. And, you won’t be eating alone!
Summer Camp Tips
10. Keep meeting new friends!
Don’t become passive just because you met two friends on the first day at camp. Keep saying “hello” to as many people as possible in all the activities you attend. With everyone you meet, make sure to get their full name so you can look them up on social media and stay friends after camp is over.
11. Join new activities, even ones that make you uncomfortable.
Maybe you don’t like swimming, or playing soccer or playing board games in the dorm. A teen camp or campus program is a great time to join in on those activities anyway. You might find that something isn’t as bad as you thought!
12. Figure out the best way to keep in touch with parents and friends.
Some camps have limited Internet or cellphone access. But rather than seeing that as a limitation, see it as a way to focus on camp life. Write letters to your family and friends and encourage them write back.
13. Remind your family to send care packages.
Getting a box at the camp or campus post office is a lot of fun. If the camp doesn’t allow food in care packages, ask for games, comic books, art supplies – things that can be shared. It’s a great way to get to know people in your cabin or dorm.
14. Do your part to keep things neat.
Camp is fun but laundry strewn over the floor, smelly trash cans and unclaimed toothbrushes are not. Cabins are usually only as clean as the dirtiest person. First, don’t let that person be you! Second, stay on top of it. You and your cabin mates don’t want to be cleaning when everyone else is out having fun.
15. Follow the rules.
Remember how I said to be extra-nice to your counselors? That doesn’t just apply to Day 1. You’re not just being nice so you can break the rules behind their back. Bringing anything illegal to camp, purposefully breaking curfew or other rules, and being mean to other campers will have some not-so-nice consequences.
16. Get your friends’ contact information!
I remember leaving camp and then realizing I didn’t know how to call one of the friends I’d made and with all the rush of packing, checking out, and finding my family, I hadn’t been able to see my friend before leaving! Real life took my attention back very quickly and we’ve never spoken since.
17. Check the packing list you made before coming to camp.
Do you still have all your items? Is there something you’re forgetting like the extra jacket that’s been in the lost-and-found all summer? Figure it out before you’re halfway home!
18. If your parents are picking you up, make sure they get to meet your friends, and maybe your friends’ parents, too.
It will make it easier to get together during the school year!