I went to adult summer camp last year. A blast from the past was just the vacation I needed.
I knew I wanted something different from my time off that also fit my budget.
When I was a kid, I went to several summer camps, like Girl Scout, cheer, and band camp.
I learned that you could have a lot of fun when you don't have your phone near you.
In the summer, I imagined an ideal vacation after months of long workdays: I'd take a trip to Europe and explore different cities. I'd spend days eating and people watching. At night, I'd tag along with other solo travelers, dancing in clubs to music in languages I couldn't understand.
That wasn't in the budget, but I knew I didn't want to rent an Airbnb on a beach. I wanted something different and memorable. A friend suggested we register for adult summer camp. As a kid, I went to Girl Scout camp, cheer camp, and, yes, even band camp. I thought I'd left my camp days behind me.
Trybal Gatherings' website promised an all-inclusive long weekend bunking with new friends in cabins and reliving childhood with a variety of experiences. Some camps have themes like surfing, golfing, or hiking. Trybal Gatherings has a Jewish focus, meaning that the majority of campers identify as Jewish on some level.
Here's what I learned as an adult camper.
It's OK to practice self-care
Our cabins had electricity and plumbing, but there was a lot more we needed to feel comfortable. And we came prepared.
We brought essentials like toiletries, sunscreen, bug spray, and flashlights. The nice-to-haves included things like white clothing for tie-dye and pool floaties for the pool party — and, of course, outfits for the end-of-camp dance.
And then there were the must-haves. We slept in bunk beds made for 11-year-old bodies, and we knew it'd be obvious to our 30-something bones. We doubled up mattresses, brought extra pillows, and had fans in case we got hot at night. We weren't shy about being comfortable. And Trybal understood that — it even provided branded sleep masks and earplugs.
Throughout our daily activities, we had the choice of participation. If an elective wasn't something we felt excited about, we could sit out and enjoy quiet time — which, to be honest, many of us took advantage of.
Follower counts don't make you friends
I'm someone working in corporate America, so it's easy to meet someone and ask, "What do you do?" At summer camp, no one cares. In fact, it was an unspoken rule that you didn't talk about your day job.
We got to know people for the things that they liked and were passionate about. And the camp activities provided so much foundation for us to grow new friendships. There was something for every type of camper. We could choose a couple of electives each day from a massive list of things like baking, tie-dye, macrame, archery, stand-up paddleboard yoga, and a ropes course.
Most of us kept our phones in our cabins, and it was a strange yet liberating feeling. We didn't look each other up on social media. It felt so genuine to make a connection with someone and recognize that they were much more than their online presence.
Having fun is possible without your phone to document it
Without our phones to rely on, we turned to games for entertainment. Because no one was posting you on an Instagram story, we had the freedom to let loose. It was invigorating to discover how to play again and be silly. Trybal hired a professional photographer, so we didn't worry about capturing important memories and focused on being in the moment.
There was a silent disco, a campfire storytelling show, and a pool party. The last night, there was a dance with a high-school-archetypes theme. It was fun to dress in costumes and dance to the hits of our adolescence. On the last day, the camp split into two teams, the green against the blue, and a color war ensued.
All in all, I was reminded that it's OK to indulge to be comfortable but that you didn't need a fancy trip to have a memorable vacation. All you need is the willingness to take a break from your day job, shut off your phone, and play as if you were 11 again.
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