It's normal to have lots of other worries and questions about life at summer camp. IML has some answers!
Q: What if I hate the food at the dining hall? What if I'm not allowed to have snacks?
A: Make sure you ask about food and dining hall policies up front. If a camp is well run and expects kids to come back year after year, they will have a good cafeteria with yummy food. Many camps will offer more than one kind of food at a meal, but even if there's limited choice and you hate that day's entrée, you can always trade other kids for their side dishes, or ask the food servers if you can double up on salad and skip the meatloaf. As for snacks, many camps have vending machines or snack bars, and some camps have regular trips to a nearby town where campers can buy food to keep in their cabins. If you happen to be at a weight loss or fitness camp, though, menus might be strict and snacks might be forbidden. If you're on a special diet for some other reason, your family and the camp staff should communicate before summer starts to set up some options for you.
Q: What if I have a special health issue?
A: If you have a special health issue, like a food allergy, a chronic illness, or a disability, it's very important to tell this to the people running the camp BEFORE you sign up. Most likely the camp has dealt with many other campers who've the same issue as you, and can tell you exactly how they'll handle it. Be open and honest with all counselors and staff members so they're aware of the situation. If necessary, your cabin mates can even be told ahead of time about your special needs. In general, a good camp is a lot like school in that there are plenty of people to support and help you fit in and have fun. In some cases, the camp may tell you that they're not set up to meet your needs and you might have to make plans to go to a different camp.
Q: I'm embarrassed to change clothes in front of other people or share a bathroom. Will I have any privacy?
A: Almost all camps give you the chance for some sort of privacy, but in some cases you might have to look for it. If you're sleeping in a large, open cabin with other kids and you're shy about changing your clothes, try changing in the bathroom, or wait for "lights out" when you can change in the dark. You can also try putting on your underclothes when you're under the covers, and put on the rest of your outfit when you get out of bed. Most camps have private showers, but some older camps might not. Make sure to ask about this before you sign up for camp. Of course, being at camp will probably make you more confident and more accustomed to being around other people all the time, so by the end of your stay, privacy may not be as big an issue for you. Remember also that you're probably not the only one to feel a little self-conscious, so be honest and open -- and maybe even joke about it!
Q: I'm afraid that my personal belongings might get stolen or ruined by someone else.
A: If you're at a well-run camp, this should not happen very often. The best way to avoid having your stuff stolen is to make sure everything you take to camp has your name written on it in permanent marker. Ask if the camp provides lockers or locking trunks for your belongings, and if someone does mess with something you own, make sure you report it to your counselor right away. Of course, it's smart to leave expensive of irreplaceable things at home, so you won't have to worry about them (for instance, bring a disposable camera instead of a digital one). Also, remember that if you respect the other campers' belongings, they will be more likely to do the same for you.
Q: I'm kind of scared about being in nature. What if I can't handle it?
A: Very few camps are in the true "wilderness." Most camps are more like miniature towns, with modern cabins that have good bathrooms, hot showers, a dining hall, and other types of buildings. All the noise that goes on at a camp (large groups of kids can be pretty loud) is usually enough to keep wild animals away. You will probably never have to go hiking alone, so if you do come across an animal that is potentially dangerous, there will be counselors or other campers around. It's also likely that your camp will teach you skills and tips for staying safe in nature. If you have specific fears, like swimming in a lake or coming across a bear in the woods, make sure you tell your counselor -- he or she has probably had many other campers with the same fear. Remember: even if you've never been out in nature before, you'll be surrounded by people who are used to it, and can show you how to deal. Whether you're afraid of spiders, snakes, or just mysterious noises in the dark, look at your time at camp as a chance to face your fear and get over it. You may come home with a new appreciation and love of the outdoors.
Next up: we talk to a girl heading off to a residential summer camp for the first time. Read all about it in Casey's Story.