"I Never Wanted to Leave": 8 Readers Share Their First Outdoor Experiences

The first time can be scary, but for these readers, it sparked a love of nature

Illustrated gif of woman walking through a city into nature

TripSavvy / Alison Czinkota

We’re dedicating our May features to the outdoors and adventure. In 2020, we saw more people get outside, eager for a breath of fresh air after challenging spring, taking up new activities and blazing new trails. Now, in 2021, read our features to learn more about 15 outdoor skills you should masterthe best state parks across the country, a new trend of hotels opening near formerly remote national parks, and one person’s quest to make outdoor experiences accessible for all.

In 2020, people desperate to escape the four walls of their homes took to the outdoors. While some just explored the car-free streets in their home cities and others moved from expensive big cities to more rural states, many more adventured to national and state parks to explore the wilderness. That trend got us at TripSavvy thinking about the first time venturing outdoors. Maybe it was a hiking trip that sparked a lifelong passion for trekking. Or an attempt to snowboard that left you frustrated over your aprés ski meal. Whatever the story was, we wanted to know, so we posed a question to our readers: What was your first outdoor experience like?

From a camping trip that ended in mild disaster to a journey to see the night skies of Namibia, read on for eight first encounters with the great outdoors. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Cyndi, 51, Bloomington, Illinois

When I was 11, I went camping with my cousins and immediately fell in love with the campgrounds—even though I was totally unprepared for how menacing an outhouse can be at 2 a.m. My cousins had horses, so we spent a lot of time riding the trails and swimming in the river. Being able to ride horses through the woods and hear nothing but nature all around is one of my fondest memories as a child. As an adult, I love the smell of a campfire at night and cooking bacon over the open campfire for breakfast. Being able to enjoy a vacation without a clock, TV, or other modern-day distraction is just incredible.

Jack, 71, Herndon, Virginia

When talking about my first real outdoor experience, it was car camping and backpacking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We hiked up to Mount Jefferson then retreated down below the tree line before heading back to the car and another night of car camping. The trip was uneventful, with not much going wrong, but it sparked a lifelong love of the outdoors and was the first of many adventures.

Anne, 73, San Marcos, California

I was born in Minnesota, and growing up, I was always outdoors, playing in the snow. I remember picking berries in the Minnesota summers, fishing with grandpa on the lakes, being dressed in snowsuits to the hilt at 3 years old to play in the snow, or to go sledding with a friend.

My dad was an Air Force officer, and every summer, the family went on camping road trips around the country looking to visit every main National Park. My biggest memory of exploring the outdoors happened when my family moved to the Philippines at Clark Air Force Base. I was 5 years old and spent a lot of time running up and down grassy gullies behind our house. The same gullies where pythons lived, but when you're that young, one doesn't think about the dangers.

I remember especially the 28-day ship return to the United States and spending every day playing on the deck, watching the ocean waves, and smelling that wonderful saltwater. I remember experiencing a typhoon at sea and stopping at Honolulu for a hike up a trail to see Pearl Harbor, and going for a swim in Waikiki before boarding the ship.

Compared to my life in Minnesota, when I saw Hawaii, I thought heaven surely existed on that island, and I never wanted to leave such a beautiful place, but the ship had to keep moving to finally arrive in San Francisco Harbor under the Golden Gate on a foggy December morning. My childhood was filled with amazing outdoor experiences, and to this day, I love traveling for the adventure.

Alex, 67, Chicago, Illinois

My first outdoor activity was a Boy Scout camping trip when I was a Cub Scout. When pitching my tent, I (unwisely) decided to set up camp on the side of a hill. It rained that night, and I woke up the next morning at the bottom of the hill, wrapped in my tent, sitting in a foot of water with all of the clothes I brought soaked in rainwater. Even though I was drenched, that camping trip established a fascination and wonder regarding nature. The natural grace of a hawk soaring and the horror of its strike on its unsuspecting prey. The language of a moving stream on a quiet morning. All of it has stuck with me. The one thing I wish I knew before that camping trip was, don’t pitch your tent on the side of a hill and pack your clothing in a water-resistant bag.

Takako, 63, West Japan

My first outdoor adventure didn't happen until I was in my 50s. I booked a trip to Namibia to see wonderful stars shining in the clear sky. (Namibia has some of the darkest skies on Earth, whereas stargazing in Japan can be quite difficult.) The stars were stunning, and in the future, I'd like to take more trips to experience wildlife, but there are some things I wish I knew before I booked. I was relatively unaware of Namibia's climate, transportation, political situation, and accommodation options meaning I had a lot of surprises during my visit.

Melissa, 53, Indiana

When I was a small child, my parents liked to bring my five siblings and me on road trips. We would pile into a station wagon towing a travel trailer and travel all across the United States. I was so small that I was still in a rear-facing seat! One trip took us to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, which was my first memory of exploring the wilderness. It's also the trip where I learned about Big Foot, thanks to a film on the cryptid that the campground showed in the community pavilion. Then they proceeded to play videos on the importance of keeping your camper doors closed at all times due to alligators, snakes, and other dangerous wildlife. I don't think I slept the whole trip due to the fear! One day we swam in a natural water pool and had to evacuate due to eels! Oh, the sweet memories.

That trip taught me to love the outdoors, but to also be conscious of the wildlife! When I travel now, I like to learn about other things to do in the area, what the fees are, and make sure I get a site map with bathroom locations.

Erich, 55, Champaign, Illinois

My dad used to take me hiking for day trips starting at about age 9. I always loved going on those hikes with him. They were fun, and it was a good opportunity to have some one-on-one time with my dad. The bonding activities developed a lifelong love of the outdoors for me. During those many hikes, I discovered the best times of year to hike (spring, fall, and winter) and that summer treks mean mosquitoes, ticks, and other pests.

Anita, 36, Hammond, Indiana

When I was around 8 years old, my dad took up camping. The concept seemed odd to me; I was surprised to learn that people took trips to the outdoors just to take walks in the woods. Until I saw my first deer, that is. Having my first deer sighting happen in the "wild" instead of seeing a deer eating flowers in a backyard intrigued me. Then I was fascinated by the thought that there were other creatures out there that I hadn't had exposure to, and I immediately wanted to explore more. Now that I'm older, I just wish I knew that there were so many more outdoor and wildlife enthusiasts out there. All I had to do was find them!

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