Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved being outside. My parents instilled a true love for the great outdoors in all of us kids. Lots of families go to Disneyland, arcades, amusement parks and the like, but when my family wanted to go on a trip, my parents would take out the sleeping bags, the firewood, my mom’s flute and our bathing suits, stuff us into our trusty 15-passenger van, and chug on up to a state park.

The van was always full of excitement as we drove, imagining the things we would discover on what would soon be our very own Treasure Island. The van was always full of excitementWe were itching to run around, climb trees, listen to the crickets, play baseball, sit around the campfire with my mom and listen to her play music, while my father would tell us stories and one of my big brothers would man the fire.

As we finally got closer to our great vacation spot, the excitement was palpable; it felt like the very mosquitoes and crickets were anticipating our arrival, as excited to see us as we were to see them. Gravel crunching underfoot, we would pull up to our little five-star hotel, a quaint wooden cabin, maybe with a nice porch swing or a fire pit. Sometimes there would be a kindly neighbor in the cabin near us, gaping unabashedly as we tumbled out of our Supermobile. Ten kids, two parents, lots of shoes, smushed cornflakes, Frisbees, sweaters, backpacks, sandwiches and all sorts of other paraphernalia—announcing loud and clear to the general public that we had arrived.

We kids grew drunk on nature—chasing each other around with worms, making rock collections (which we were sure were worth thousands of dollars because of the rare gems and stones), making mud pies, swinging upside down from trees, and giving my dear mother way more than her share of heart palpitations. We would run around till dark, catch fireflies, and finally, when our energy was spent, curl up by the bonfire for a hearty dose of stories, music, baked potatoes and hot dogs.

So many values were given over in these simple, unplugged, no-tech family times. Tatty would tie in Jewish messages, sharing stories of great Torah figures who went out to the woods to meditate and pray, to feel inspiration and to be close to G‑d’s amazing creation. (When we walked to the synagogue with him, he always urged us to take what he called the “Baal Shem Tov path,” over a grassy meadow that went by a meandering brook, instead of the more conventional paved road.)

As my family grew older, these outings grew slowly but surely less and less frequent. These outings grew slowly but surely less frequentThe kids started going off to school, the oldest got married, and now our summers were filled with overnight camp and shopping for the next school year for us teens, and our holidays were busy with outreach, guests, and the siblings who were home from their various schools and Chabad House posts.

This past summer, we realized that all the single kids would be home for a short time before the new school year started. My father decided we should grab the chance for a tried-and-true camping trip. This school year would be the first time that all the kids would be away from home, leaving my parents as empty-nesters. It seemed like a special opportunity to really savor the moments before we all left.

So once again we all piled into our vehicles, and made our way to Hocking Hills in midstate Ohio, a small slice of paradise. This time was a little different than our last mega-venture some years ago. Our 15-passenger was long gone, in vehicle heaven; my brother and I drove instead of my parents; we kids packed ourselves; and we didn’t all come tumbling out of the car. We stepped out like civil adults. Well, we tried to, anyhow . . .

I wasn’t sure what this trip would be like, since we hadn’t been camping in a while, and we were hardly kids anymore. But not only did this camping trip work well, it shed a whole new light onto my family camping experiences. As a whole bunch of super-awesome young adults and two even more super-awesome parents, we were able to bond in way that we never really did before. No sibling rivalry or fighting over who got the bigger piece of candy. We hadn’t been camping in a while, and we were hardly kids anymoreWe were able to focus on just being together, knowing we were about to head out in many different directions. Out in nature and with each other, we really spoke, listened, joked and enjoyed each other’s company. We embarked on the new year with the warm feeling of our family camping trip lingering in our hearts.

There is nothing in the world like the feel of twigs crunching underfoot, the sound of rushing water, chirping birds, the rustle of leaves, animals scampering by. It’s easy to forget how complete and wholesome, how good and free you feel when you’re out there. And as we forge farther and farther into our fabulous modern-day world of technology, it becomes even more important to pull ourselves back every so often and just go outside.

I’m so grateful to have gotten to know this best friend: a place where I go to find myself, a place to go when I am angry, sad, happy, or just am. A place that lets me explore all its nooks and crannies, its beautiful flowers, creeks, trails, trees, animals; that makes me feel different than any mall or building can. A place that envelops me and hugs me with G‑d’s essence.