From the moment you approach the check-in table at Camp No Counselors, you're having flashbacks. If you spent any time at camp as a kid, the flagpole billowing in the air that rises above the mess hall will be enough to take you back. If you didn't spend any time at camp as a kid, the feeling of unexpected first-day-of-school butterflies will also take you back.
That's the feeling in my stomach as I drive up to Canyon Creek Summer Camp, outside of Los Angeles, to approach that same check-in table for the fourth time in three years. I know exactly what to expect, but as the frenetic energy of the city clears and gives way to the clean air and tall trees of Lake Hughes, that doesn't stop me from anxiously jittering with excitement. The nervous buzz of the first day of camp is an unbeatable feeling.
Of course, Camp No Counselors is not your average camp experience. The all-inclusive, unlimited-booze-fueled weekend draws in a crowd with an average age of 30, and although you spend the day playing like a kid, CNC is well-prepared to make sure that at night, you party like an adult. The organisation hosts camps in the New York City and Los Angeles areas and in Florida.
Nick Coffing, director of Canyon Creek Summer Camp, which is one of the program's locations, has plenty of experience with adults acting like kids. His camp has hosted more than a few nostalgia-based events, ranging from similar adult camps, like Camp Sunny Road and weekend-long social events for the World Adult Kickball Association, all the way to the Xenite Retreat, a Xena meetup he describes as "Comic-Con meets camp."
"Nostalgia is a hell of a drug for the 21-to-32 age demographic," he says.
According to Coffing, there's nothing that quite taps into that nostalgia like camp. He believes these adult camps have gained a huge amount of traction as travel destinations because of their inherent relatability.
"There is a certain timeless aspect to camp," he says. "Even if you didn't attend sleepaway camp as a kid, you were more than likely introduced through TV and movies."
"This is a trend that isn't going away," adds Sarah Villarante, who works on an events team at the American Cancer Society. "Millennials love these nostalgic events. They're looking for any opportunity they can take to unplug from the stresses of the real world and act like a kid again."
Whether you're intrigued by the possibility of a grown-up getaway or are already booked and ready to go, here are takeaways from my time at Camp No Counselors to keep in mind to make the most of your experience.
- Embrace meeting new people.
This is an obvious one, but if hanging with a new crowd is not your cup of tea, then an adult camp is probably not for you.
After I check in on Thursday night and enjoy the first of many rounds of drinks, I'm led to a welcome dinner where we're told the only legitimate rules. We're forbidden from talking about work or politics - the former, to ditch one of our most uninspired social crutches, and the latter for . . . well, obvious reasons.
You'd do well to adhere to these rules, too; it's only once you ditch these conversational tropes that you open yourself up to meeting people and making friends in a very real, special way.
- Going by yourself is scary but is absolutely the most rewarding experience.
You're only here for the weekend; if you're with a group of friends, chances are you'll be together the entire time. This is, of course, a lot of fun, but if the most special part of camp is making new connections, showing up in a group can limit that. If you're solo, you have no choice but to open yourself up to making friends.
Mingling with strangers is heavily encouraged during activities, too. The Friendship Walk, which is one of many cheesily-titled-yet-actually-fantastic aspects of camp, takes place early and truly sets the stage for what your weekend is going to be like. We're told to pair up into partners, given a discussion prompt, and led on a tour of the grounds.
You'll be encouraged to partner with somebody you don't already know, and you'll want to follow that suggestion. After the (now) four camps I've attended, I went home having a special connection to one of my Friendship Walk buddies every single time.
- Do the ropes course.
If you are afraid of heights, there is no better way to kick off your weekend than this course. Pushing yourself through something that scares you is the ultimate confidence-booster, and the fact that you will more than likely have an uproarious chorus of cheering from other campers really locks you into this camp's special vibe.
- Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
The Friday night party at Camp No Counselors is one of the most crucial parts of the weekend; it's the first of many moments where you take the friendships you've begun to make throughout the day and start to solidify them. For many attendees, that means taking advantage of the open bar.
But the last thing you want is to be the person who overdid it so much on Thursday or Friday that by the time Saturday's most epic party rolls around, you're out of commission. This is a respectful crowd with an overall high tolerance for alcohol; don't be the person that gets too drunk.
When I make my way to breakfast on Saturday morning and take a look at the modest turnout, it's obvious a lot of folks have yet to learn this one.
- Leave your phone in your bunk.
You simply don't need your phone. There's barely any service at most locations, and Camp No Counselors will provide landlines for attendee use. Furthermore, there are photo booths and a professional photographer on-site that will do a much better job capturing the moment than your drunken selfies will.
- Try to unplug from the outside world altogether.
The final day is, admittedly, horrible.
It's horrible partly because you've been drinking for three straight days. It's also horrible because you've been playing sports and games for three straight days, and in addition to some chapped lips and a few scrapes and bruises, every muscle in your body is sore. But most of all, it's horrible because you know that camp is over. We just spent an entire weekend around almost 200 happy, smiling faces, and that is simply nothing like the real world.
These experiences "are completely out of the ordinary, and they put everybody at the same level," Coffing says. "At camp, you are able to forget about the stresses of the 'real' world and focus on meeting new people in an exciting new place that isn't your typical after-work happy hour."
Seven-time camper Ash Crossan agrees. "We're so bogged down with the stresses of our daily lives that we forget to stop and enjoy it every once in a while. Camp encourages you to put down your phones, unplug and enjoy genuine connections with people."
If it sounds like there's a theme here, there is. Millennials need this, and it's only in our final goodbyes, packing up our bunks, loading up our cars, exchanging numbers, and swapping Instagram handles that it becomes clear just how much.
The Washington Post