When it comes to childhood memories, people often talk about the special times they had camping with family and friends, of sleeping under the stars, of roasting marshmallows on a campfire and enjoying the sites and sounds of nature.

But what do you do if you’ve never camped before and would like to give it a try?

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t.

Even though camping remains America’s most affordable vacation option, only 15 percent of Americans camped in 2010, according to a national survey by The Outdoor Foundation, the Coleman Co. and Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA).

But while planning a camping trip may sound intimidating at first, it’s easy to do if you take it in steps, says Rue Mapp, a mom of three and longtime camping enthusiast who founded OutdoorAfro.com, a social media website that helps connect African-Americans with the Great Outdoors.

In a news release, she explained, “I think the first thing to do is ask yourself, ‘What is it you like to do?’ ‘What does your family like to do?’ We have to model our camping experiences off of what we really care about. For some, that may mean camping in a tent. For others, renting an RV or staying in a cabin.”

Once you figure out what kind of camping trip you’d like to do, whether it’s rustic or luxurious or somewhere in between, think about where you’d like to go and what you’d like to see.

And give some thought to what kinds of activities you’d like to do while you camp. Most people go hiking, climbing or mountain biking when they camp. Others like to go fishing, tubing, white water rafting or horseback riding. Still others like to go on nature walks or explore their passion for photography.

“If you have small children,” Mapp said, “chances are you will want to go to a campground that has activities that are suitable for small children,” Mapp said, adding, “There are campgrounds that can accommodate any recreational interest you have. Some even have ropes courses and other challenging on-site activities.”

With two elementary-school aged children and a teenager Mapp regularly takes camping trips that include lots of activities, such as hiking and water-related activities.

Growing Camping Experiences

Last fall, she camped at Ponderosa RV Resort in Lotus in California’s Sierra foothills, and took her kids white water rafting on the South Fork of the American River. They even tried their hands panning for gold.

More recently, she took a Class C motorhome rental from El Monte RV and camped at Big Sur Campground and Cabins. This April, she plans to take her family to the Santa Cruz KOA, where they plan to stay in a park model cabin rental while they explore the neighboring redwoods and take part in numerous organized activities at the campground.

So where does Mapp find places to camp?

“There are scores of campgrounds on Camp-California.com,” she said. “They have already done the research on campgrounds in every region of California, so it’s easy to find campgrounds that offer swimming, rafting, hiking and other outdoor activities. Some campgrounds even offer yurts, teepees, historic train cars and covered wagons that you can rent for the night.”

Other helpful websites include www.GoCampingAmerica.com and www. Recreation.gov.

Of course, all of this sounds great. But what if you don’t have the money to invest in camping equipment, like tents and sleeping bags?

“No worries,” Mapp said. “Camping gear is not something that’s used every weekend. Ask your friends or co-workers who camp if you could borrow their equipment for a weekend to give camping a try. And if you’re not comfortable doing that, outdoor equipment retailers offer camping equipment for rent at very affordable prices, so you don’t have to make a big investment to get started.”

Many campgrounds already have furnished tents set up and ready for use. At the Ventura KOA, you can even rent a furnished teepee.

But once you have your sleeping strategy figured out, make sure your camping trip includes good food. “Bring the foods you like to eat at home,” Mapp says. “Don’t feel that just because you’re camping you need to eat granola. If you like soul food, bring it! And bring food that’s easy to prepare. Comfort foods can really enrich the experience. For instance, I boil my pastas before going on camping trips. I also make blocks of chili and freeze it. That way, it’s just a matter of heating it up for mealtime.”

Perhaps most important of all, take it slow when you camp.

“Don’t invest a lot of money up front in equipment you may never use,” Mapp said. “Try out different types of camping – tent camping, camping in cabins and RV camping first, and then decide what kind of camping is right for you and your family.”

And if you like to mix it up, that’s fine. Campgrounds are increasingly accommodating people who don’t have their own equipment. All you have to do is bring your food and your sense of adventure.

For more information, visit www.outdoorafro.com and www.Camp-California.com.