Your Guide to Happy Summer Camping

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Rebecca Harpster
Golden Gate Better Business Bureau

Summer is almost here! As a kid, I loved having three months off of school, but I know it was stressful for my parents, especially because they worked full time. Summer camps are a great way to reduce parental stress because they ensure that children are occupied and supervised while caretakers are at work. I remember having a great time crafting, singing and making s’mores at various summer camps throughout my childhood.

Choosing a camp, however, can be overwhelming. There are many types of summer camps. Some last the whole summer, while others last only a few days. There are day camps, which take place during normal working hours, as well as overnight camps. Which type of camp you choose depends on you and your child’s needs.

The specific camp you choose is important as well. In 2016, Better Business Bureau (BBB) received around 100 complaints about camps nationwide. Common complaints involved issues with registration, problems receiving refunds and poor service.

The following BBB tips will help you choose a camp with a proven track record for ensuring the safety, health and satisfaction of its attendees:

  • Do your research. Start your search at BBB Business Profiles include contact information, a BBB rating, complaint history and reviews from past customers. You can also use the BBB Accredited Business Directory to find a trustworthy camp near you. If a camp is a non-profit, you’ll be able to find more information through, which is run by BBB Wise Giving Alliance (WGA). Many summer camps are run by BBB Accredited Charities, which meet 20 comprehensive Standards of Charity Accountability. Look at other online reviews as well to get a better picture of others’ experiences, and ask friends and family for recommendations.
  • Are they licensed? The California Department of Public Health requires resident (overnight) camps to be licensed. However, day camps aren’t required to have a license. The American Camp Association ( accredits camps that have met up to 300 nationally recognized standards. Accreditation is voluntary.
  • Visit the camp if possible. It’s important to look beyond glossy brochures and potentially deceiving pictures on websites. If you can, visit the camp in person to evaluate the living, eating and recreational facilities. You’ll be able to meet the staff and ask questions. If you aren’t able to visit it’s even more important to do your research. Look for photos posted by past campers – don’t just rely on images provided by the camp.
  • Understand the fees and payments. A deposit is usually required to reserve your child’s spot, and it’s only sometimes refundable. Know the total cost of the camp and when payments are due, and see if payment plans are available. Understand the refund policy – if there’s an emergency and your child can’t attend, what percent of your money will be refunded? Know whether meals and transportation are included, and if you’ll have to pay extra for certain activities. Inquire about financial aid and available scholarships. Make sure everything is included in a written contract, and keep a copy.
  • Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and consider it a red flag if a camp is hesitant to answer them. What’s the daily schedule for campers? What medical facilities are on site and what are the medical care procedures? How is homesickness dealt with? Are children able to communicate with parents, and if so, how? What are children required to bring and what’s provided? How is safety prioritized? How are staffers screened? What’s the camper to staff ratio? What’s the camper and staffer return rate? What background does the camp director have? If it’s a specialty camp, what expertise do staffers possess?
  • Think about a backup plan. Just in case the camp is closed, the session is cancelled or your child is no longer able to attend, have a backup plan in place. This could be another form of child care or a different camp or summer program. Research these options in advance.

You can reach your BBB at or (510) 844-2000, or by visiting