The Mental Duffel Bag
By Tommy Friedlich, Co-Head of Waterfront and Assistant Program Director
Met with the all-too-familiar motherly eye roll, I would often find myself trying to convince the
one who ultimately knows best, why I needed every last piece of my wardrobe at camp with me
every year. We would fall into the yearly debate of whether or not camp is a place for nice
clothes. As I reflect on these conversations, I come to the conclusion I usually do when it comes
to my parents… they were right. Of the 30 t-shirts I would bring to camp, 10 would get worn, 5
would be considered if I was running low on clean clothes, 5 would never leave the bottom of
the pile and 10 would never leave the duffel bag. Over my 13 years of going to summer camp,
I’ve learned that its less about what you bring in your bag, and more about what you bring in
yourself. How you manage the weeks before camp. What you look forward to and what you
talk to your friends about in the time leading up. What you expect from yourself and what you
expect from others. In writing this post, I’ve come up with the 10 things to pack in your mental
duffel bag, and a few things to leave at home.
“Mental Duffel Bag” Packing List
1. A Sense of Adventure
More and more these days I am finding that people are not willing to try new things. Having
worked on the beach for 4 years now, I can say that one of the most common fears amongst
campers is trying waterskiing. The speed, the water, and not knowing what it will feel like can
be scary. Bring an adventurous attitude and you’ll be able to find the most thrilling parts of
camp, which are often on the other side of something scary!
Everyone is at camp for different reasons. Some people go because their parents make them.
Some go because all their friends are going. Some go because everyone in their family has gone
for generations, and some work a night job to pay their own way. The second you step off the
bus the playing field is even. Kids can just be kids, which can lead to disagreements and
sometimes even fights. Always remember to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and
be empathetic to the people around you.
3. An Empty Memory Card
Now I don’t want this point to be misunderstood, this doesn’t mean forget everything from
home and wipe the memory bank clean. It means to be aware that you are living in the
memories you will cherish for a long time. At 20 years old I consistently find myself talking with
old friends and counselors about the “good ol’ days” and not being able to remember certain
names, faces or events. To paraphrase Andy from the Office, “I wish someone would have told
me I was in the good ol’ days, before they became the good ol’ days.
4. At Least One Goal
Set yourself a goal. In the 2, 4, 6 or 7 weeks you’ll spend at camp, there will be times where the
commotion will stop and you’ll realize that camp is about more than the activities. It’s about
the bonds you form with the people around you. There is a common saying at camp that “A
week feels like a day and a day feels like a week”. Essentially meaning you don’t know where
the time goes. That is unavoidable. However, it’s what you do with that time, and how you
focus your efforts toward something that matters. Make a new friend, develop a new skill or a
new attitude. I have recently used camp as a de-stressing time, having the 7-week goal of
ridding myself of all the stress that University brings with it. I recharge in my favourite place on
earth and get ready for the challenges life is going to throw my way the next year.
5. Belief in Yourself
There will come a time when you are on display and faced with something you are unsure of. It
may be speaking in front of the whole camp, you may be the first one up to go waterskiing, or
you could even have the ball in your hands with no time left on the clock in the big game with
everyone watching. It is at times like these where that little voice in your head reminding
yourself that you CAN do it, will be needed. These events may seem terrifying to some, but
overcoming those fears is what camp is all about. You never know what will come from
stepping into the unknown and conquering a fear, and that all starts with a belief in yourself.
This one needs no explanation. Be kind to others in every facet of your life. Even when you
really don’t want to, kill ‘em with kindness.
This one is more for the people that miss you. I can’t begin to imagine how many of my parents’
letters to me ended with “wish you would write more, we miss you”. Whether you realize it or
not, your mom, dad, brother, sister, dog, cat, grandma, grandpa and third cousin twice
removed misses you. Whether you commit them to memory or write them down in a safe
place, always have a wealth of addresses to slap on an envelope and write a letter to someone
back home. It means more to them than you realize.
This may be your first time on your own. First time making your own bed, first time managing
your own nutrition, and for some campers, this is the first night ever spent under a different
roof than their parents. It can be scary! Learning to be independent is one of the major teaching
points of summer camp. If you can bring that attitude with you on day one, it will serve you
very well at times where you need to do something on your own that you’ve never done
9. Spirit “Ruach”
Come ready to have fun! Apart from all of the lessons you will learn and friendships you will
form, camp will be filled with high-energy, spirited events that will demand anything and
everything from you! Between daily and special programming, there will be more than enough
opportunities to showcase your spirit. Whether you like to make rhyming cheers, hype up your
friends before the big game, or get everyone excited for the next waterfront period, that extra
bit of wind behind your sails on day one will go a long way. GET EXCITED!
10. Moral Compass
There comes a time, in every camper’s summer, where they are faced with a decision that has a
black and white, right and wrong option. Listen to the little voice in the back of your head, that
usually sounds like one of mom or dad. Sometimes your compass needs some calibration, and
that is okay, just make sure that you don’t disregard what is right and wrong, just because you
are away from home. But, a harmless prank never hurt anyone.
Just like the 30 t-shirts in my duffel bag, there are some things better left at home. Here are a
few things to leave out of your mental duffel bag.
Camp is no place for judgement. Every camper walks through the gates with a different
background, mindset and expectations. Camp is the ultimate equalizer because everyone starts
from the same place. There are no societal levels, no grades, no judgement.
2. The “Real World”
7 Billion people is a lot to be compared to. It almost seems like it is impossible to be good at anything amongst so many. Shrink that down to 400 and all of a sudden you become a superstar. Let yourself live in a 400-person world for a few weeks, and leave the “real world” behind.
3. Picky Palate
When you’re hungry, you’ll eat anything. I remember trying foods for the first time at camp, expecting to hate them, and being surprised by how much I liked them. Weeks later I would ask my mom to make the same thing and realize I actually hated it. This came to be known as the “camp effect”. Spending all day in the sun, all your body needs is the fuel to keep it going. If you don’t fuel your body properly, especially at camp, it will not end well. Make sure you get your protein, carbs and vegetables at every meal, no matter what is being served that day. Leave the picky palate at home.
With that I hope your mental duffel bag is packed and ready to go for summer 2018. It is sure to be a great one.