#fairhack of the day: Camping at the fair

Kelley Hinze-Francis (far right) and her husband Paul Francis (second from left) and their four children at the Minnesota State Fair.

Kelley Hinze-Francis of Minneapolis shares her #fairhack tip on making the State Fair experience more fun.

I love the Minnesota State fair. Yes, love. And as I have children, if asked, yes, I would marry it. But as a compromise for my children and long suffering spouse, we (the fair and I) just live together a few days every year.

It all started six years ago on my birthday. You see, I always celebrate my birthday at the fair.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is Member supported public media. Show your support today, donate, and ensure access to local news and in-depth conversations for everyone.

The fair is the perfect place for a shy extrovert to be -- lots of energy and no need to be afraid to start a conversation. After a whole day, sun up till fireworks, I was chatting with someone on the way out of the fair, regaling them with my love of the fair and wishing I could just curl up on a fair bench so I could wake in the morning and do it all over again.

I blurted out it would be so great to work there and camp overnight like some of the employees and wondered aloud, "Do you think I can find state fair work that includes my kids?" when a fellow fair goer said the magic words: "The public can camp too."

Magic words ringing in my ears, I went home and Googled "Minnesota State Fair Camping,” clicked through the links and our family tradition was born.

The following year, armed with a tent, four children (one a newborn), a cooler of food, and fair tickets we arrived at the State Fair campground ready for the adventure of a lifetime. It was so much better than we ever thought it could be.

A campground set up in a temporary city of nearly two million people turned out to be perfection!

A typical day for us goes a little something like this: Get up, brush your teeth, breakfast and head into the fair — where it is quiet(!) and cool. And spacious! Then the people start to arrive and you are soon buried within the crowd. Then you people watch, collect hilarious and unfortunate T-shirt slogans, and enjoy some art.

Go back to the campsite for lunch, take a nap, put your feet up, or wash them — remember all those animal land mines and splattered sodas — then it is back to the fair for the parade, the history or barn tour and a food-on-a-stick. Dinner back at the site, grilling your own burgers or eating something green (oh salad, how delicious you taste after all that grease). Then back to the fair, for rides, an evening musical performance and fireworks. And after walking ten miles the showers feel so impossibly lovely, no one cares about waiting in line.

So that is a typical day. But it doesn't show some of the really great things about living in the fair:

• the State Fair insider newsletter, which talks about the employees and their impossibly hard work every day;

• becoming close friends with other State Fair- loving campers;

• going home after getting soaked on the river rapids ride to put on dry clothes;

• the city wilderness, meeting fair employees, knowing where you will meet up if you separate to follow your own interests;

• getting to almost do everything at the fair — checking off the buildings, the animals and the shows — all to be sure you don’t miss anything.

For me, camping at the state fair means the comforts of home, a place of respite from the heat and living with my love. What could be better?

What’s your #fairhack?  >> Do you have your own pro tip for doing the state fair right that you’d like to share? Tell us here, or share it in a tweet, tagged #fairhack (and, if you can fit it, #mnstatefair).  We’ll continue to share them online, on the air and all around social media.