This, my friends, is another delayed post. We visited Scotland in May 2017 and we can’t wait to go back. We met the kindest people and thoroughly enjoyed our visit. The words may have been lost for a bit but the adventure was not!
Somehow I am lucky enough to be leaving for Scotland in a few days. Since we are traveling internationally, watch this space for run-ins with border patrol. Something odd always happens to us. From a VERY un-amused guard at Heathrow to our first ever jovial guard on the border between Ontario and Michigan.
Before all the border crossing fun begins, let’s get to the planning shall we? As I’ve mentioned before, I really love to plan trips. By this I mean, I like to know what there is for us to do in a place and then partake of whatever strikes our fancy when we find ourselves in that city, or in this case, that barely inhabited section of the Scottish Highlands. I’m so excited! I’ve wanted to go to Scotland for a very long time.
We will be in Scotland for 10 days and we are essentially breaking our trip into 2 parts. First we’ll be in Edinburgh for several days and then, once we are fully conscious, we’ll be renting a car and headed out for a very different kind of adventure. In Edinburgh we’ll spend a day walking the Royal Mile and then take suggestions from our Airbnb host and other people we meet who are lucky enough to live there as to how to fill the rest of our days. I bet we find some great local places!
Once we head into the Highlands, there are a few whisky distilleries we plan to stop at, including my husband’s favorites. (Did I mention we are taking this particular trip sans kiddo?) We also have a couple of castles on our list, a Skyfall sight or 2, and some time on the Isles of Skye and Iona. For the most part though, we are going to take our time driving and stop wherever we like. It’s a beautiful place and we have no intention of speeding past it.
We will be staying at Airbnbs the entire time. During this trip will be mostly in private rooms in homes as opposed to having the whole place to ourselves. Our hosts are already helping us figure out what to see and do and ensuring we have a great time. I just wish I could figure out a small American gift that is easy to pack and would be enjoyed by all of our hosts. We always pitch in around the house but a small memento might be nice too. Hmm.
This is the first in the New Adventures series. In this series, I will be outlining plans for future trips. I expect this series will cover most of 2019 and perhaps spill into 2020.
These posts will contain a variety of information based on location, modes of transportation, budgets, etc. I plan to have a Stats section at the top of each post to provide a snapshot of what’s to come. Each trip will come in a set of posts. There will typically be an itinerary post like this one, followed by one or more posts about what to do in each location, and, when needed, a packing post.
I’m starting with the Upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest for two reasons: 1. It is close by, relatively speaking. 2. There seem to be a few states that I haven’t seen, as in nearly all of them.
Let’s head out, shall we?
Mode of transportation: Personal vehicle, road trip! Miles: roughly 5,100 + 500 for extra excursions further off of the highway. Hours in the car: roughly 83 Days: 22 States: 11 (I am not counting our home state.) Travelers: 2 adults, 1 teenager, 1 tiny dog Visas/paperwork: None. All of the humans are US citizens and our dog is not a restricted breed anywhere. Overnights: 21 Airbnbs: 6 Hotels: 6 Campgrounds (tent camping): 2 Estimated Cost of Transportation: $560 (5,600 miles at 35 mpg and $3.50 per gallon. We drive a hybrid sedan and usually get 37-40 mpg so this is a conservative estimate,) Estimated Cost of Lodging: $2,700 (I pad the costs a bit to help with budgeting but it comes out to about $130 per night for private, pet-friendly spaces with kitchens, real beds for everyone, wi-fi, usually a washing machine, and parking included.) Estimated food costs: $1,000 (This assumes that we will mostly buy prepared food. With included breakfast and cooking for ourselves, we can bring this way down.) Running Total Cost: $4,260 Major Points of Interest for Our Family: Chicago, University of Wisconsin- Madison, Minneapolis, Glacier National Park, Seattle, Portland, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore
We live near Indianapolis so we will start there. 1. Chicago, IL – 3-hour drive – we’ll leave home early and the time change will work in our favor – overnight – Airbnb ($200). BTW, options include a Harry Potter themed apartment!
2. Madison, WI – 2-hour drive – stop for lunch and wander around Univ. of Wisconsin campus to stretch our legs. This is a point of interest for us since a dear friend attended this school. Since it is on the way, we want to stop.
3. Minneapolis, MN – 4-hour drive – 2 overnights – Airbnb ($300) We have friends who live here now so we’d love to visit with them. Besides, it’s a pretty cool city.
4. Bismarck, ND – 6-hour drive – overnight – Hotel ($100) Country Inn & Suites
5. Minot, ND – 2-hour drive – overnight – Hotel ($80) Microtel by Wyndham
6. Havre, MT – 6.5-hour drive – overnight – Hotel ($120) AmericInn by Wyndham * Time Zone Change to Mountain Time Zone
7. Glacier National Park – 4.5-hour drive – 2 overnights – camp in the park ($46 – $23/night at Many Glacier Campground. We can make reservations ahead of time and though there are no showers at the campground, it is a short walk to a motel that has coin-operated showers. Not luxury travel by any means but adventures come in many forms!)
8. Spokane, WA – 5-hour drive – overnight – Airbnb ($100) *Time Zone Change to Pacific Time Zone
14. Mount Rushmore – 2.5-hour drive – overnight – Hotel ($250). This is a bit high for us for one night. We might actually keep going after our stop at the monument. This is a gamble though, South Dakota has wide stretches between population centers.
15. Jackson, MN – 6.5-hour drive – overnight – Hotel ($160) AmericInn by Wyndham *Time Zone Change to Central Time Zone
16. Davenport, IA – 5.5-hour drive – overnight – Hotel ($130) My Place. This is a chain I haven’t heard of and this is a newly built facility but it comes highly rated.
17. Indianapolis – 4.5-hour drive – home (We already pay the mortgage so it costs us nothing extra.) *Time Zone Change to Eastern Time Zone
This is, admittedly, an ambitious trip. Driving 5,100 miles in 21 days is quite a bit. This breaks down to about 4 hours of driving per day. Since we will not be changing location every day, some days will require more driving than just 4 hours. Luckily, my husband likes to drive, my daughter and I are excellent passengers, and my dog settles down within 30 minutes.
Why Airbnb vs. Hotels? (Please note that I did not list individual homes for Airbnbs above. I did extensive research and that is what we would pay but since they are people’s private homes and that seems wrong.) We like Airbnb for several reasons. -We get to live like locals so we have a more authentic experience of what life is like there. We do like points of interest now and then but we really just want to get a feel for the place. -We’ve always had good luck though we do expect that our luck will eventually run out. -If we have a whole place there are fewer people to annoy if our dog barks for a few minutes when we need to leave him for a few hours if we are headed somewhere we can’t take him. He is crated though so we don’t worry that he destroy anything.** – We can cook for ourselves to keep costs down. -We can get a washing machine pretty regularly. **It is very important that when you initially contact hosts you tell them you have a dog with you. I usually describe ours as a “house-trained, crate-trained, 14-pound cutie pie who is in his crate at night and whenever we can’t be with him.” It is best to be upfront with people, so much trouble can ensue if you are not. Lest you think we are big meanies, we’ve tried for years to get him to sleep out of his crate or to be able to wander around the house while we are not home but he REALLY likes his crate. Therefore, we respect his den animal ways.
Airbnb filters used for this trip: -Entire Place -3 adults (Our teenager is over the age of 12 and counts as an adult.) -Pet-Friendly -2 actual beds (This is a long trip and our child is taller than me so we do not ask her to sleep on a pull-out, futon, or air mattress unless it is absolutely necessary.) -WiFi -Washing machine at least every 3 or 4 days though most places I found did have one. (We bring 5-7 days of clothes and wash as we go.) -Superhost I also scour the reviews looking for the words clean, kind, and awesome as well as dirty, not what I expected, and difficult.We have excellent guest ratings because we work hard to leave homes in great shape. We are usually able to give excellent ratings to the hosts as well but we have to be honest. It is best to be prepared for what you may encounter rather than ding someone for something you could/should have known before you booked.
So why are you staying in hotels instead of Airbnb sometimes? This is usually for one of two reasons. 1. There are no viable Airbnbs available in that location. This is almost always the reason on this trip. 2. We will be a bit unpredictable in our arrival making it hard to meet a host. When booking hotels, I like to Booking.com because I can filter much the same way as on Airbnb. A word of warning though, I had to click “pet-friendly” for each new search in each new city.
Why do you sometimes camp? In some of the National Parks, we have little choice but to do so if we want to stay in the park. Also, our daughter enjoys camping and all family members have a say on what we do and where we go when we plan trips. My husband and I have done lots of camping and don’t mind doing so now and then. Besides, you can get some AMAZING views from campsites in National Parks. The fresh air makes for great sleeping too just be smart about where you book. For tent camping, you will want shade and a generator free zone. No one sleeps well in a hot tent surrounded by exhaust and noise.
Should you rent an RV instead? Well, let’s see. I checked that out at a few places around Indianapolis. I found that the cost of renting an RV would be: $3200 for the smallest vehicle (there are only 3 of us plus a small dog) $2,000 for the mileage. I eastimate 5,600 miles and they usually charge 35 to 40 cents per mile. $1,650 for the gas (5,600 miles at 12 mpg and $3.50 per gallon – here’s hoping the gas mileage would be that good) $735 for campground fees averaging around $35/night (The actual average range for campsites fees is $30 to $50 but there are some ways around that including being able to park at a Cabela’s or a Wal-Mart for free overnight. You have to run climate control/fridge/etc. off your battery though and you have no water or sewer hook ups. If you plan to stay at either of these stores overnight, you need to ask the manager’s permission. There are a few that do not allow it for one reason or another.) $500 for food (we’d be able to cook a lot more) Comparable RV total: $8,085*
*This does not include transportation into the cities and/or wasted time looking for city parking that would accommodate even a small RV.
From time to time I will be sharing the lost posts of Dream Depart Explore. This is one such post as we took this trip in July and August of 2016. We did then enjoy time away in Scotland as mentioned and it went just as well. Stay tuned for lost Scotland posts as well. Now, without further ado, our thoughts on a road trip that relied heavily on Airbnb to provide places to lay our heads as we dreamed happy vacation dreams.
We ADORE our immediate family, our extended family, and our friends who live in the Northeast and that is why we travel there so often. This past summer though we decided to get our munchkin (I need a new nickname, she and I literally see eye-to-eye these days) to the parts of the Northeast she hadn’t seen yet. Until this year she had been to New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts many times but that was it. So off we went.
This was the longest family vacation we have taken to date and we brought the dog. (Yes, some of my animal issues have subsided, who couldn’t love this face?)
We were gone for 16 days and drove over 3500 miles. My hubby is a champ!!
Our itinerary was a bit strange in that it wasn’t all that efficient. Though one of the main goals of this trip was to give small-fry (nope, that’s not better) a chance to explore the New England states she had yet to visit, we also wanted to be respectful of our family members. We stayed with each of my brothers for 3 nights and wanted those to be mostly on the weekends. We may have been on vacation but they weren’t and still had jobs to get to as did the rest of our friends and family we were hoping to see.
In 15 nights on the road, we stayed in 9 different places. Two were siblings’ homes, 1 hotel, 1 traditional bed & breakfast, and 5 Airbnbs. Before this trip we had stayed in just one Airbnb in Wisconsin. Did I mention I LOVE Door County? We had such a great experience and saved so much money, we decided to really test our luck on this trip. It was an excellent decision!
We were able to stay much closer to the action than we could have in traditional hotels so we saved a lot of time. We also saved quite a bit of money even with paying for parking in Boston. It is tricky to find hotels that will allow dogs, even house trained, crate trained, non-shedding, hypoallergenic, 12 pound cutie pies. When you do find them, there is usually a $35-ish charge per night and there is not much in the way of a safe place to walk the puppy. By staying in Airbnbs (use that pet filter well my friends) we had lots of options, nearly all of them cheaper than hotels in the same area. We had neighborhoods and parks to explore and we got to meet lots of nice neighbors walking their own dogs.
During this trip we stayed in entire homes or apartments. When we travel with kiddo (yes!) we tend to do this. It is much easier to have our own space. However, when my husband and I travel by ourselves or as a couple we are just as likely to stay in private rooms within family homes.
So, where did we stay?
Let me open my handy app and check it out!
In Boston we stayed in a fun and funky lofted apartment in a brownstone in Beacon Hill not far from Boston Public Gardens and Boston Common. We parked our car and forgot about it for 3 days as we walked everywhere. Thanks to our apartment in Back Bay, we were close enough to everything to do so. This all went so well that my daughter now has her eyes on Boston/Cambridge for college. She’s thinking MIT. We’ll see!
In Portland, Maine we stayed in a house that I’d guess was about 100 years old and had been converted to apartments. It was right down the street from a large park and a donut shop. Apparently they are the best donuts in Maine so we dutifully checked them out. They did NOT disappoint! We also visited the Portland Museum of Art and enjoyed time in the cafe and gift shop. Not far away was the Spring Point Ledge Light. Before we left the state we did make sure to stop at the LLBean outlets in Freeport. We spent nearly all day there, actually. It did my New England heart good!
In Vermont we stayed on a farm that came with goats and chickens and my daughter saw more stars than she has ever seen growing up in suburbia. (On our upcoming trip out west she insists that we camp a few nights so she can see more!) We were within a mile of the Ben & Jerry’s Factory. Bonus: Our host pointed us to The Reservoir restaurant in town. We enjoyed the wine at dinner so much that the next day we took off for the vineyard.
In Montreal we stayed in a converted cigarette factory that had the most gorgeous pool and patio on the roof. Once again it was walking distance to what we needed. There is a very eclectic set of restaurants and shops about 2 blocks away. Three blocks or so away and we found the Metro which we used well. Among other places, we hopped a ride as we headed to the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. They had the coolest Pompeii exhibit while we were there. The permanent collection is well worth the trip too.
In London, Ontario we stayed in the most spectacular basement apartment I’ve ever seen. It was so clean and modern, and extremely well appointed. This was a stopover point for us but the hosts (who live upstairs) were extremely kind and hospitable. There wasn’t anything we needed that they didn’t provide for us.
The best part? We had our own local guides to ask for activity and restaurant suggestions. We even had people who located dog parks for us and drove us over to them!
We met the nicest people and have memories to last a lifetime. We did so well that when hubby and I head over the pond to Scotland in May we will be staying exclusively in Airbnbs. Some are entire homes and some are private rooms, one even has a dog. Wish us luck! Check back here to see how it went.
If you are interested in trying Airbnb for yourself, feel free to use my link here to get $40 off your first home booking of $75 or more.
**This is not a paid post, I am simply an enthusiastic Airbnb community member who loves to share my experiences with others.
Yes, I have issues with animals. Yes, I now have a dog. Yes, I’m a sucker for a cute face. I mean come on…
Our little guy is small on purpose, we knew we wanted a dog that was small enough to travel because we have no intention of slowing down! He’s even small enough to fly in the cabin of the plane if needed, though we’ve not done so yet.
Now, we’ve traveled with our child every year of her life, and some years it was every month. We are, therefore, aware that babies travel with a ridiculous amount of gear and it appears puppies aren’t much different. On our 16 day trip to the northeast each human had a carry-on size bag of clothes (laundry is our friend), a pillow, a book or 2, and an electronic device of some kind. We shared a toiletry bag. However, the dog had a crate, a backpack in which he could ride both in the car and out in the world, a sleeping pad, 2 towels, 2 blankets, a lifejacket (you can rent lifejackets for humans but not for puppies), a bag of food and treats, and a bag of toys. He is so lucky he’s cute. His stuff outweighed his cute, 12 pound self at least 2 times over!
The most important thing we had for the dog was paperwork. Humans need passports to cross the Canadian border and dogs need rabies vaccination records.* They are not kidding and there is no substitute. Even if you have the tag on the dog’s collar, you need the paperwork or your entire family can be turned around at the border. I was taking no chances. I Googled, I quizzed my friends, and I quizzed the vet who then consulted some magic vet portal to be sure we had what we needed. NOTE paperwork for driving to Canada is different than flying to Canada, ask your vet.
Border stop one, from Vermont into Quebec. An un-amused guard did not appreciate us butchering her native French (high school Spanish for me and Russian for hubby, but at least we tried) and checked all the paperwork and faces extremely carefully, including the dog’s. It was a good thing I got that updated rabies vaccination record, the original one said he was dark brown, which he was at the time of the shot, but his is now mostly cream colored. I’m positive we would not have passed had the paperwork not been updated. She did NOT like us but I’m pretty sure she didn’t like anyone. We forgave her though, that must not be an easy job.
Border stop two, out of Ontario and into Michigan. The guard briefly checked passports, waved off the the paperwork for the dog that we had out and ready for him and asked us why we were in Canada so long, “You couldn’t get out any faster?!” Funny guy, the first we’ve encountered actually.
The moral of the story, have ALL the paperwork for anything that breathes when crossing borders. Have it out and ready and be serious when approaching the border guards. Some will make you feel almost like a criminal and some will welcome you in with a smile and a joke.
The last bit of advice, pack very well. Keep like items together and be extremely organized. If ever your car is searched, it will be so much easier and quicker if you look like you have your sh.., err stuff together. Even if your trunk is usually a wreck, make sure it is pristine before you hit a border, this goes for all bags and compartments inside the car too. It will be easy to search and easy to put back together so you can get on your way. Yup, we’ve had the car searched too. Trust me, this is the way to go.
*Also note that PIT BULLS, dogs with pit bull lineage, and any dog that may be mistaken for one, are NOT allowed into Ontario and many other places in Canada. They will turn you around at the border no matter your paperwork. Please read up on this before you go! I’m refraining from adding links to this post as this is an ongoing discussion and I want you to research it for yourself instead of relying on what might be an outdated link that I have posted here.
Since I love to travel so much I talk about it A LOT. This leads to learning other people’s philosophies on travel; why they go, where they go, when they go and why they don’t go. I come from a traveling family and happen to have married someone who likes to travel as much as I do (OK so it was a requirement for me). For a long time I had my blinders on, I assumed that everyone liked to travel just to differing degrees when it is simply not true. Sometimes those who don’t care to travel are married to those who do. What do you do if you are bitten by the travel bug but your spouse is not?
Options abound for travel when your spouse or significant other doesn’t like to travel or if you don’t currently have, or want, a spouse or significant other.
1. Vacation with family or friends who live in the same town as you do. This makes planning easy and you can share a car or ride to the airport.
2. If you don’t have people who live in town who like to travel, then travel to see people who do and then continue your adventure together. Bonus: you’ll get to spend significant time with people you don’t get to see often.
3. Join a travel group or club – many cities have groups of like minded people who meet and travel together. These groups offer everything from day trips to those lasting a month or more.
4. Go on a group tour – there are scores of companies that offer wonderful tours domestically and all over the world. Head out with one of these groups and you’ll come back with friends from all over the country, maybe the world.
5. Travel by yourself – there is nothing like the flexibility that comes with having to answer to no one but yourself. If you want to get up at 5 a.m. and see the sun come up, no one whines. If you want to sleep in until 11 a.m., no one will bounce on the bed because they are bored. It is much easier to pop into a hotel or hostel and find room for 1 as opposed to 2 or more.
It’s like this folks, on road trips my husband loves to drive and hates to be a passenger. I, on the other hand, prefer not to drive and rather enjoy being a passenger. A match made in heaven I tell you. In our more than 18 years together and 70,000+ miles of road trips I have driven for exactly 3 hours. Yes, a scant 200 miles or so. Wanna know why I drove those? For 2 hours my husband was still recovering from food poisoning and if it weren’t for the lake-effect snow we were trying to stay ahead of, we would have camped out at the hotel for another day. The other hour was because he was so tired he couldn’t keep his eyes open. Kansas is kind of boring to drive through folks, even if the reward at the end is Colorado. I swear I-70 is basically just 450 miles of grain. Many thanks for feeding the country though, we genuinely appreciate your hard work!
Therefore I am the best darn road trip passenger you have ever seen. It works out for us. I essentially wait on him hand and foot which he loves because I never do so at home, unless he is just this side of hospital sick. In return he drives me all over the place to visit friends and family and go on adventures.
While he drives I navigate, reroute us around traffic jams, get snacks, open water and soda, manage the music, manage our munchkin (though she is pretty self sufficient now and almost as tall as me at 11 years old), answer the phone, text responses for him, call for reservations or with travel updates to our family members or Airbnb hosts. I’ve even listened to audiobooks (reading in the car makes me ill) and worked on craft projects to occupy myself in city traffic so he can concentrate and I can keep from looking for the brake on my side of the car every 30 seconds. (I never said I didn’t have control issues, people, just that I am better at being a passenger than my partner in crime.) At least once during each trip I sing loudly and purposefully off-key which he doesn’t like to admit he finds funny. Lately our munchkin does too. It’s hysterical. (In case you are wondering, we sing “On the Road Again.”)
Mainly we talk, a lot. We plan for the trip, for life after the trip and we catch up on all of the funny little things that have happened over the last few months that our over-scheduled lives have kept us from mentioning to each other. My goal is to keep him well-fed, entertained and awake. Such people are better and safer drivers. That’s good for me, him, our daughter and anyone who happens to be on the road with us.
As you know, I have a very scientific way of choosing vacation spots. 😉 Even so, we happened upon a perfect spot for our family to unwind and enjoy time together, Door County, WI.
It took a little longer to get there than we planned as we hit some VERY strong storms on our way up but we made it in one piece. Our cottage was just south of the town of Sturgeon Bay and was on Green Bay itself. The views were gorgeous.
We happened to visit the first week of June when the weather was perfect by my standards – sunny and mild. Also, everything was open but there were very few other vacationers as most schools in the state were still in session.
We had a wonderful time meeting new people in the area. Some places not to be missed:
Cave Point County Park
Peninsula State Park
Patawatomi State Park
Downtown Sturgeon Bay
Hands On Art
Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant
Sunsets over Green Bay in general – chase them people!
As you may have noticed, you haven’t heard much from me lately. The last 6 months were, hands down, the busiest in recent memory. There was barely time to do laundry, never mind keep up with my writing. I’ve missed you though and I’m glad to be back!
In my continuing effort to collect states and countries, I am pleased to announce that I have finally been to Wisconsin! Growing up in the northeast, Wisconsin was pretty far away and not easy to drive through on the way back from most states (notice which ones I’m still missing). Living now in the midwest, it is a lot closer. So off we go!
Newsflash – Wisconsin is LOVELY! Perhaps we happened upon a particularly nice area of the state when we vacationed in Door County but I’m giving the whole state credit. Here is the very scientific method I used for deciding on this vacation spot:
Pick a state I haven’t been to yet – the closest one will do.
Decide what type of vacation we as a family want to take – in this case a lake vacation.
Google my parameters, e.g. “best lake vacation in Wisconsin”.
Stumble upon a place that apparently many people I know have been to but I have never heard of.
Rent cabin on Airbnb – It was perfect!
Do a little more internet research on what is available nearby. Lots of parks!
Wait anxiously for the week to arrive and hope for good weather.
Pack light, strap bikes to the back of the car and go!
You’ve decided to go tent camping and made a reservation at a campground. Now you need to go about acquiring the items needed to make this trip work. Remember that camping trips like these are driving trips, it is not practical to fly with all of this stuff.
I cannot stress this enough, BORROW as much as you can the first time or two you go camping. Once you know you will camp regularly, then buy your own supplies. If you think you don’t know anyone who has any equipment, ask around and find a Boy Scout, particularly a Boy Scout leader. You would not believe the amount of camping equipment that resides in these homes.
What you need, in no particular order:
A tent with a rainfly (make sure that all of the seams have been sealed and the sealant has dried before packing it up, get the instructions on how to put it together too)
A ground cloth (a piece of thick plastic that is the size of the bottom of the tent, bigger is better as you can tuck in the edges)
A hammer to drive in the tent stakes
A sleeping bag for each person
An air mattress or thick pad for each person
A lantern of some kind to light the inside of the tent and the picnic table area (your site with usually have one)
S’mores makings – marshmallows, chocolate bars, graham crackers, roasting sticks
Cups, Plates, bowls, utensils (try to bring reusable ones, you are in nature after all)
Kitchen towels and paper towels
Dish soap and sponge for cleaning dishes
Garbage bags – leave the site as you found it or better
Food for meals you plan to eat at the campsite – SIMPLE is better. Your first time out it may be best to make sandwiches and things that don’t require cooking. Cooking over a fire or camp stove can be tricky and will usually take longer than you think. Delayed meals make for cranky campers.
Cooler – large, hard-sided with a drain near the bottom is best. You can buy ice at the camp store. (usually $1-$3 per bag)
Cooking pots, pans, & utensils if you plan to cook
Camp stove – try it out in your backyard ahead of time!
Extra fuel for camp stove
Matches or starter for camp stove as needed
Flashlights (1 per person)
Extra batteries for flashlights
Deck of cards – everyone plays cards while camping, I don’t know why
Flip flops for shower
Plastic container for shower supplies (1 per person)
Towels (shower and beach/pool)
Clothes appropriate for your activities. Long pants and hiking boots are best for hiking in the woods in most parts of the U.S. due to deer ticks and the threat of Lyme Disease.
Extra pair of shoes per person. Shoes, especially kids’ shoes, always get wet while camping.
Day packs especially if you plan to hike.
Hats – wide-brimmed or baseball hats are best
Rain jackets or ponchos
Flexibility – this is a new experience, roll with it.
It is best to pack cooking items and food in plastic tubs (think rubbermaid products or similar)
Clothes are usually best packed in duffle bags but if you are worried about more than one day of rain, plastic tubs are best here too.
Newspaper and matches to start a fire
You generally don’t need to bring firewood (and in many places aren’t allowed to due to the risk of transporting bugs). Wood is generally available at the camp store, usually about $5 per bundle. Note, if it is a particularly dry season/summer you may find you ARE NOT ALLOWED to have an open fire even in the fire ring at your site due to the risk of wildfires.
Quarters and laundry soap – there are usually laundry facilities
You’ve decided to get out into the world and you want to try tent camping, that’s great! There are lots of reasons to do so; to get back to nature, to save money on accommodations, to have a little more flexibility, etc. This time of year, just the thought of warm weather activities brings happiness so let’s get planning.
This is what you need to know:
People who camp are almost universally wonderful people. I think it is all of the fresh air and s’mores.
Campground owners are wonderful too, though every once in a while it takes them a little while to warm up.
Bicycles, scooters and skateboards are frequently welcome at campgrounds.
Many campgrounds have pools and laundry facilities.
You are going to need bug spray! Seriously, bring it.
Some National Parks DO NOT have showers but they are available in the nearby town. (Rocky Mountain National Park is one such place but the views are worth the extra effort.) Get the details before you book.
Bring shower shoes (flip flops) and a plastic container for your shower supplies (the kind that college kids use is best) regardless of where the showers are located.
Your first time out, BORROW most of the supplies from friends (with full instructions on how to set up the tent). Please don’t spend money on new things when your friends have them for you to borrow. Save the purchasing until you know you love it, then buy what you love and use the heck out of it.
You need a ground cloth (a large sheet of thick plastic about the size of the bottom of your tent) under your tent no matter what anyone tells you. It also must be completely under the tent, if it sticks out even a little it will collect rain which will run under your tent. Disregard this if you like but I don’t wake up in puddles, even if it rains.
You MUST stake down your tent. This is to keep the shape so it is comfortable for you and to keep it where you put it.
Assess your site carefully. Do NOT put your tent at the bottom of a hill or near a body of water if it is likely to rain, rivers rise when it rains folks. If you are concerned, ask for a new site. See #2.
Many campgrounds offer some kind of community activity in the evening, usually around a fire. It is a great way to meet people. See #1.
When borrowing or eventually buying a tent, you need to know that they generally sleep fewer people than the box says. Ours says it sleeps 5 but we can only get 3 in it. The number on the box for ours is accurate if a group were to all sleep side by side, without air mattresses, didn’t have any gear/clothes in there with them and no one was over 5’6″. Did I mention that my husband is 6’3″? You will almost always need to sleep perpendicular to the suggested direction. Don’t get frustrated by the discrepancy in capacity, just know this going in.
If there is severe weather, GET OUT OF THE TENT! Find a secure building. The camp office is usually your best bet. We were camping one night in Nebraska (we were in a camper this time) and a thunderstorm came up with some noticeable winds, nothing to bother the camper but the tent in the site next to us ended up in the lake. See #10. Please note that had the winds been any higher we would have had to vacate the camper too. If you are camping out in the open in an area of the country where high winds and tornadoes occur, talk to the camp office about emergency procedures. They have them, I promise.
Tent camping usually means that you are further out into nature than you may normally be. Be careful with your food. If you leave food out, you will likely have visitors. The other humans will leave it alone but the raccoons, bears and their friends can actually smell it from a mile away. There are quick and easy ways to contain your food and prevent an unplanned run-ins with your woodland neighbors. Check with the camp office for their recommendations. Call or email them before you arrive so you can bring the supplies you need. I’m purposefully not giving specifics here as many campgrounds have their own regulations based on their facilities and local wildlife.
Next time: A detailed packing list for a tent camping trip.