Because of “The Economy” I have been hearing the buzzword “Staycation” a lot. And I really have to admit it drives me up the wall, the way “BabyMoon” has become the title for people taking a vacation before the baby is born, or “Carb” became a term for Evil Breads.
I mean, what is a “staycation” anyway? You go to a spa. You go to a restaurant. You act like tourists in the city in which you live. Well, you should be doing that, anyway, in “This Economy” or Any Other Economy. Those are called “weekends” and not the kind where you spend at Home Depot and the grocery store. Even in “This Economy”, you can get away from your home and sleep in a different bed – because that’s what traveling is about.
Instead of a bed, how about a sleeping bag and a tent? Nowadays, being environmentally conscious is so chic, everyone is packing up their SUVs and zooming out with fedoras and cargo shorts to sport a night under the stars. Camping is also extremely inexpensive – around $5-$30 a night per site, depending where. Add in some firewood, gas for the car, groceries, and a fun outdoorsy activity like canoeing, fishing, hiking or biking, and you’ve got a real vacation.
Here’s how to plan a non-LameCation in a tent.
1. Borrow or rent a tent, sleeping bag, camping stove, propane lamp, bug spray and groceries from Trader Joe’s in a cooler. I’m a big advocate of a comfortable pillow and headlamp for hands-free smores-making. I also like to bring a couple beach chairs, swimsuit, towels, sunscreen, moist towelettes and washable plastic dishes. A good book, deck of cards, extra batteries and a bunch of ghost stories, and you’re set. If you absolutely must sleep in a bed, some sites come with cabins and bunk beds, but in my experience there are fewer bugs within your tent than in your cabin.
2. If you HAVE TO TAKE A SHOWER, there are many campsites that come with real bathrooms that are usually well-maintained. It’s almost like summer camp all over again. Bring flip flops to wear in the shower and to/ from your site.
3. Most sites will have a general store that sells whatever you forgot, as well as firewood, charcoal for the grill, and ice.
4. There’s always those campgrounds that are like Disneyland with tents. Not even – some come with “cabins” that might as well just be a hotel. Many of those Yogi Bear campgrounds include pools, waterparks, conference centers, arcades, mini-golf, and family-friendly activities that aren’t quite the rustic peace you might have been seeking. Approach these with caution – not only will they cost you more than a typical camping trip, you may also have to deal an interesting cross-section of America.
5. Be aware that popular areas, like Yosemite and Assateague Island, get completely booked on every weekend before the summer even starts. But there are plenty of good camping areas within a couple hours’ drive from where you live.
6. Find a campsite based on the activity you’d like to do. If it’s hiking, look for somewhere with good hiking. A few years ago, we decided to go to Half Dome in Yosemite. Of course, all the campsites were booked, so we found a few right outside the park. We stayed at Summerdale, which was $47 for two nights and came with a grill and firepit. We chose a spot right next to the creek, so the four of us fell asleep to the sounds of a babbling brook. And after 12 hours of hiking Half Dome, we passed out immediately and hard for another 12 hours. Another great California campsite is Little Harbor at Two Harbors on Catalina Island. This is a very remote and removed part of the island, with showers and a general store only at the dock. My friend Karen and I decided to hike the seven miles on a fire road to our oceanside campsite, carrying all the wrong gear and all our food and water in our backpacks. Yes, there was a shuttle that could have taken us, but then we wouldn’t have encountered buffalo in our path. Another year Jon and I camped on the Avalon side of Catalina with some friends, but then we were just sleeping in tents and walking to town to eat in restaurants – which sort of took the novelty of camping away. (They even wanted to go back to the tent to “get ready” to go out one night… which was weird to me).
Jon and I are in the process of planning a trip to Janes Island State Park on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with our non-camping friends who want to try out this sleeping-outdoors business. We are excited to break in our wedding gifts from REI and go canoeing and crabbing along the Chesapeake. We’re mostly excited to cook farm vegetables from our CSA and fresh shellfish over a campfire. Somehow it tastes better outside next to a woody campire. Last year we spent four mostly rainy days in Shenandoah, Virginia, two of which were spent in a canoe outfitted by the Front Royal Canoe Company. We had a site next to the river where we pulled our canoes up, with hot showers, a grill and fire pit. When it downpoured, we sat in our little tent and played cards. We also got engaged in the middle of a thunderstorm on the canoe trip, so we have a soft spot for camping in general.
More camping trip ideas in other parts of the country to come!