To Tent or Not to Tent

When you’re heading off for an adventure (with or without the kids) one of the first questions that come up is – where are we staying? Are you going to spring for a hotel room or rough it under the stars? Or maybe something in-between.

I’ve done both, and while there are obviously advantages and conveniences to staying in hotels, price isn’t one of them. You’re looking at $70 – $80 a night for an average room in an average hotel. If you want king size beds or a separate room for the kids (or a suite) it’s going to cost more. Sometimes a lot more.

If you want to save some money (who doesn’t?) maybe you should consider camping instead of a hotel.

Camping Basics

There are a few simple rules to follow if you’re a beginning camper. Before I get into them, understand that you’ll have to spend some money up front getting all the gear but once you do, you’ll be saving money from there on out.

●       A Tent

The tent is the first item on your list. They used to be gigantic, heavy canvas monsters that took three or four people to set up, but no more. Now they’re lightweight and easy. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes, with flaps, porches, windows, waterproof tent, and even SUV tents and Pickup Truck Tents. Those are tents that connect to the rear of your SUV so you have access to it from inside the tent.

●       Sleeping Bags

Don’t bother with sheets, blankets, and quilts. First of all, they’re too heavy and bulky. You’ll lose huge amounts of space in your vehicle if you take them. They’re hard to fold in a clean house, but they’re harder – and messier – to fold when you’re out in the woods. Sleeping bags are meant to be rolled up, they weigh less than quilts, and will keep you toasty warm. Many of them will zip together to make a double back for you and your spouse. Sometimes a good sleeping bag may be more important than your tent.

●       A Sleeping Pad

If you’re used to sleeping on a nice soft mattress, trying to get comfortable on the cold, hard ground can be a real shock. John Wayne or Clint Eastwood might make it look easy but take it from someone who has been there, done that it ain’t. Get a sleeping pad to put under your sleeping bag. Your body will thank you in the morning.

●       Clothes

Planning involves more than just counting out how days worth of underwear you need. Whether you have kids or not, you need to plan where you’re going so you’ll know what kind of clothes to bring. When our family went camping at elevations of 8000 feet, we’d run around in our bathing suits during the day, but as soon as the sun went down we’d have to dive into our jeans and coats because the air doesn’t hold much heat that high up.

●       Lights

Did you know it gets pitch black outside at night when you’re away from the city lights? It does, and a flashlight or lantern suddenly becomes a necessity. Don’t leave home without them. Bring extra batteries too. I don’t carry if you’ve got brand new batteries in everything; they always seem to fail at the worst possible moment.

●       Stove and Grill

A camp stove is obvious, but a grill to put across your campfire is a nice touch if you want to experience grilling over an open fire. Use the camp stove for breakfast and lunch. But when it’s time for dinner, start a fire in the fire pit. Put a grill over the flames, throw some steaks on there, and listen to ‘em sizzle. Being outdoors makes everything taste better anyway, and a flame-seared steak under the stars is hard to beat.

Location

In addition to planning where you’re going so you know what clothes to bring, you should also think about campsites around the country. Some of the best places to pitch a tent can be found by doing a quick search online. Reputable sites will show you pictures, tell you how much the camping sites cost, what time of year the campgrounds are open (all year or seasonal), and some of the attractions around it.

Many camping sites that cater to travelers are close enough to town to let you get there within minutes if you’re in the mood for a movie, museum trips, amusement parks, eating out, or other events. Saving money on lodging will save you enough money to enjoy all of them.

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