You’ve been driving all day and you found an amazing area that is a perfect place to spend the night. This is part of why I love freestyle road tripping because you may not have planned to stop at this campground but here it is and here you are and you need to sleep. I’m going to outline how a camp stop usually works for us. This is pretty consistent whether it’s a private campground or a state/provincial/national park.
Pick a spot:
You won’t be camping if there aren’t any spots so a stop at the office is the first thing. If there are people working, you’ll know fairly quickly if there’s a site available. Don’t be afraid to ask the staff member what spots they recommend. There are places that may not look great on the map but when you actually get there, it’s pretty sweet. Even though my dogs aren’t yappy I prefer the quieter places so I tell them right off the bat that’s what I’m after. I don’t mind walking a bit farther to get places if it means I don’t have the water tap at the front of my site and can hear everyone coming for water at all hours (and the resultant need to pee all the time).
If the office is closed, a lot of campgrounds will have a self-service feature where you pick an available site, set up your camp, then deposit your money in a box with a permit. I have a love/hate relationship with these. I love being able to look at a site and see what’s around before settling. But I hate having to go back to the front of the campground to deposit cash and then back to the site. It’s not a big deal if the campground is small but if it’s a large campground, you’re back in the car. If you are going to pick your site, make sure you read the map. I was at a campground in Kansas and just skimmed over the site map. As I drove around, I was positive that there had been more sites than the few trailer sites I was looking at. I saw so many picnic tables and assumed they were all day sites since they didn’t have the permit posts. Well later on I realized that they were indeed tent sites and I had missed out on primo spots. Oh well. We were only there to sleep and it was very quiet any way.
There some things you’ll have to consider:
Proximity to washrooms – do you have little ones that will need to make frequent visits? Or if you’re like me and you have a bladder the size of a walnut then you’ll want to know how far the washroom is. There are often pathways that act as shortcuts to the washrooms. It’s nice to know if there is one that passes through your site so you won’t be surprised if you have a lot of rustling in the bushes.
Electrical hook-ups – these often come at a premium price but it may be worth it if you want to have power.
Playgrounds – If you have kids with you, you’ll likely want to be close and if you don’t then chances are you won’t.
Water taps – having one near your site is convenient but you will have a lot of traffic. And the sound of running water at all hours.
Laundry/showers – I find that these buildings tend to be louder because they echo more but they usually get less traffic unless they are attached to the washrooms.
When I get to my spot, the first thing I do is let the dogs out of the car and put them on the tie-out. I fill their bowls with water and lay out a blanket or towel for them before I do anything else. Usually they sniff around, have a drink, and plop down to watch me.
Most sites have an area that has been used for the tent, and some even have a designated spot. It’s important to pick up any rocks and debris and then figure out the slope of the site. I sometimes use the tent sac, laying it out flat and then dribble some water to see which way it flows if the slope is not obvious. Once that’s done, orient the tent with the highest point where your head will be. Screw that up once and you’ll never mess it up again.
With the tent up, I first put in my sleeping pad and inflate it, putting it against the back. Then the dog’s pad goes in and I cover that with the old sheet that I keep in the back seat of the car. I tuck the sheet under my pad and bring it to the door before folding the excess back over. It’s just one more layer of comfort for the dogs and protection for the floor. Then I have to shoo Leo away since this is when he tries to sneak in as I bring my sleeping bag and their blankets inside.
Once the tent is set-up, we go for a walk around the campground. First thing is to orient ourselves to the washroom and any other amenities available. We’ll go for a hike if there are trails and time permitting, which gives us all a chance to stretch our legs. Rarely, very rarely, we find a campground with an off-leash area and I let them run as long as they want to.
Once everyone is good and tired, we head back to our site. I dish out their kibble and then turn my thoughts to my meal as I have a nip from the Road Trip Bottle (to toast our safe arrival of course). For some reason I usually have left over pizza so I’ll often eat that by lantern light. If there are no leftovers, then I set out my stove and will fix something. This is where I’m thankful for the foodie tendencies that lead me to overpack food. Most of the time I’ll make a pack of ramen noodles or noodle dish (think Sidekicks) and add some dried mushrooms or chicken or even beef jerky. I always always always make sure to pick up any spilled kibble and put all the food and dishes back into the trunk of the car. I NEVER bring any kind of food item into the tent even when we’re not in bear country. It’s not a good habit to let yourself get into.
Then I will unzip the tent and try to hold back the tide of dogs that want to rush in before I’ve unclipped their leashes. I leave the clips at the door so that when I wake up, I can unzip the door and clip the leashes while the door to the fly is still closed so they can’t bolt off.
Once I’ve changed into my sleeping clothes, I’ll have to push Piper and Leo both off of my sleeping bag and then try and keep Leo out of my sleeping bag and Piper from squeezing me off my pad. By this time, Jack will have most of the blankets piled up underneath him as he just watches the spectacle.
The dogs are usually asleep before I am but they are quick to wake up if they hear something outside. I usually sit up for a little bit and jot down any extra notes from the day’s travels or read a bit or plan out the route for the next day. Not only will I have a lantern in the tent (either the small one from the ceiling or the big one next to me) but I’ll have my headlamp, cellphone, and pocket knife tucked in the pocket next to my head. I don’t keep the knife there so much for defence but in case I have to get out of the tent in a hurry; like if it gets blown over or in the off-chance a bear starts poking around. Neither of those cases have happened but if I can be prepared, then I will be prepared.
At home, I will sleep in until the crack of noon but when we’re camping I’m often up before the sun. I’ll take the dogs for a good long walk once it’s light enough to see where we’re going. I’ll fill the dogs water bowls and pour out their food before I get my food going. Breakfast for me is often oatmeal with whatever dried fruit and nuts tickle my fancy. I’ll often boil a pot of water then use some of that for tea and dump a few pouches of instant oatmeal into what’s left.
Once our whole two dishes are washed, I’ll pack up camp which is the reverse of the set-up. I usually take them for one last walk after the car is packed up unless it’s a campground that we are in a rush to get out of. There have been a few that I was happy to see in my rearview that’s for sure.
Think that staying in a hotel is a piece of cake? My next post will have a few survival tactics that have come in handy and had to be learned the hard way.