Camping — is it your thing?

Written by admin on August 10, 2009 – 5:06 pm -

Lord knows, it’s not for everyone. There’s a theory that people who are contemplating going camping or sailing should spend the weekend together in a bathroom. Tight quarters do not necessarily guarantee closeness – and I’m not referring to physical space.

Having survived three camping trips, I quickly decided they weren’t my preferred vacation. But my partner loved them (and sailing) so I learned to adjust – well kind of. We finally agreed that every third night – we’d stay in a hotel. Camping in a VW bus didn’t qualify as a five-star adventure.

Some people relish living in self-contained units where they can eat, sleep, shower and perform bodily functions and not have to pack and unpack.

Depending on the season, you can be spontaneous about when you pick up and go. If it’s high season, you may not be able to reserve a space in a National Park at the last minute. Camping trips during July and August require substantially more planning since if your dream is to visit the Grand Canyon, you’re not alone.

There are private and public campgrounds and guides as to where each one is located. In Europe, they’re rated with the equivalent of Michelin stars and some of them are even posh.

OK – what to take – and what you need to leave home.
This takes a lot of soul searching.

Clothes are the easiest part. Everything should be wash and wear and preferably quick drying: Take layers; do not forget rain gear and an umbrella. Weather can vary during the day and depending where you are, can plummet at night.

Shoes are challenging and the number one priority should be comfort: you’ll need shoes for hiking, walking biking and rubber flip flops if you’re using communal showers. Take an extra pair in the event you get soaked. If you’re planning to go to a restaurant that has tablecloths, a pair of “dressy” shoes is appreciated.

Travelers should have their personal necessity bags especially if they’re using campgrounds with shared facilities. A plastic bag with soap, toothpaste, a tooth brush, shampoo and a personal brush and other essentials is judicious.

Pack a waterproof bag with the following: medicines, band-aids, antiseptic lotions and sprays and a kit to suck out snake or spider bite venom. Do not forget bug spray and repellent lotions.

If there’s a mosquito within a three-mile radius, it’s going to make a beeline for me. My son loves to tell the story about how I was bitten everywhere when I slept on the deck of a sailboat moored in the Caribbean. The stars were beautiful, but the next morning, I looked like a swollen monster and was mainlining antihistamines for the remainder of the trip.

Be sure to have sufficient amounts of sunscreen and a hat. There are few things more miserable than a child (or an adult) who has a terrible sunburn.  It ratchets up the pain and suffering level.

What “toys” you bring with you will be dictated by the campers’ ages, interests not to mention space. A Kindle or a facsimile can be a godsend for readers. Board games, playing cards and electronic games can keep children and older types occupied for hours. Some people wouldn’t leave home without a portable DVD. There are so many options for music – the list could go on forever. Depending on where you’re headed will mandate things such as bikes and/or rubber rafts.

If you can’t live without a computer and being online 24 hours a day, camping probably isn’t for you. You can purchase a USB modem or spend your time where there are WiFi hot spots. But some people might feel that negates the purpose of being on vacation. I don’t happen to be among that group since I’m an addict and just think of the research we could be doing about the trip en route.

Food glorious food: Cooking is a challenge most especially if you’re confined to a limited space. The most perfunctory charcoal grill is a lifesaver in the world of cramped quarters. Before departing on your trip, families (or friends) should have a specific chore list. You can’t be too rigid but successful camping trips requires planning.

During our (ad)ventures, we acquired a fair number of outrageous stories. One was the night the owner of a restaurant agreed that we could stay overnight in his parking lot.  He didn’t tell us about the meaner than mean guard dog or the adjacent train track. Another night I’ll remember is when we pulled into a camp ground and were delighted we could snag a place since it was nearly 10 p.m.

We went to sleep nearly immediately.  The next morning as I was headed to shower, I was greeted by a nude man who was taking out the garbage.  I had a revelation. Nude isn’t necessarily sexy and we left the Camp Naturaliste.

I’ve left out so many tips – not to mention funny stories. Now’s your turn …..

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Camping as an alternative family vacation

Written by admin on March 23, 2009 – 6:23 pm -

This year, many families are considering axing their annual family vacations.  Traveling is a luxury and people are looking at their expenses and their bank balances with fear and trepidation.

If you’re in the U.S., you might want to consider camping. Campgrounds at state parks, national parks, national or state forests, and other public recreation areas as a destination for your family vacation. The cost of gas is down and there are numerous options when it comes to accommodations.

What can you expect at the campground?
They cost approximately  $12-$25 per night, considerably less than a motel room.

Park rangers, who also provide security at the campgrounds, typically run the parks. Frequently, they conduct programs where people can learn about the ecology and more of the area. Many campgrounds have activities targeted to children (and adults) with different interests. A great number have evening lectures and even sing-alongs.

Most campsites have a fire-pit, a charcoal grill and a picnic table. During high season, it’s prudent to reserve; different campgrounds have regulations as to precisely how long you may stay.

You’ll find an area to set up a tent and a place to park your car. There are dedicated buildings for bathrooms and showers. Don’t forget your personal belongings such as soap; shampoo, and rubber flip flops and other sundries.

All camping areas have drinking water available as well as places to do dishes and toss your trash.  Many are equipped with laundry facilities and some have mini-markets, which aren’t the least expensive place to buy groceries but are convenient. There’s some work to camping but hey … family members save a lot of money when everyone gets involved in doing the chores.

If you’re not into the tent culture, many camp grounds offer rental cottages. Some are more primitive than others. Or you can rent an R.V. if you want to travel in a self contained unit. Or you may prefer to drag a trailer behind your car so you can park it  and go off exploring.  Visit camping lots in your area and you’ll find there are a lot of used campers as well as trailers for rent and for sale. Many owners are delighted to rent them in order to generate some income.

Possible things to do  in a campground.
Most public parks have hiking trails and many parks have lakes for fishing, boating and swimming.

Discover nature — some city children have never seen a deer crossing a path much less a mushroom sprouting from the ground. Hummm, watch out for poison ivy.

Many camping destinations have recreational facilities such as basketball courts and playgrounds with swings and slides for the younger set.

Don’t forget to bring bikes, inflatable floats and pool toys, softball equipment, Frisbees, board games if the weather isn’t cooperating.  Remember your children’s favorite toys.

Yes, you can break down and ever bring a portable DVD player.

Bring a telescope so you can star gaze and a include a bird book if that’s your thing.

Locating camp grounds (both public and private) is only a question of surfing the Internet. In France, there’s a manual rating camping areas as if they were hotels with the equivalent of Michelin stars.

One caveat: Don’t assume you can pull off and camp anyplace you want. Depending on the state and local regulations, you might be breaking the law and awakened by the police in the middle of the night. Plus campgrounds offer greater security from people who might be up to no good.

I’m not an avid camper but have gone camping both in the U.S. and in France. I have some great memories and have amassed some tips. But, let’s hear your dos and don’ts and how you’ve maximized your camping forays. And whether or not this article is inspiring you to launch out on one?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |