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Travel-by-Tent Camping
written by Robert Loewendick

Car camping allows travelers to experience a trip at their own pace, on their own terms. Discover the freedom of this style of travel on your next vacation!
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Car Camping
Paved roads and parking spots accompany green campsites at modern campgrounds.

The short outlook for long-distance vacation travel is not as bright as it once was. High fuel prices are making an impact on the nation's willingness to go big on the family vacation. With this trend not appearing as though it will change anytime soon, will recreational travel cease?

Absolutely not. There are too many benefits that come from America's long tradition of sightseeing travel to simply abandon the adventure. The key to the average person continuing their beloved travel quests is to adjust the length and logistics of their trips.

Let's focus on keeping the trip's time schedule to three or four days round trip. Our lodging will not include the President's Suite perched on the top floor of a hotel either. Instead lodging will include a synthetic cabin rolled up and in a bag, stowed in the vehicle. The modern tent has come a long way, providing plenty of comfort for all. And one thing's for sure when car camping -- there's always a vacancy. 

The key to any successful trip is proper planning and preparation -- extremely true when planning a car-camping vacation. Plus, selecting and researching a destination is half the fun. While planning, consider each traveler's likes and dislikes.

The ability to plan around bad weather, rescheduled vacation dates and time availability are additional advantages of car camping. Campgrounds are more accommodating to travel plan changes than hotels, and if the weather forecast looks as though it's changing for the worse in a pre-selected destination, it's simple to have a second or third choice lined up. One of the thrills of a car-camping trip is the feeling of freedom it brings, and a bit of nomadic adventure will surely instill long-lasting memories for everyone.

Tent Camping
Modern, clean and convenient, campground shower facilities accommodate the traveling camper's bathing needs.

Consider not only a specific campground, but also the sights, activities and experiences that exist along the way. Alternating your route on the return trip allows for even more entertaining sights and amusing conversations.

When choosing a campground, keep the season in mind and select the site with the most opportunities to participate in the season's highlights. Spring camping trips are often best when planned around blooming vegetation and sites with opportunities for wildlife viewing. Summer camping generally includes plenty of water sports, including canoeing, rafting and fishing, as well as hikes to waterfalls and other wet, refreshing natural attractions. Beaches, water parks and historical sites are some other popular travel destinations that welcome tent campers, proving that camping is not only for wilderness loving travelers; car camping is a legitimate method of travel for everyone.

Selecting a campground is best accomplished by first answering a few questions, such as

  • How much of the travel budget is allotted for campsites?
  • Is the campground near any attractions? 
  • Is tent camping welcome?

Most tent sites can be rented for about $20 -- maybe more at privately owned campgrounds, less at government managed campgrounds. Private campgrounds normally provide more on-site activities, while state and federal campgrounds offer an abundance of natural resource attractions. Both private and public campgrounds are readily located in the vicinity of many popular vacation destinations. When making a reservation with a prospective campground, be sure to inquire about tent sites (geographic layout, proximity to shower and toilet facilities, parking requirements at the site, etc.). One other question to ask the campground manager is, "How does your campground benefit tent campers?"

Car Camping
Travel-by-tent camping leads the vacationer through areas possibly missed by traditional to-and-from vacation traveling.

The gear list for car camping is basically the same as any other camping trip. Of course, tents capable of hosting the number of travelers in your party is essential, but also choose a tent that is easily and quickly pitched. A dome style tent is a good choice because of its simple yet strong design and short set-up time. Sleeping bags, Sleeping pads and inflatable mattresses maybe the most important gear as a good night's sleep is always important to ensure a pleasant journey.

Food should be kept in poly containers to keep things fresh and dry, as well as to hide pest-attracting odors while at the campsite. Two ice coolers -- a large one for bulk supplies and a small cooler for drinks and snacks that's easily accessible while driving -- work well. A trick to keep clothing fairly wrinkle free is to roll each piece up like a sleeping bag, then place it snuggly in a duffle bag. Bulky suitcases take up a lot of room, so if space is an issue, try to avoid them.

While car camping, it's important to keep gear easily accessible in the vehicle. Roof top luggage containers are sufficient for lightweight items such as sleeping gear, but heavier equipment, such as stoves, coolers and utility camp boxes should be stored low and to the rear.

If the travel vehicle has a receiver hitch, a removable metal carry-all rack is ideal. These racks can handle a couple hundred pounds of gear and make loading and unloading gear quick and easy.

A heavy-duty poly box with a lockable lid makes a great utility camp box to store fire starters, hammer/axe, rope, bungee straps, lantern, extra tent stakes and other items used to maintain a safe and comfortable campsite. Complete the hitch hauler with a water resistant cover and you're set. If your camp gear will be stowed inside the rear of the vehicle, it's best to keep the gear in the order of camp setup. For example, since setting up your tent is probably the first thing you'll want to do after arriving at camp, make sure your tent is the last thing to go into the vehicle so that it's easily accessible.

An organized campsite is both comfortable and safe. A haphazardly strung rope for drying clothes or a spare tent stake lying on the ground in a walkway will lead to senseless, trip-spoiling injuries. Speaking of tidy, most modern campgrounds have clean, open-all-night shower facilities, which are especially handy for one-night quickie camper.

Camp cooking is not only fun, but a tasty alternative to the usual fast-food pit stop. If your group prefers more time spent sightseeing over cooking efforts, then a few sandwiches and fruit stowed in cooler will keep the trip moving freely.

Navigating is one of the traveler's most vital skills -- some cherish the responsibility while others resent the duty of keeping on course. A Global Positioning Unit (GPS) can resolve many travelers' navigational woes and actually reveal otherwise unknown, interesting attractions while en route. Handheld GPS units are intended for on foot trekking, but a navigating passenger can confirm directions taken from paper maps while on the road.

Portable automotive GPS units have recently become more affordable and are made specifically for the vehicle. One placed on the dashboard will offer spoken turn-by-turn directions. This is really helpful when your co-pilot is sleeping or busy taking in the sights. GPS units also allow you to record interesting points along the route for researching and visiting at a later date. Keeping a non-electric compass on board is always wise, just in case.

Travel will continue to be an important part of our lives, and exploring new places and seeing new things is the driving force behind vacation travel. Car camping allows travelers to experience the trip at their own pace, on their own terms. And, after spending the day cruising around a tourist destination or a newly discovered point of interest, an inflatable mattress waiting in the cover of a tent, nestled among a wooded campsite is always incredibly inviting.

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