Over the summer, we tried out a short camping trip. This was an item on my 101 tasks list. We also wanted to see if camping could be a frugal form of vacationing in the future for us. We had a great time, but I’m not sure if it’s all that frugal for us. We also came away with mixed feelings on whether tent camping is something we want to adopt in the future. Although we enjoyed it, it was a lot of work. And there’s a bit of a learning curve that I’m not sure we’re up for.
Why we wanted to try camping
Each of us camped with our families as kids. We had slightly different experiences, though. My family tent camped with our horses on autumn weekends, after the show season wrapped for my brother and me. Mr. Vine’s family camped in their RV at campgrounds for a week at a time on several occasions during the summer.
This camping experience was steeped in nostalgia for both of us. I recalled those crisp mornings and the sound of the horses nickering for their breakfast. I remember the warmth radiating off their bodies. It was so peaceful to be first awake and to warm my hands against their necks while they munched hay. Later in the day, we’d go for a family trail ride. When I think about going back in time to relive a day, one of those camp days would be on my list.
Mr. Vine has fond memories of his campground friends and neighbors. He remembers swimming with his brothers. Mr. Vine looked forward to reconnecting with those friends he made the following summer, when they’d all return to the campgrounds. He also recalled his parents preparing the RV to depart and his mom’s camp cooking.
Both of us appreciated how different camping is when you’re the adults and fully responsible for all of the prep and packing! In time, we’d likely become more efficient at this. We brought too much of some things and not enough of others. I spent a lot of time on food prep to minimize what I’d have to do at the campsite. That paid off because camp cooking is hard. I know there is gear to make this easier. And that learning curve again. But there’s no question that camp cooking at least takes more preparation and planning than cooking at home.
We went light on gear because we didn’t want to make a big investment if it turned out that camping wasn’t for us. Our friends, who joined us, work at company that loans out certain equipment. We were able to use a generously sized tent and cots for the four of us. The tent portion of the excursion was what I worried about most. It turned out to be easier and more comfortable than expected. The tent setup was simple and quick at the campsite. The cots were great and we all slept pretty well. It was a slightly chilly, but not uncomfortably so.
Camp cooking is hard!
Cooking was a real challenge. First of all, we thought we’d have a grill on our campsite but we didn’t (our mistake to not confirm). Trying to cook sausages on a basically open fire in the dark was difficult. It resulted in rare sausages that needed to go back in the coals partially through consumption. Fortunately no one got sick. I was a frustrated cook, though. We were all hungry and impatient. We did have the foresight to bring plenty of snacks, which kept everyone reasonably content. S’mores turned out to be pretty easy and very delicious. Thank goodness we remembered the ingredients! The morning meal was breakfast burritos that I’d pre-cooked and assembled back home. Those were delicious and perfect after sitting in hot coals for awhile. My recommendation for the novice camp cook would be to front load all of your effort and to pre cook whatever food you’re planning. Or bring things that don’t require cooking (an especially good tip for the arrival day dinner).
There were a lot of things we enjoyed about camping. We were close to the beach and took a few hikes in the woods. Sitting around the campfire with friends was wonderful. It was a lot of work to bring all of the comforts of home for one night. We chose just one night deliberately to minimize our chances of failure. But our prep work probably was sufficient for at least two nights.
Will we do it again?
As far as camping vacations or getaways go, I doubt we’ll do it often. This means we probably won’t spend the money to purchase equipment any time soon. Neither of us were left wanting to do it all the time. The investment in gear for a couple of outings each year probably isn’t worth it. But we are still considering the idea of camping as a means of slow travel within the U.S. during early retirement.
Ultimately, we felt like we could have similar experiences without the effort of packing everything up. We will also take some of the elements of camping that we loved into other activities. We recently hiked at a favorite park. We’ve often cooked out at a pavilion near the hiking trails. The pavilion has a hearth for fires. We picked up a couple of bundles of firewood and for the first time, built a fire in the hearth for s’mores and ambiance.
Camping was fun, but it was a lot of work. Given the choice between hanging out around our apartment for a weekend or packing up to camp somewhere locally, we’d probably rather stay at home. There is value in that discovery. Staying home doesn’t require the purchase of any new equipment, or payment of a campsite rental fee. For now, with our lifestyle and schedules, camping falls below other getaways we enjoy, or even a staycation weekend at home.
Tell us what you think about camping? What makes it the perfect vacation for your family? Why might you choose another travel style?