Whether you love boondocking in remote country or your idea of roughing it is a full-service park with a mini-golf course and arcade, car camping can be an absolute blast. For many, the opportunity to tent out under the star-spangled heavens with the luxury and shelter of a well-stocked vehicle at your disposal beats a hotel room every time.
As with any endeavor, proper planning goes a long way toward ensuring a safe and pleasurable car-camping trip. Here are a few handy tips for getting the most out of your next getaway!
Pack the Essentials
Even if you’re not backpacking some far-flung and lonesome trail, you need to be prepared for contingencies when you’re camping. Bring along an emergency supply of food and water as well as warm clothing and blankets, just in case a mechanical breakdown (see below) strands you on some remote backroad, or an unexpected storm washes out or snows in the route to your campground.
The proper safety equipment also includes a first-aid kit: You want to be able to handle, at least for the time being, anything from scrapes and nicks to a bone fracture or break. (It’s a good idea in general to have medical supplies stored in both your vehicle and your home.) If you have vital prescriptions, bring extras in the event you’re delayed getting back to civilization. If you wear contact lenses, bring a pair of glasses along as backup.
A Dependable Vehicle
Car camping obviously relies on a vehicle in good working order. Whether it’s a Kia Sorento, a Toyota Tacoma, or any other rig, give it a once- (or twice-) over before hitting the road–topping off fluids; checking hoses, wires, and connectors; assessing tire pressure and condition; confirming working lights; and replacing or restocking, if necessary, your jumper cables, extra fluids, extra belts, extra windshield wipers, and other go-to supplies. Car problems can derail an entire holiday, so you want to cover your bases and prepare for the unexpected as best you can.
These days, a smartphone or other mobile device gives you an awful lot of information–both critical and trivial–to tap into away from home. Such technology, though, isn’t a substitute for old-fashioned print references, especially when you’re well outside the range of a cellular tower.
For one thing, obtain and bring along a large-scale map of the area(s) in which you’ll be camping. Car campers sometimes neglect this, but many prime recreation sites are off the beaten path and accessed via long, confusing networks of unpaved, poorly maintained roadways, and a detailed map’s critical for staying on-course. Furthermore, day hiking’s one of the pleasures of any car-camping vacation, and hitting the trail–even a short one–means having a map to consult.
It’s also a great idea to bring along various guidebooks focused on the region you’re exploring, and even novels, poetry, or essay collections with the same geographic focus. When you’re stuck in the car during a prolonged rainstorm, it’s wonderful to have some absorbing and edifying reading material on hand to pass the time–and to deepen your appreciation of the setting.
Around the Campfire
Campfires have near-universal–and deeply primal–appeal. That said, they’re one of the arenas most easily abused by novice or negligent campers. For one thing, you should always check the current fire regulations for the area in which you’ll be camping: In periods of hot, dry, and/or windy weather, campfires may be temporarily banned to lessen the risk of sparking a wildfire.
It’s best to acquire firewood in the vicinity of where you’re camping to avoid spreading timber pests. If gathering your own wood is allowed, focus on dead and downed branches and twigs and spread out your collecting so you’re not depleting these ecologically important resources in any one spot. And if you’re camping in a place where timber’s scarce–such as an alpine pass or a sparse desert–consider forgoing a fire altogether.
Have water and a shovel on hand to effectively control and douse your blaze. And make sure the campfire’s completely extinguished before heading for bed or leaving your campsite.
Car camping’s a lifelong, family-friendly adventure that can introduce you to some beautiful landscapes and healthy outdoor activities wherever you pursue it. So get packing and hit the highway!
Jesse Murillo works in education and is a real camping enthusiast, regularly organizing school trips and adventures with her own family. She has owned a used a number of different SUV’s and knows what is needed to meet your needs. Her ideas and suggestions can be found on a variety of leisure and family-interest websites she writes for on a regular basis.