My family went tent camping when I lived in California throughout my formative years. We stayed in national parks, usually near Mount Shasta or Mount Lassen. Sometimes my father, brother and I would go while my mother stayed home and took a “real” vacation. She never much relished cooking on a tiny camp stove or over a fire with barely the essentials.
I remember loving it. There were lakes to explore, mountains to climb, tree branches to whittle, fires to warm us in the chilly evenings, air mattresses to blow up and sleeping bags to snooze in—and unlike my mom, I rather enjoyed the shortcut-type junk food we only ate during those camping weeks.
As part of Camp Fire Girls in my teens, our group backpacked through Desolation Valley and the Yolo wilderness area. We ate GORP (homemade trail mix), each had our own stoves and mess kits, slept on thin insulation pads in two-man tents and hiked several miles a day with a heavy pack before breaking for camp each night.
In my college years, my friends and I went camping, but honestly, those were typically three-day, alcohol-fueled parties more than anything. I doubt we took one hike and I vaguely remember one outing included a blender and daiquiris as we had access to power.
As soon as I entered the workforce full-time, my camping days were over. Life started, I guess, and I never thought much about it.
After getting married and having a family, camping no longer appealed to me (although it did to them). I was far too accustomed to my cushy bed and everyday niceties, like hot showers.
My husband did a little camping with our boys—even duping them into eating vegetables by calling it “camp broccoli.” The bacon and pork fat probably helped. More often, our boys pitched a tent in our backyard for sleepovers, which must have satisfied part of their desire.
Over the past several years, my husband and I have discussed seeing more of the country. We determined a few long trips would be better taken in some type of camper. As a youth, his family used a camper in this fashion and he has fond memories from those excursions, for the most part.
It also resolves some of my issues, such as avoiding the hard ground, a constant need to set up and tear down, my reluctance to utilize camp stoves for most meals, and navigating a public restroom in the middle of the night.
Because the camper/RV world is completely new to me, it’s been interesting to visit a variety and see what’s available. They really are miniature homes, some better than others. It’s not a perfect world, mind you. Everything is miniature, after all. But with some ingenuity and life hacks, it could be a comfortable way to take a long trip in the USA.
We’ve narrowed it down to campers rather than RVs so we have a vehicle to use without carting the whole house around. We’ve talked to a slew of friends who own campers and use them often to better understand the pros and cons. We’ve looked at new and used, everything from the janky to the luxe. As a result, we have an idea of deal-breakers and what’s essential for us.
If you’ve never gone down this rabbit hole, it’s another world. Some have rooms that expand on slides. Some come with recliner chairs and a full TV, stereo and Wi-Fi setup. Small-scale stoves, refrigerators and microwaves make up the kitchens. Built-in window shades frequently come with two tones, allowing for more light or more privacy. Some models have ceiling fans. Storage is at a premium but some manufacturers know how to maximize space. The décor varies, but often mimics wood details, colors and decorative accents you’d find in a standard home—although most of it borders on tacky.
We’ve begun investigating costs of using a camper to understand how effective it is for travel and other usage. More than I thought, that’s for sure, but the convenience of it is hard to argue. My own food, bed and bathroom, anytime I need them? A multitude of uses, handy now and in the future? Looks like this gal might be coming off camping hiatus after all.
This column appeared in The Journal on Sunday, September 10, 2017.