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What To Do Before You Leave Your Home to Go Camping

 In Search of the Perfect Campsite   Prepare Meals   Go Over Checklist   Vehichle Readiness   Packing & Organizing Your Camping Gear 
 Wind Down  Find
 Cheapest Gas in Your Area

Before You Go

If you are going somewhere you haven't visited before, find out about facilities, how the site owner feels about fire pits, whether or not firewood will be available, if dogs are allowed, supermarkets in the local area, and so on.

In Search of the Perfect Campsite

You're planning a big vacation and want to camp, how can you find that perfect place? You're looking for some variety in your "local" weekend getaways, but which campgrounds is your style? You could try them out one by one for sure but you know some will feel wrong from the moment you check in, why risk a weekend if you can avoid it.
These are issues we've all faced at one time or another. 

If possible visit the campground first. 
We have done this by taking a day trip to the next state or sometimes on our way home from a camping weekend. We will pull in and go to the office and tell them we are interested in staying with them in the future. They have always been very hospitable; if they do not offer a map of the campground ask for one.

As we walk the grounds here are some of the things we check for: 

Restrooms and showers, cleanliness, condition and hours of operation. Some have hot water only at certain hours! I can live with metered showers as long we aren't paying "resort" prices, but it's a good thing to know.

Recreation facilities

Is it a family crowd, or is it overrun with retired seasonals?
No offense intended here, we are just more comfortable in a family camping setting.

Earmark some favorite sites and make general notes.

Are you near Railroads, highways or other 24 hour sources of noise. (avoid these like the plague)

Is the staff courteous?

Gauge the reaction of the children if applicable.

This is really a very valuable way of screening places. 

Usually it only takes about half an hour to check a place out and it's a great way to break up the ride home on a Sunday afternoon.
Do remember that when doing this you are guests and all should be on their best behavior.
We always do this on foot to get the best perspective and to be the least disruptive.

One source you do not want to overlook is roadside rest areas. Most states operate rest / information stations where you can browse from a plethora of brochures. They generally have material on specific destinations as well as regional publications detailing things to do while visiting. These facilities are usually found in strategic locations such as near state borders.

Of course sometimes this won't be practical and you have to do your fact finding long distance. There will be times when you may be traveling to places that simply are not camping Mecca's. This calls for research. If you belong to AAA call or drop by and get the guide books for the states you are visiting. They also used to have separate camping books for each region. They may have been merging those into the regular travel guides. Either way, make sure you get campground info from them. If you want, spring for one of the big camping books like "Woodall's".
Woodall's has an online directory
you can use for free, it's not the same as thumbing through that big book but if you know what you're looking for you can save $20.00 and a tree! Another great way to get info is to contact the states tourism department; you can usually do this right on the web via state websites and e-mail. Make sure they know where you are heading and you need info on camping attractions.

When you get all this material together lay it out on the kitchen table and start sorting.
 First decide what you want to do, then look for accommodations.
  Remember you will be breaking and making camp. Once you have a rough idea where your nights will be spent start sorting through the campground options based on your own criteria. Things you may find important include, fishing, open water swimming, swimming pool, hookups, handicapped accessibility, playgrounds, theme weeks or weekends, and so on.

Now you should have an itinerary and a number of options as to where to camp. Get on the phone and request brochures, rate cards and any other material that will help you make your decision. Don't be bashful about this, you are offering to put bread on their table and they are glad to hear about your interest. They like to know how you learned about them so have that fact handy. Also ask about any attractions that you may be considering. You may find that a place you were going to visit burned to the ground 3 weeks ago . . .
back to the drawing board. 
The campground hosts can be fantastic help in planning local trip details. 

Keep in mind that you are probably not going to be spending all your days in campgrounds; you'll have places to go and things to do. I try to home in on places where I can be comfortable for the evening and get a good night's sleep.
 As much as I like open water, a quick dip in the pool with the kids is often all we have time for on a trip like this. If this is your only vacation you may choose a more leisurely pace. Our feeling is that we have traveled a good distance and we want to invest out time seeing and experiencing new things.

Prepare meals

It's a good idea to pack the night before as it always seems to take longer if you leave it until the day you depart for the camp. You get stressed because you're late leaving, the children get stressed because they're bored having to wait, and then you all have to sit together with that negative energy bouncing around the car.
If you should happen to live where you don't feel that your items will be safe overnight in/on your vehicle,
At least have it all ready to go the night before.
 If you get everything ready beforehand, all you'll have to do is get up, have breakfast, throw the equipment in the car and go.


  • buy block ice, instead of cubes, it lasts a lot longer 

  • make one large cube at home (old milk container or plastic container) 

  • purchase propane on sale & bring extras, average 1 canister per day 

  • pre-chop veggies at home (night before trip) & store them in zip lock bags

  • grate cheese ahead of time or buy pre-grated packages 

  • pre-cook any sauces & meat mixes, but don't try this with pasta noodles 

  • make stove top casaroles & freeze in containers; thaw & re-heat at campsite

  • buy paper plates & cups (not plastic) that can be burned in campfire 

  • get Pringles canned potato chips - so the bag won't get crushed 

  • pack your bread in a box - so it won't get smooched 

  • prepackaged bag 'o salad is a great way to get your fresh leafy greens 

  • buy pancake batter that mixes with water only. (no eggs or milk needed) 

  • only stock beverages in cooler that will be consumed on the first day 

  • wrap corn on cob in heavy foil 4+ times for cooking on fire & rotate often

For family campers, car campers, and RVers taking condiments along is easy. Just throw them in a cooler or refrigerator, and take them out as you need them. For backpackers and other campers that are more restricted as to the weight and size of the items they carry, Read On...

Simply take a trip to all of your local fast food restaurants before your next trip. Nearly all of them have individually packaged condiments that are perfect for backpacking. They are small, lightweight, and they last a lot longer without refrigeration! And best of all, they are free! What more could you ask for? Here are some of my favorites:

Mayonnaise packets (be sure to keep them cool at least) 
salt and pepper (Wendy's offers these in handy "pop-open" packets)
Sugar or Sugar Substitute 
Mild, Hot, or Fire Sauce (from Taco Bell) 
Sour Cream Packets (like the mayo, these are best when taken on cold weather trips)
Soy Sauce and Sweet & Sour packets (from most Chinese restaurants) 
Salad Dressing (best kept cool or cold) 
Jams, Jellies, Butter Spreads 
Tabasco sauce in the little pouches (Found at Chick-Fil-A)

Go over your checklist.
Don't forget to tell someone you trust of your plans.
Give details of where you are going and when you expect to return, give directions and possible alternative roads that you may take, provide cell phone numbers, vehicle description and license plate numbers, hand-held radio channel and codes that you will use, and provide local authority phone numbers (State Police, Game & Fish Commission, Sheriff Dept., etc.) for the county or area that you will be in.
Try to find someone to collect your mail, check on your house, feed and water animals, etc.

Vehicle Readiness

Check your vehicle before leaving home to be sure it is ready for the trip. Then check it again and often while enroute and at the campsite upon arrival for any possible damage. Some things are easily and inexpensively fixed if caught early.

(e.g. If you notice a tire is losing air, a quick trip to the nearest service station to get a patch is a lot less trouble

than having a flat when you are miles from nowhere.)


Packing & organizing camping gear

The basic principle is to organize or categorize your gear items by
"when" and "how quickly"
you'll need them. 

Arrival stuff: when you arrive at a campsite, the first thing you may want is your raingear, the tarp and its guylines, stakes, and mallet.
If they are kept handy, you only need the doors or the trunk open for an instant to get them.
With the tarp up and the car backed in under it, you can rummage without either you, the car trunk, or the gear getting soaked in the event it's raining.

Raingear: keep everyone's raingear together in one breathable (mesh) bag that's accessible from inside the car.

Night stuff: you don't need"night stuff" until the night,
 so keep it all in one bag or box
night attire, flashlight, sleeping bag, sleeping pads, wash kit, etc.
 If that bag or box is well buried under other items in the car that's fine - you'll have unloaded the other stuff by the time you need it anyway.

Tent and fly: keep them separate from other gear.

Spare clothes: changes of clothing are not needed every day or during the day -
you can bury them too.

Miscellaneous daytime needs: items you might need any time of any day (extra sweaters, a windbreaker, swimwear, towel, a sunhat, sunglasses, personal medication, water bottle, bug repellent, and odds and ends).
Pack in a"daybag" for each person, perhaps even a daypack.

Kitchen stuff: cutlery, plates, mugs and pots should all be together in a plastic storage box or something weather and water proof, along with the standard items you need at every meal -
dishcloth and soap, tea, coffee, condiments, etc.

Stove stuff: stove, white gas, lighter, etc.,
need to be kept separate from food.


 Try to leave enough time to wind down
 with a cup of coffee (or whatever you fancy)
before you are due to leave, 
 it can take a lot of energy to pack a car, so give yourself a chance to breathe before you have to drive.

Need to fill up the tank?

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