Throwing a sleeping roll and a tent into the back of a pick-up and hitting the road without a care in the world is one of the best parts of camping. But putting a little time and energy into planning your camping trip helps ensure that your precious vacation time is not spent driving around at midnight trying to find a safe, legal spot to lay your head.
Match the amount of time you have with the distance you want to drive. Driving always takes slightly longer than you think. If your GPS unit tells you the drive is six hours long, give yourself at least an extra hour for impromptu coffee breaks, tourism and getting lost. Don’t plan campgrounds too far away from one another or you’ll spend too much time in the car and not enough time enjoying the scenery from your campsite.
Pick out your stay places on a map and check for facilities in the locations you desire. Pick up a state map that marks the locations of state and national campgrounds and check online for private camping facilities.
Make reservations either online or by calling the campground. Many facilities fill up during the heavy travel season in the summer, so it pays to get your spot secured. If you are traveling with an RV or a trailer, check to make sure the campground accepts your vehicle length and is easily accessible. Some campgrounds are situated off winding, dirt roads that aren’t recommended for large vehicles or trailers. If you plan to backcountry camp, be sure to research the area you intend to visit for trail access, firewood collection, etc.
Get your vehicle checked out before getting on the road, including the spare tire. Make sure you have the equipment for changing a flat, as well as extra oil and water. Trips that take you down long back roads may not have cell service, so prepare a solid emergency kit in case you get stuck. A 12-volt tire pump and a can of Fix-A-Flat can turn a major hassle into a minor inconvenience.
Call the local ranger station or highway patrol before heading out to get any information on road closures or hazards. Traveling into the remote countryside can find travelers staring at washed-out roads or getting stuck in the snow, even in the spring. Know where you’re going and what to expect to avoid unpleasant surprises. Do not rely solely on GPS units to map your journey in unfamiliar territory, and pay attention to the weather forecast.
Pack a cooler carefully. The less time the lid is open, the longer your ice will last. Easy access to beverages helps reduce the amount of time digging through the ice for a soda. Freeze as much food as possible, such as meat and extra water – this helps maintain your ice linger as well. Pre-plan meals and combine the ingredients into one large bag, so accessing each meal from your cooler is quick and easy. Wrap food in double plastic bags or airtight plastic container to avoid getting wet or soggy.
Carry a little cash. Some gas stations and stores in remote locations only deal in cash or can be prone to having their card machines out of service. Likewise, have a few checks on hand for paying campground fees in no-host camps.
Load your vehicle safely. Do not over-pack or tie it down with equipment it’s not designed to carry. Use a proper cargo rack, or rent a vehicle that can haul your stuff safely. In that vein, know that you will often have to park your vehicle at beaches and trail heads unfortunately prone to thievery. Make sure valuables are either out of view, well locked-down or with you at all times.
Excerpts from Nikki Jardin/USAToday.com