Coffee in hand, waking up, I have time to sit and think about things – not ships or sails or sealing wax, but things. As I look out my window, this morning’s musings are about camping, vacationing, and traveling. Seeing our fellow campers, I realize that we have evolved over the many camping years of our adult lives.
The stages of our camping evolution range from weekend camping trips to weeklong vacations to full-time traveling. These stages have different purposes, accouterment (pardon my French), and approaches.
The hustle and bustle of city life, juggling work, home, church, school, current events, entertainment, and all the pressures associated with each can definitely put “knots in your rope” (as Curly put it). We look forward to the weekend, when we can relax and unwind – or maybe not if we still have the household chores, projects, yard work, little league, or soccer.
We plan to escape to the woods for some well-earned “down-time.” We hurry to pack the camping gear and foods in the car, navigate to our favorite state park or campground, set up the tents, the dining fly or “easy-up,” the camp stove and cook gear, camp chairs, and get the bikes and fishing gear out. “Hurry up so we can relax!”
This was us a mere ten years ago. We tent-camped for about 30 years, as both Laurie and I were brought up camping and enjoyed it. We would get away any chance we could go to the river or the state parks. We would spend all our time in camp or on the river, hiking the trails, telling campfire stories, singing songs, and making s’mores. These were happy times! We were younger then and could actually DO all that.
During our latter ten years of this form of camping, we would eventually find ourselves in an RV dealership, looking at pop-up campers and travel trailers. Almost ten years ago, we bought our pop-up camper. We later traded the pop-up on an old Class C motorhome, as the pop-up was too small for our crew. We continued the weekend camping for a while but later wanted to incorporate the camper into our vacations.
Most of our vacations were “destination” trips to the Gulf of Mexico, staying in a beach rental, condominium, or beach house. We would usually spend two to three thousand dollars on these for a week. The vacation rentals were often great, but there was the occasional “Forest Gump box of chocolates,” too. We saw that the camping vacation would cost us a lot less – or so we thought.
The RV parks located “right on the beach” are usually booked a whole year out. The costs were (then) anywhere from $40 to $120 per night, depending upon the time of year. We usually camped 20 to 30 minutes from the beach. Gas costs were more, as our camper gets about 6 MPG. For the 500-mile trip, the gas costs for the car were about $120 round trip, whereas gas cost us, on average, $500 round trip in our motorhome. A one-week beach-camping vacation would average about $1,000. These costs don’t include the camper loan, Insurance, tags, and such.
We have also taken a couple of “traveling” vacations (Niagara Falls for one and Grand Canyon for another). We went to a faraway destination but saw many sites along the way. These were longer (usually two weeks) and included driving almost every day. The costs for these averaged $30 to $100 per night for campsites and about $200 per day for gas – about $2,500 to $3,500.
We packed clothing for a week. We used the camp laundry when staying for two weeks. We also brought a camp grill or griddle, propane or hoses for connecting to the onboard tank, camp chairs, beach umbrella or sunshade, easy-up or screen-house, bicycles, and fishing gear, and we bought our groceries along the way. We would usually unpack and use only some of this gear on the traveling vacations but would use it all for the destination vacations. Unlike the weekend trips, we would rarely stay in camp and use the camp amenities.
We upgraded to a Class A motorhome in preparation for retirement and travels. We considerably trimmed down the amount of “stuff” we needed, as we planned to live in the motorhome while traveling. Our goals or purposes for traveling are visiting family, seeing new places, and learning about the people and areas we visit. When we arrive at a campground, we plan to stay a week or two, sometimes a month or more. We only hang around camp on our “down days” and spend most of our time visiting family or seeing the sites and learning about the area. We don’t set up the extra “stuff” (screen house, patio rug, chairs, grill) if we’re only here a couple of days, and we do set up the extra “stuff” if we’re here for a couple of weeks or more.
The cost of this type of camping (which isn’t really camping) and of owning and operating a “sticks and bricks” house are close. We are members of “Thousand Trails,” “RPI,” “Good Sam Club,” “Passport America,” and “Harvest Hosts,” so we get discounted stays at participating parks. We have yearly dues with all but Passport America. We stay as many nights as we can in Thousand Trails parks because they are free to use with our membership. Moving from park to park, however, uses more gas. With club dues and our occasional month stays, we average about $750 to $800 per month in a given year. With club dues, our motorhome loan, Insurance, tags, propane, occasional service, gas, and oil brings us to an average of $2,200 to $2,300 per month to live in our motorhome. The mortgage, utilities, maintenance, tax, and Insurance on our house come to about $2,000 to $2,100 per month. Of course, these don’t include the cost of phones, Internet access, doctors and medicines, and food (which is really about the same for both).
Traveling the country this way affords the freedom and opportunity to meet new people, see new places, learn new things, and see friends and relatives. We wake up to a lake, a beach, a mountain view, or rolling meadows every morning. Priceless!
So… I wouldn’t trade any of the camping trips we have made, whatever the style (weekend, vacation, or full-time traveling). I see that each approach felt different, cost different, had different goals and objectives, used different equipment, and (most importantly) are an integral part of our lives, helping shape who we are today.