This is a 3 part series reflecting on our epic #americainthebuff adventure during the Summer of 2014. A 3 week road trip through Southern USA, up the California coast, and back through Central USA. It is written in hopes that others can learn from our trip and make their own memories by seeing the world.
I can’t remember much from my childhood, but I do remember camping trips with the family. And it’s crazy how I don’t remember the bug bites, scrapes, cold ground, or really anything negative. Everything I can recollect was awesome. Starting fires, hiking, eating camp food, viewing wildlife and meeting people at campgrounds seemed like a good time to me. Even waking up in the middle of the night to a thunderstorm and a rain soaked sleeping bag was fun. I wanted my kids to have an opportunity to make similar memories.
Also, being such a geeked-out dad, I knew this was a great opportunity to cut down on amenities and electronics. I considered it a challenge to tent camp across the USA…and like a good Barney Stinson, I accepted my own challenge! Many times our batteries would die and it didn’t seem to matter that much.
By tent camping, you are allowed to keep a more open schedule. We never really felt like we had to rush to get anywhere. I’ve been on the trips with super tight itineraries and felt like I missed out some really great opportunities. How about bringing an RV or popup camper? Those are cool too! However, they require a little more maintenance and attention. To me, it’s another set of axles and tires to worry about when traveling through really remote places. Not that I would never go that route, I just didn’t want to deal it for this trip.
Perhaps one of the biggest draws to tent camping is that it is MUCH cheaper than other popular options. Read more on that and other helpful things below.
The Cost Advantages of Camping
To reduce the cost of our 3-week excursion, we decided to rough it as much as possible. And since we’ve both seen a few horror flicks, staying at cheap motels didn’t seem like a plausible option. So we went with the tent. When doing research for the trip, I determined that a decent hotel would cost between $100-$150 for most stops, let’s say an optimistic average of $125. 20 nights at $125 would be $2500. On the other hand, campsites ranged from $10-$30 a night. Using a high average of $25 per night for camping, 20 x $25 = $500, we get a $2000 difference! That’s a lot of cheese dip!
However, we didn’t camp every night. To allow us to charge up devices, wash clothes, and give us a little break from camping, we did a few family/friend/hotel nights. For instance, on our way to the Rocky Mountain National Park, we found out that it was going to rain and rain for a few days. Tornado and flood warnings too! So I found a great deal on homeaway.com for a 2 night stay in Estes Park in Colorado. It was a condo and cheaper than any nearby hotel. I’ll give some great homeaway.com tips later in our #americainthebuff how-to blog.
How Did Camping Work Out for Us?
I’ll paint this as realistically as possible. 80%-90% of the time, tent camping worked out great. It provided all of the positives that I mentioned above. Brooke and I were eventually able to get our Cadillac of a tent up under 10 minutes. Taking it down took less time. It became a routine, which helps out a lot with children. It saved us a LOT of money! Which we were able to spend on activities and gas.
Unlike some of those camping trips from my childhood, this process was much different. Most of the time we were treating camping as a last minute hotel room. We would get to a campground, find a campsite, set up, eat, sleep, and in the morning we would pack it up and discover other things down the road. Rarely, did we spend time at the campground. An instance where we did hang out at the campsite was when we visited Point Mugu State Park in Malibu, California. It was right on the Pacific Ocean. It made sense. (see image above). Since the Grand Canyon National Park was such a huge deal (pun intended), we camped 2 nights around 10 miles away. Even by staying 2 nights, we were so busy exploring the canyon that we never spent time at the campground. Again, tent camping on this trip was mainly for sleeping.
Heading out West in July gives you a buffet of temperatures. We left hot and humid Southeast USA and went straight to hot and dry Southwest USA, before ending up with the lovely temperatures of coastal California. Some nights we slept in our sleeping bags, other nights we slept on top and covered up with a sheet. The only unbearable night I recall was when we were camping right next to the Colorado River in Moab, Utah (See photo below). Wearing minimal clothing, I sweated throughout the night. The air was so dry that I had to drink water every so often that night.
Storms, they happen. Though we were fortunate to have great weather for such a trip, there was one night at the Bluewater Lake State Park in Prewitt, New Mexico where we thought the tent was going to fly away. It all started after everyone fell asleep. You could see lightning crashing frequently over Bluewater Lake. Then the rain fell and most fiercest wind started to blow. One side of our huge tent was completely blown in over the kids as they slept. It was loud and sounded like nothing I have heard before. Lots of prayers were lifted up as we sat on our air mattress. Without cell phone reception, we really didn’t know the extent of the storm. A weather radio would have really paid off for this trip. Though we look back on that night with some laughter, it’s a reminder of the risks we take when we spend time outdoors.
We also tried out some new camping gear on the trip. See our reviews below!
We had a lot of the needed supplies, but went ahead and purchased a few things: a new tent, nice sleeping bags for the kids, and an air mattress for us. These are things we can continue to use on future adventures.
Coleman Tent – $110 Amazon
Being firm believers in Amazon Prime, we picked up a huge Coleman dome tent for around $110. The tent could be partitioned into 3 rooms, 1 for the kids, 1 for us and our rad queen mattress, and the other for luggage. It came with a rain fly for those nights with a chance of rain. We had great weather for most of the trip except for 1-2 nights of thunderstorms. In New Mexico, it rained and stormed for about 1-2 hours with very strong winds. To our surprise, the tent held up great, with only a minimal amount of water getting in where luggage was touching the outside of the tent. After a few tries, Brooke and I were able to get the tent up in less than 10 minutes.
REI Kindercone Kids Sleeping Bags – $60 each at REI
The sleeping bags were the mummy variety, allowing the kids to tighten strings around the head to help prevent heat loss on cold nights. The bags were rated for 30 degrees F, which were perfect for our Summer trip. California Redwoods in late July was our coldest nighttime temp at 45 degrees F. During our hottest nights in AL, TX, and UT, the kids pretty much slept on top of their bags without complaining. Each had a sewed in stuff sack for quick packing. From my hiking supplies, each kid had an inflatable sleeping pad to place their bags on. This helped them to stay off the cold ground in certain states.
Air Mattress with Rechargeable Pump -$80 Amazon
When you’re wrangling 2 small kids across the country, good sleep is a must. Our new mattress wasn’t a Sleep Number, but it was better than a sleeping bag on the ground. This air mattress had thicker vinyl for camping applications and also came with a rechargeable pump that could be charged by wall socket or car socket. The pump would deflate the mattress just as well as it inflated it. We got about 3 inflate/deflate cycles per charge. It would lose a little air throughout the night, but I attribute that to my healthy size. Good news is that I never woke up on the ground. Overall, it was a great fit for our trip.
We would love to hear about your most memorable outdoors experience. Share in the comment section!