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Each year, nearly 50 million campers load up their cars and RVs and take a trip into the wilderness. There, they set up camp and enjoy a few days — or weeks — of rustic living and breathtaking views.
If you’re ready to join them but aren’t sure about sleeping in a tent, car camping is the next best thing. This setup provides more comfort and safety. Plus, you won’t have to worry about ropes, poles, tarps and the like.
Here are four essential tips for car camping beginners and why you should use them when planning your first trip.
1. Do Your Research
If you’re serious about car camping, odds are you at least have an idea of where you want to go. But do you know whether the area is home to bears? If so, local regulations may prohibit campers from keeping food in their cars. Fire restrictions, campsite prices and seasonal closures change throughout the year, too, so you must research both the campground and surrounding area before heading out.
As you plan your route, take note of the nearest gas station, hospital, veterinarian and grocery store. If you suddenly need any gear or assistance, it’s nice to know where these destinations are.
2. Share Your Itinerary
One of the best ways to ensure you have a fun first trip is to share your itinerary with others. This tip is important for all kinds of camping. However, car campers are less apt to use it than backpackers or thru-hikers because their vehicle gives them a false sense of security.
While you may have a roof over your head, you can get just as lost as a backcountry hiker, especially if you don’t pack physical maps as backup navigation. If you tell friends and family where you’re going and when you expect to return, they can notify the nearest ranger station if disaster strikes and you fail to contact them.
3. Bring a Hammock
Alternative seating arrangements are one of the most oft-forgotten items on the beginner car campers’ packing list. You have seats in your car already, right? Besides, where are you going to store lounge chairs and umbrellas when you’re supposedly sleeping in the cargo area?
Well, if you want to spend any time outside, you’ll need some sort of foldable seat, and that’s where hammocks come in. These things only take up a few inches of storage space and offer comfy, shady seating — or sleeping! — wherever you find trees. Invest in a quality hammock with ripstop fabric and bug netting for the coziest experience.
4. Plan for Emergencies
Anything could happen when you hit the open road and leave civilization behind. You could pop a tire on the way to your campsite or run out of gas in the middle of nowhere and no one would be around to help. God forbid you get stuck without a cell signal. That’s why you must plan for emergencies. You never know when it might save your life.
Get a car inspection before you leave and make sure your spare tire is good to go. Pack an emergency kit with extra food, water, blankets, light sticks and flares. GPS locators that feature weather updates are helpful, too, as they can help you prepare for flash floods, heavy snow and other inclement weather.
Enjoy the Journey
You know what they say. Life’s about the journey, not the destination, and the same is true of any car camping trip. So sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. As long as you plan and pack well, everyone’s sure to have a great time.