My husband and I just spent 50 days traveling like the good old days: no reservations, no itinerary. Freedom! Many of you know that I write our weekly column “Campground Crowding” (here’s last week’s edition, a new one coming tomorrow) and hear many peoples’ frustrations with crowded campgrounds and their difficulty making reservations at their favorite parks. I also read a lot of comments from those that have no issues. Is there really crowding?
We just completed 50 days of traveling and made only one reservation a week ahead. That was to a popular and overpriced KOA near a National Park.
Experiment: Let’s travel like the “old days”
What would it be like to travel like the “old days”? No plans, no reservations, just wanderlust, and an end destination.
Having spent a lot of the summer in Minnesota with reservations and campsite-hopping, we are well aware of crowding in summer near cities at the popular state and regional campgrounds. So I was a little worried about this experiment…
Camping the shoulder season
We purposely started out after schools had started in the fall and when there would be [hopefully] fewer people out there vying for the same few sites. Amazingly, there were no problems finding a place to stay for a few nights on our journey from Minnesota to North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona. We did need to reserve as most parks—private and public—now require reservations. But we only did that on the day of or the day before our arrival. We used a mixture of private, state, and COE campgrounds, as well as Harvest Hosts.
No itinerary, no reservations
The shakiest part of the whole trip was having no solid itinerary, just a vague idea of going west or maybe going to Glacier National Park or maybe the Grand Tetons or maybe Utah? But being late in the season, watching weather reports for snow became one of the deciding factors.
My friends are shocked because I am a planner. I am one of the ones that will make reservations a year in advance and go to Google Earth to pick the best campsite even for just one day. But it has been a very emotionally trying year and I just couldn’t do it. My husband doesn’t particularly care as long as he can get a bit of TV or a movie at day’s end. He hardly ever asks where we are going… just how long he is driving!
It is dang expensive!
Without pre-planning it is dang expensive to travel by RV right now! Fuel is astronomical- particularly in California. Private RV parks have increased prices exponentially. I have never seen private Mom and Pop campgrounds so high. The private parks bought out by corporations are unforgiving, even in the off-season.
State and county parks can range from $40 to $65 a night. In some instances, it was a lot cheaper to stay at a private park than a state park, particularly when a state tacks on non-resident and booking fees.
Groceries, as everyone already knows, are at an all-time high. Small mountain towns are the worst, and I was just waiting for my credit card to melt. Eventually, I became kind of numb to the prices and began planning budget dinners with leftovers for the next six months.
Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome help, but we are 40’ towing and usually restricted on size. When I did find a site that we would fit in and that was not too far off the beaten path, it was full. That, of course, was not helped by my lack of planning.
Many readers have been writing about the increase in RV parks’ full-time residents ranging from broken down, shabby RVs littering a park to well-kept-up sites with friendly residents. We found that the majority of parks that are open year-round have a number of full-time residents. In one park a school bus even stopped at the front gate. The number of overnight spots in these parks are really limited.
Why do it?
Why travel 4,000 miles when 1,600 would get us back to Arizona for the winter? And why spend more than the kids’ inheritance on a 50-day trip? This year has been filled with deaths—my father’s and dear friends—health issues, family disruptions and trauma. Do we wait?
Tomorrow is not promised
We are aging faster than I would like to acknowledge. What if we can’t go next year or the year after? What if we wait too long? This year has proven that you cannot rest assured of the future and tomorrow is not promised to us.
So as long as my husband can drive we will climb over rocks to reach the sea, walk through a rainforest, and look up in awe at the Redwoods until we get a crook in our necks.