Category Archives: Travel

Tips for the Road Trip or Nomad Newbie

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Recently a friend went on road trip covering 1,500 miles and crossing four states. It wasn’t her first road trip, but it was the first long one that she did alone. She wanted to arrive at her destination as quickly as possible, as safely as possible (in the time of COVID, no less), while spending as little money as possible. As we discussed her trip and I offered advice, I realized I had lots of tips I’d picked up from my years as a rubber tramp. Whether you’re going on a weekend road trip and plan to return to your sticks-n-bricks on Sunday evening or if it’s your maiden voyage as a full-time nomad (or even if you’re at some stage between the two extremes), these tips can help make travel in your vehicle safer, cheaper, and more enjoyable.

#1 Remove some seats, or fold them down. The minivan my friend drove on her road trip had seats that folded completely into the floor to create a totally flat surface. My Toyota Sienna did not offer such technology so I pulled all the back seats out as soon as possible. With seats out of the way, you’ll have more room for luggage, coolers, camp stove, and most importantly, space to sleep.

#2 Make yourself a place to sleep. On anything longer than a day trip, you’re going to need to catch some Z’s. (Even on a day trip, you might need to take a nap.) Camping can be fun and staying at a hotel/motel/Airbnb is a luxury I wish I could afford, but if you’re just trying to make it from point A to Point B, consider sleeping in your vehicle. With the seats out or folded away, you should have room to make a comfortable sleeping area for yourself.

My friend had a twin size futon mattress that she threw in her minivan for maximum comfort. If you don’t have a mattress that fits your vehicle, you could use an air mattress, a pad intended to go under a sleeping bag, the squishy mats that go on the floor of an exercise or play room, a yoga mat, or even a pile of blankets. If you don’t have a sleeping bag to go on top of your padding, just use sheets and blankets from your bed at home. Don’t forget your pillow.

If the seats in your vehicle don’t fold down or can’t be removed, consider using a car air bed. According to Noelle Talmon‘s article “Best Car Air Beds: Our Top Picks for Back Seat Comfort” on The Drive website, a car air bed is

…designed to be placed on top of a vehicle’s back seat to provide a more comfortable sleeping spot…

Air beds are designed to universally accommodate the back seats of most cars, including compact cars, sedans, and SUVs. A back seat bed includes two separately inflated “feet” that support the mattress, fit into the spaces in front of the seats, and contour around the console. Made out of lightweight, synthetic PVC, the beds weigh around 6 to 7 pounds…

A car air bed can be had for around $30 for a basic model, or you can spend $60 or more for all the bells and whistles if you desire optimal luxury. If you plan to spend several nights in your car, especially if you can’t get your seats out of the way, a car air bed may be a wise investment. For less than the cost of one night in a motel, you can buy yourself many night of car sleeping comfort.

By sleeping in your vehicle, you’ll not only save money (no camping fees, no charges for a hotel room), you’ll interact with fewer people if you’re dodging communicable diseases.

#3 You might be wondering where to park if you’re going to sleep in your vehicle. I wrote a whole post about blacktop boondocking you might want to check out, but I’ll give you a quick rundown here.

If you’re simply concerned with getting some sleep between Point A and Point B, truck stops, sometimes called travel centers, and rest areas are your best bets. Lots of people are coming and going at these places, and you probably won’t be the only one sleeping in a vehicle.

I prefer truck stops over rest areas because at truck stops you can fuel up, get a snack (maybe even a slice of pizza or a fresh cinnamon roll) or have a hot meal, get caffeine if you need it, use the restroom, or even take a shower. (Of course, you’re gong to pay dearly for truck stop snacks, drinks, and showers, so try to plan ahead so you won’t need such things.)

Truck stops to look for include Flying J (my fave), Pilot (now owned by the same corporation that owns Flying J), Love’s (The Man’s fave), TA (TravelCenters of America), and Petro. Beware: both Love’s and Petro have locations that are only gas stations/convenience stores and others that are truck stops/travel centers. Make sure a location is actually at truck stop if you’re looking to stay overnight.

Rest areas are shown on paper maps. (You are traveling with a paper map, aren’t you? If you have no idea why you might need one, read my post “In Praise of Paper Maps“.) Check out your route on your map to see if there are any rest areas on the way. You can also look at a map of rest areas on the Interstate Rest Areas website.

Each state has different rules about how long you can stay at a rest area, so do your research before you decide to spend the night at one. Even if you are not allowed to stay overnight at a rest area, you can usually get at least a few hours of shut-eye at one.

If you’re on a leisurely trip and think free camping (often known as boondocking) might be fun, use the Free Campsites website and Campendium to find cool places in nature to spend a night or more. Before boondocking, be sure to read my post “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers.”

#4 Once you’ve decided where you will stay for the night, you might wonder exactly where to park your vehicle. On her first night at a truck stop, my newbie road tripper friend texted me, Was I supposed to park with the trucks?

The answer is no, don’t park with the big rigs unless you are driving a big rig yourself or maybe if you’re driving a giant Class A motorhome, but even then, try to avoid it. Typically there are more truckers who need to take a mandatory break than there are spaces for them to park in at a truck stop. Do not take one of the limited spots an 18-wheeler can fit in. If you’re in a passenger vehicle, park with the other passenger vehicles.

The ideal spot for your rig (in my opinion) is on the end of a row so you’ll only have a neighbor on one side. If you’re away from light shining on you, all the better as far as I’m concerned, although some people feel safer parked under lights. I’d try to avoid parking next to pet walking areas, trash cans, entrance/exit doors, or anywhere with lots of foot traffic.

Now you’re parked for the night. What next?

#5 Use your windshield sun shade to block light and provide privacy at night. We all know a windshield sun shade helps reduce the heat in a vehicle when it’s parked during the day, but it can also provide you with some privacy at night, as well as keep the light from parking lot security lamps out of your face. You may not want to hang curtains in your vehicle. Maybe the windows are tinted enough to give you the privacy you need. Since the windshield is not tinted and it’s a big piece of glass, it’s easy for people to look right in. Pop your sun shade in the windshield at night and you’ve just made your vehicle more private. The sun shade will also block the light that otherwise pours in all night and can disturb your sleep.

#6 If the windshield sun shade doesn’t give you all the privacy you need, hang some easy curtains. The side curtains in my minivan hang from bungee cords and attach to each other with clothespins. The back curtain is pinned up with clothespins. When my friend went on her road trip, she made a “tent” within the back of her minivan with sheets and binder clips. You could also cover windows with a sarong, a skirt, a sweatshirt, a bath towel, or a pillowcase. My point is that you don’t need an elaborate, permanent system to cover your windows. Plan ahead or make do with what you have in a pinch, but covering your windows can really increase your coziness.

#7 I’m a big believer in locking the doors. I just sleep better knowing no one is going to open one of my doors during the night. I can use the remote lock on my key fob to lock all of my doors from the inside of my minivan. I can then manually unlock doors from the inside as needed. Experiment with your key fob if you have one to find out what works for you.

#8 The first rule of vanlife is always know where your keys are. This is a tip for both night and day, but I always sleep better when I know I can grab my keys in an instant if I need to.

My friend the newbie road tripper was going to sleep with her keys under her pillow, but thought better of it. She worried she might move in the night and hit the button for the alarm or the one that unlocked all the doors. She found another spot that felt more secure. You will have to find the spot that works best for you, but you want to be able to reach out and grab them without much thought or struggle.

#9. We’re about to get real here. If you’re sleeping in your vehicle, having a pee bottle/jug/bucket is going to come in handy. Trust me, once all your curtains are up and you’re snuggled under blankets or in your sleeping bag, you are not going to want to find your shoes, pull on some pants, get our of the vehicle, and walk across the parking lot at 2 o’clock in the morning. A way to pee in your rig is super convenient. (For lots of info about using the bathroom when there is no bathroom, read my post “Going to the Bathroom in Your Van, Car, Minivan, or SUV.”)

People with male anatomy probably know all about this, but as a reminder, use a bottle with a lid that screws on tightly, such as a disposable water bottle, a Nalgene bottle, or a juice or milk jug. Just make sure you don’t confuse your pee bottle with a bottle you drink out of. (Yuck!)

The process is not as easy for people with female anatomy, but it can be done. Ever squat to pee when you’re out camping or hiking? What you’ll be doing is the same principle, but without a tree to lean against and into a container instead of on the ground. I use a tall plastic coffee can with a snap-on lid. Any wide-mouth, leak-proof container is a possibility. If you already use a stand-to-pee device, try using it in conjunction with your container.

In the morning when you emerge from your vehicle, carry the container into the restroom and dump the contents into the toilet.

Photo by Nico Smit on Unsplash

#10 To save money and time, pack snacks. I mentioned liking truck stops because snacks are available there, but I can’t remember the last time I bought food at a truck stop or a convenience store. Snacks bought in those places are so expensive! If you’re going on a road trip or travel vacation, pack snacks you already have at home, or buy some at the supermarket, discount store, or dollar store before you go. You can save a lot of money by purchasing food before you hit the road.

You can save more money by not eating restaurant meals while you travel. If you have a camp store, you can stop at rest areas or city or county parks and cook meals on-the-go. There are soups, noodles, oatmeal, and mashed potatoes you can prepare with just hot water. Often you can get free hot water from coffee dispensers at gas stations and truck stops, so you don’t even have to drag out the camp stove. (If you’re not sure if the water is free, just offer to pay for it at the cash register.)

If you bring a loaf of bread and pack cold cuts and cheese in your cooler, you can slap together a sandwich and call it a picnic wherever you stop. Peanut butter and jelly works the same way. You could also stock the cooler with pizza and boiled eggs if you don’t mind eating those cold. Maybe some fruit, nuts, or trail mix eaten while you’re driving would be enough to get you through.

There are lots of options less expensive and healthier than a fast food burger and fries or a meal in a sit down restaurant. (Learn to save even more cash while on the road in my post “How to Save Money While Visiting Tourist Attractions.”)

#11 Are you a night owl or an early bird? In either case there are some real benefits of driving from dark to light.

A very wise woman shared this concept in one of the lady van groups I’m in. If you get an early start, even before the sun rises, you’ll be able to more easily handle any problems you might encounter. If your vehicle breaks down, mechanics and auto parts stores will be open in the daytime, but probably not in the middle of the night. If your tires goes flat or has a blow out, tire shops and sales locations will be open in the daytime. Driving in the daytime tends to work better for me because driving at night puts me right to sleep. Also, it’s getting more and more difficult for me to see well while I’m driving at night. I’d much rather get an early start, stop and see cool attractions along the way, and still get to my stopping point before dark.

I hope these tips for anyone just starting out on the road are helpful. What did I forget? What do you wish you had known when you were starting out? Please share your favorite road trip tips in the comments.

Going to the Bathroom in Your Van, Car, Minivan, or SUV

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Content warning: urine and feces, as well as mention of excretory anatomy

Once at the RTR, I said to Coyote Sue, Folks who can’t talk about pee and poop probably shouldn’t be here. The same can be said about this blog post. If you can’t stand reading about pee and poop, this is not the blog post for you. If, however, you currently live and travel in a vehicle that does not come equipped with toilet facilities (or plan to do so in the future), this may be the blog post you’ve been looking for.

The first thing I have to tell you is that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for solving the problem of living in a rig with no bathroom. A lot of factors are going to determine what system is right for you. Some factors to consider include the following: the size of your rig, your size, your physical abilities and limitations, your squeamishness level, your budget, and your location when nature calls. In this post I will share what works for me and what other folks have told me works for them. You will have to decide for yourself what works for you. You may not come to that decision without some trial and error.

One option is a portable toilet such as the Bestgoods 20L Portable Camping Toilet Travel Potty, the Thetford 92860 Porta Potti 135, the Hike Crew Advanced Portable Outdoor Camping and Travel Toilet, and the JAXPETY 5.3 Gallon 20L Flush Porta Potti. These toilets range in price from about $50 to $110 before taxes and shipping fees. I have no personal experience with the models I just mentioned, so I’m not recommending any of them. I did a Google search for “camp potty,” and those are some of the results.

I’ve never tried a camp potty for a number of reasons. They take up quite a bit of room, and can be pricey if purchased new. (For most of the time I lived full time in my van, even $50 was a major expenditure for me.) However, the portable toilets do look more comfortable than do-it-yourself options, and if the model has a storage tank for waste, it won’t have to be emptied each time it’s used. One person I encountered in a Facebook van group shared her experiences with a portable toilet she used in her van. She loved it. When the waste tank was full, she emptied it in the ladies room at the nearest rest area. I’m not sure what she did if she didn’t encounter any rest areas when she needed to dump the toilet’s tank. Personally, I don’t know if I’m confident enough to carry a waste tank from a portable toilet into a restroom at a Wal-Mart or truck stop.

Another option are disposable human waste bags. As Sarah Laskow explains in her article “These Magic Bags Turn Pee to Goo And Make Poop Portable,”

Combining the principles of kitty litter and plastic bag-based poop-scooping…these bags rely on trade-secret combinations of gelling agents, enzymes and deodorizers to sequester human waste into a manageable package.

The gelling agents almost instantly transform urine into goo…The enzymes break down solid waste, enough that the bags can be disposed of in regular old garbage cans.

A generic term for these items is WAG (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) bag. Two companies that manufacture bags that can handle solid and liquid waste are Cleanwaste and RESTOP. There are many more companies that sell disposable urine bags. A search for “disposable urine bags” on Amazon yielded over a dozen choices.

Several years ago, I got a free sample of a disposable urine bag. (I can’t remember how I got the sample or the company it was from.) The bag was fairly easy to use, but did require squatting. The gel in the bag trapped odors, so my van didn’t smell like urine. The used bag was easy to dispose of discreetly with the rest of my trash.

However, I find the cost of these bags prohibitive. At 75 cents to $1 (or more!) per bag for the disposable urine bags and around $4 each for the bags that can handle solid waste too, I’d be spending a lot of money to use these things. If I used one of these bags for every elimination function, I could easily spend $8 a day. I’ll do the math so you don’t have to. At $8 a day, that’s $56 a week, $224 a month and whopping $2,688 a year! Even if I managed to use public restrooms to pee all day and make one solid waste deposit and only used one urine disposal bag each night, I could still spend $300 a year on these things! In my opinion, it’s better to leave the WAG bags to people who really need them like backpackers and mountain climbers.

Most van dwellers use a 5 gallon bucket for solid waste deposits and some sort of bottle or jar for liquid waste. (Most people are going to tell you to keep solid and liquid waste separated. I’ll share my thoughts on that topic later.)

if you’re a person with a penis, you probably know how to urinate into a bottle. (If you don’t, you probably need to get advice from another person with a penis or check out this WikiHow article.) I can offer a few tips for anyone who’s going to urinate into a container. Make sure to close the camp tightly when done and don’t confuse the bottle you drink out of with the bottle you pee in. If you’re going to dispose of a bottle of urine, throw it in a trash can, not out of your vehicle’s window and on the side of the road.

Urinating into a container might be a new experience for people with female anatomy. If you already have a stand-to-pee device such as a Pstyle, GoGirl, Shewee, or Tinkle Belle, it might be helpful when peeing into a container. (If you have no idea what the aforementioned devices are or if you need some help choosing which one to buy, check out Christina Cauterucci‘s article “You Should Be Using a Stand-to-Pee Device.”) Some women I’ve talked to use a regular funnel from the kitchen or automotive department as a less expensive urination deice option. If you don’t have any sort of urination device, you’ve going to have to kneel or squat over your container. Use a container that will held plenty of liquid and will not leak. Unless you know you will always be able to empty the container immediately after you fill it, be sure it has a tight fitting lid. Make sure the container’s opening is wide enough to accommodate your urine stream.

I use this coffee container as my urine receptacle in my minivan. I found the container on top of the trash in the dumpster where I live in the winter. It was clean, with a trace of coffee dust inside.

I like to use a 37 ounce plastic coffee container as my urine receptacle. I’ve used smaller containers, and they’ve worked, but I like to have plenty of room in my receptacle in the event I have to pee several times in the night. One woman I talked to prefers to urinate into a Pringles can held up against her body. Another urinates into a large container, then uses her funnel to pour urine into empty individual serving water bottles which she finds easy to dispose of. A large yogurt, sour cream, or cottage cheese container may meet your needs. I’ve often seen round plastic canisters with wide mouths and screw on lids at Dollar Tree, or perhaps you’ll find your perfect urine receptacle in the recycling bin. Different containers and systems work for different bodies, so be willing to experiment.

Any container that’s reused to hold urine can develop an odor, especially if the urine sits in the container for hours. After dumping the liquid wasted from my container (away from camp if I’m boondocking or in the toilet if I’m in civilization), I rinse it with a bit of water and let it air dry with the lid off if possible. A bit of dish soap added to the water and swished around can help cut the odor too. If an odor does develop, add a little bleach or vinegar to the container, swish it around, and let it sit for a while.

As I said before, most vandwellers and other nomads with rigs lacking toilet facilities use 5 gallon buckets for solid waste disposal. Five gallon buckets are most popular because they are easiest and cheapest to acquire.I lucked out and was given a smaller 2 (or maybe it’s 3) gallon bucket. I like it because it takes up less space in my minivan. Depending on your physical capabilities to get up from a low sitting position, a small bucket may not be for you. Another option may be a large plastic kitty litter container with a lid that snaps on securely.

You probably don’t want to balance your butt on the naked rim of a bucket. I know I sure don’t! There are a couple of ways to remedy this uncomfortable situation.

I splurged and bought a special toilet seat/lid combo designed to fit on a bucket. (The number of gallons a bucket holds does not determine if this seat will work with your bucket. The diameter of the bucket’s opening is what determines if the seat will fit. ) The seat snaps securely onto the bucket so it doesn’t slide around when in use.The lid does not seal, so odor can still escape, but it dos snap closed so it won’t flop open when moved. The seat typically costs under $15. (My bucket came with a tightly sealing lid, which I kept. If the contents of my bucket are ever particularly stinky, I can seal in the odor with the original lid.)

My two gallon bucket with removable plastic seat and lid.

The do-it-yourself approach to making a bucket more comfortable to sit on is to fasten part of a pool noodle or similar pipe insulation sleeves around the rim of a bucket. To see how this is done, watch Eugene Valkovsky‘s video “How to Make Portable Toilet Bucket.”

Once you get your bucket outfitted for comfort, you’re ready to use it. Or are you? How will you prepare your bucket for the easiest disposal of waste? There area a few different methods.

The first thing you want to do is line your bucket with a plastic bag. You can use a disposable grocery store bag, but you want to be absolutely sure it has no holes in the bottom. Also, whether you’re using a plastic grocery store bag or a trash bag, you want the bag to be big enough to bring the open end of it over the rim of the bucket and fold it down against the outside of the bucket. This will (hopefully) keep the bag from falling down into the bucket when you make your first poop deposit. I find that the plastic seat snapping over the bucket’s opening does a good job holding the bag in place.

Some people defecate right into the plastic bag, deposit their used toilet paper in there, tie off the bag, and leave it all in the bucket until it can be thrown away. Some people take an extra step and add something absorbent (like kitty litter) to the bag before using it. The kitty litter crowd tends to add an initial layer of litter to the bottom of the bag before use. After each poop deposit, another layer of kitty litter (and possibly a sprinkle of baking soda to help control odors) is added. I’ve never tried this method, but it seems to me by the time the bag is full (or even half full) it’s going to be heavy and stinky. However, as I’ve said before folks have to decide for themselves what works best for them.

As I mentioned, many people say solid and liquid wasted must be kept separate. I don’t know if this is a difference between male and female bodies or just a unique quirk of mine, but (TMI coming right up!) I just can’t seem to produce solid waste without producing liquid waste too. I just can’t seem to poop without peeing. If I have to poop and try to pee first, well, let’s just say that doesn’t work either.

What I’ve found works for me (on the suggestion of a woman who shared at an RTR women’s meeting I attended) are puppy training pads. These are the pads you get when you’re house training a puppy. I buy them at WalMart for about 20 cents each (before tax). After I put a plastic bag in my bucket, I line it with a puppy pad. The pads are supposed to hold 2cups of liquid. The pad absorbs any liquid I deposit and offers a tiny bit of protection if the plastic bag has a hole in it or if it tears.

After I finish making my deposit, I drop my used toilet paper in to the bag, squeeze as mush air as possible out of the bag, and tie it off securely. I try to set up bag and puppy training pad combo (or several combos if I’m feeling particularly efficient) in advance so when nature calls, I don’t have to waste time setting up my supplies. I drop the securely tied used plastic bags back into the bucket until I can dispose of them. (I take them out before I use the toilet bucket again.)

A word of warning: Even when it’s entirely empty, a bucket that’s held feces is going to smell pretty bad. Turns out the smell of feces cannot be contained by a regular plastic bag, and the plastic bucket soaks up the scent. Airing out the bucket when you can (like when you’re boondocking) helps, as does baking soda, vinegar, and bleach (but not all together!), but the bucket will probably never be the same.

I understand that human waste can be difficult to discuss and difficult to deal with. I hope this information about the systems I and others use while van (or car, truck, minivan, or SUV) dwelling helps you decide how to deal with your own waste. For folks who have already spent time on the road in a rig without a built in restroom, how do you deal with your waste? Feel free to share your tips and suggestions in the comments.

I took the photos not credited to someone else.

A Complete Guide to Summer Camping (Guest Post)

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Today’s guest post if from Harsh Paul of the DeepBlueMountain website. In the post, he’ll tell you all about staying comfortable while camping in the summer.

Summer is everyone’s favorite time for camping. There’s not much chance of being uncomfortable due to cold weather, roads are clear, and nature is at her grandest. It’s no wonder that millions of people take to exploring the great outdoors in summer. 

National and state parks and private campgrounds are practically overflowing with visitors during this season. So while you’re out camping, here are a few suggestions that might come in handy. This guide will set you up with the essentials for camping in the summer and enjoying it to the fullest.

Essential Summer Camping Equipment

When you’re going camping, you must pay proper attention to gear. Though summer camping doesn’t usually require being overly thorough, you sure can add to your comfort. The favored form of camping for the modern camping enthusiast is car camping. 

In many cases, you might be able to take your car right to the campsite, or at least somewhere comfortably near the campground. This allows the luxury of carrying more gear and equipment than what a backpacker or hiker would take along. 

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

Since your car is doing the heavy lifting, you can be a bit generous with the things you take to the trip. Of course, there’s still the element of being sensible and not overdoing things. You don’t want a cartoonishly over-packed car. You may also want to enjoy a backpacking or hiking trip on the trails near the campground. Here are some essentials for your camping trip.

1) A Tent

It’s always worthwhile to get a quality, waterproof tent. You never want to be caught unprepared in rain – and this is where the quality aspect is important. Check the waterproofing of the tent and also see if the tent needs additional waterproofing and seam sealing. Depending on the specific tent, even new ones may need user intervention before they’re considered waterproof. 

Photo by adrian on Unsplash

The most important aspect, however, is ventilation. Summer weather tends to be hot and stuffy. Tents with poor ventilation are going to be hell to spend time in. Most summer or three-season tents come with a mesh body or at least a mesh roof. This helps ventilation, but there’s a limit on how much mesh you can expose before privacy becomes a concern. 

Tents that have vents, preferably at the floor and the roof are better choices. Make sure the windows and/or the door have no-see-um mesh that keeps bugs out.

2) Boots And Socks

There’s a good chance your camping trip will involve a fair amount of walking. Good shoes are especially important if hiking and/or backpacking are in the cards. You’ll need good boots that are strong, sturdy, and capable of handling rough terrain. Some heel support is necessary and waterproofing is very helpful.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Socks are also important. People often wear quality boots, but ignore their socks. If you’re going to spend substantial time on your feet, ditch the cotton socks. Socks with at least 30% wool blend are great. Performance socks made with synthetic materials and designed to offer foot support are better!

3) Emergency And Communication Devices

If you’re headed to a campground with a spotty or non-existent cellular network, think of other communication devices. A simple walkie-talkie can be sufficient for communication among your group. 

However, more sophisticated communication devices are necessary if you’re headed to a remote campground or trail. Depending on your budget, your options could be a satellite phone (expensive) or personal locator beacon (inexpensive).

4) Food And Utensils

Food, water, and utensils are an absolute necessity. If you’re carrying perishables, use them up within a day or two. Better yet, bring a quality cooler along so the perishables can last longer. Another benefit of a cooler is that it can keep your beverages cold for a long time.

Special eating utensils for camping may not be necessary if you’re car camping. However, backpackers and hikers should get specialized lightweight utensils for their travels. Don’t forget to carry along some snacks to munch during the day and to enjoy by the bonfire with the group in the evening.

5) Sleeping Bag And Other Necessities

Carry a sleeping bag and clothing that can keep you comfortable at night. Sure, we expect summer nights to be hot. However, a lot of campgrounds do see cool (and even cold) nights. Know about the campground you’ll be staying at and expected temperature so you can stay warm at night. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.

Other things you should have are a flashlight and a lantern with extra batteries. Necessary gear also includes sleeping pad, multi-tool, and duct tape. A small knife can be useful, but is optional.

Summer Camping Hacks For A Better Experience

1) Cooling Your Tent

There’s always a chance of getting uncomfortably hot during summer camping, so it’s useful to know how to cool your tent without electricity. A few simple ideas like selecting a shaded tent location and creatively using the tarp can help keep the tent more comfortable.

Many campgrounds don’t have electric access, so some careful planning can go a long way in ensuring a comfortable adventure without an electric fan or air conditioning.

2) Always Have A Change Of Clothes

Consider changing into different clothes at night. Clothes you wore during the day could be sweaty and slightly wet, even if they don’t feel that way. This can end up making you uncomfortably chilly during the night. 

Let your day clothes dry by removing them and keeping them inside your tent and shift into new clothes for the night. None of your belongings should be left unattended in a campground .

3) A Mosquito Mesh Is Your Friend

A tent with no-see-um mesh is necessary for comfort. With no-see-um mesh, you can keep tent windows or doors open whenever you wish, without the threat of getting invaded by bugs. However, some areas can be particularly prone to mosquitoes. In such cases, having a mosquito net or mesh will ensure a comfortable sleep.

4) Make Reservations

Modern campgrounds are busy and overflowing with visitors. Many popular locations are booked up to for six months in advance. If you’re planning a trip, make reservations. This stands true even if you’re going to a relatively quieter campground. A reservation ensures you won’t be far from home with no place to stay.

Summer is the most popular and common camping season. It’s ideal for exploring the outdoors, and this guide is intended to prepare you for the best experience. A few simple ideas and adjustments can make a world of a difference. 

Harsh Paul is an avid hiker, backpacker, and camper. When not exploring the great outdoors, he uses his time time completing home improvement projects. Currently, he’s self-isolating for a better safety and health approach.

Southern Colorado Lake

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On trips to Colorado, I’ve seen a lake on Highway 159 between Costilla, NM and San Luis, CO. There are no signs at the entrances on Highway 159 naming the lake, but from my research on Google Maps, it appears to be Sanchez Stabilizing Reservoir. The area around the reservoir is Sanchez Stabilization Park; it’s also a Colorado State Wildlife Area.

According to Wikipedia,

Sanchez Reservoir lies in far south-central Colorado, west of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Costilla County. Its inflows include Ventero Creek and the Sanchez Canal, a diversion canal that takes water from Culebra Creek and two other creeks…The reservoir’s earthen dam was built in 1912.

I took this photo of Sanchez Stabilizing Reservoir in March of 2020.

Brown signs labeled “Recreation Area” on either side of the highway are the only indication that the lake is on public land and not private property.

There are no signs about camping, nothing to say camping is either allowed or prohibited in the area. I’ve been of the mind that if there’s no sign explicitly prohibiting camping or overnight parking, then it must be allowed. (I find this way of thinking particularly acceptable in the U. S. Southwest. Results may vary in other areas.)

I took this photo of Sanchez Stabilizing Reservoir in the spring of 2017, probably in May.

According to the Colorado Birding Trail website, I was right about camping at Sanchez Stabilization Park. That website says primitive camping is allowed in the Park.

I’ve seen people seemingly camping at Sanchez Stabilization Park in truck campers and small-to-medium pull-behind campers. I’ve typically seen the area more crowded in the summer, but have noticed campers there in all seasons.

The aforementioned birding website also says,

Sanchez Reservoir is among the largest in the San Luis Valley, as well as among the most productive. The southern end can be frustrating to scan; most of the birds are usually on the north end.

The folks at the Colorado Birding Trail say the Reservoir is owned by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and is open all year. The recreation area does not provide accommodations to folks with disabilities, but for birders, some viewing is possible from one’s vehicle.

According to Uncover Colorado

Colorado has 350 State Wildlife Areas, covering more than 684,000 acres. With a valid fishing or hunting license you can access the properties for recreation, including hunting, fishing, hiking and wildlife observation.

I take that to mean that in order to camp at Sanchez Stabilization Park, you need a valid Colorado fishing or hunting license. However, I’ve never seen any notice of such a requirement on site.

According to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Website, a Colorado annual fishing license for a nonresident over the age of 16 costs $97.97. A one-day Colorado fishing license for a nonresident older than 16 runs $16.94, while a five-day Colorado fishing license for a nonresident over 16 costs $32.14. If you’re a Colorado resident over the age of 16, an annual fishing license costs $35.17. A one-day fishing license for Colorado residents over 16 costs $13.90. Colorado Parks and Wildlife says you can purchase a fishing license in person at hundreds of retailers​ or at a CPW location. You can buy a license by phone by calling toll free 1-800-244-5613​​, or you can buy a fishing license online​.

If you’d rather pay for a hunting license, a nonresident small game one-day license costs $16.75 and an annual nonresident small game license will set you back $82.78. For Colorado residents, a small game one-day license costs $13.90 and an annual small game license runs $30.11. Colorado Parks and Wildlife says you can buy a hunting license in person at hundreds of retailers​ or at a CPW location.  You can buy a license by phone by calling toll free 1-800-244-5613​​, or you can ​​​buy a license online​.

As I was researching this post, I found some references to a Wildlife or Habitat Stamp. At first it seemed that a camper only needed a Wildlife/Habitat Stamp in order to spend time in a Colorado State Wildlife Area such as Sanchez Stabilization Park. However, in a May 5, 2020 Hiking Bob column by Bob Falcone in the Colorado Springs Indy, I learned

…in an effort to make sure everyone pays equally to use SWAs, CPW will be requiring all users to purchase a hunting or fishing license, effective July 1 [2020].

Hiking Bob goes on to say

The least expensive option for Colorado residents would be to purchase a single day fishing license, for $13.90 per day, and the required Habitat Stamp for $10.13 per year. A yearly fishing license can be purchased for $35.17, however senior citizens (over age 65) can get the annual license for $9.85 and are also exempt from the Habitat Stamp requirement.

There are two entrances to Sanchez Stabilization Park from Highway 159. You can take each entrance to several parts of the recreation area. The dirt road leads to the pit toilet restroom at the front of the area, to the tree-lined dirt road where the picnic tables sit in the middle of the recreation area, or to a series of dirt roads that go around the lake.

Pit toilet restroom at Sanchez Stabilization Park near Highway 159. The entrance to the toilet is on the other side.

When I’ve looked in at the pit toilet restroom on a couple of occasions, I’ve always found it fairly clean. Someone is sweeping out the building housing the toilet. There’s usually graffiti on the walls, which is typical in a building that’s probably not attended daily. I must admit, I’ve never lifted the toilet’s lid to find out if anyone is scrubbing down the risers or wiping the seat and lid. While I have seen toilet paper in the restroom, I suggest travelers stay prepared by carrying their own stash of TP.

If the toilet ever gets a thorough scrubbing, whoever does the cleaning must truck in water or haul some from the lake, because there’s no faucet or spigot on site. Again, I suggest preparation if you plan to spend time Sanchez Stabilization Park. Plan to carry in your own water for drinking and washing. I don’t know what might be running off into the lake water, so I don’t know if it’s suitable for washing dishes or the human body. I certainly would not drink it.

While there are no signs saying not to eat fish caught in the Reservoir, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife webpage about Sanchez Reservoir SWA says

Anglers should take note of [the] warning issued by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment regarding mercury levels in fish caught in this reservoir.

Another view of Sanchez Reservoir State Wildlife Area. Photo taken March 18, 2020.

(When I clicked on the link in the above quote on the website, I was taken to an empty link, so I don’t know exactly what the warning says. You can get more information about the Health Department warning in particular or Sanchez Reservoir in general by calling the area Colorado Parks and Wildlife office in Monte Vista at (719) 587-6900.)

These picnic tables at Sanchez Stabilization Park are built to last and resist theft. The benches don’t look comfortable, however.

There are about a half dozen picnic tables in the part of the recreation area between the restroom and the lake. There are stone fire rings near some of the picnic tables,and I’ve never seen signs prohibiting campfires. If you decide to build a fire in this recreation area (or anywhere!), make sure there is no fire ban in effect and please follow Smokey Bear’s Campfire Safety Rules.

There is a line of trees between the picnic tables and the dirt road running behind the picnic area. The trees provide a little shade. Whenever I’ve stopped at Sanchez SWA, I’ve always parked near one of the trees and escaped the sun.

I have seen people camped on the beach next to the lake. After reviewing my photos of the lake, I see that the only trees in the area are the ones near the picnic tables. People camping on the beach don’t have the benefit of the shade trees provide. I bet it gets hot out on that beach in the summer.

This photo was taken from the opposite side of Sanchez Reservoir and shows the line of trees near the picnic tables. I believe this photos was taken in September 2019.

I’m not sure how soft or wet or loose the sand on the beach is. I would be very careful about driving a car on the sand, much less a motorhome. If I were going to pull a rig onto the sand, I would be careful about that too. Before I drove my rig out there, I would walk over the area that sparked my interest and survey the conditions in order to determine if my rig could handle the terrain.

I usually park in the shade of these trees.

Since I haven’t spent a lot of time at Sanchez Stabilization Park and haven’t spent the night there, I’m not sure if bugs are bad out there. They may be worse in the summer (as bugs tend to be). Again, I suggest visitors arrive prepared to keep bugs away.

The lack of signs also mean there’s no indication of how long one is allowed to stay at the reservoir. I looked online, but could find no rules on camping limits at State Wildlife Areas. The upper limit of staying on public land is usually 14 days, so I wouldn’t plan to stay for more than two weeks at Sanchez Stabilization Park.

I don’t know if I would buy a fishing license and Habitat Stamp for the sole purpose of camping at this reservoir. If I liked to fish and didn’t mind throwing back what I caught, it might be nice to spend a week or two here fishing a little and enjoying the peace and quiet.

There’s another way to access Sanchez Reservoir. The Colorado Birding Trail website gives the following directions:

From the intersection of CO 159 and CO 142 in San Luis, head east on the continuation of CO 142 (CR P.6) about three miles to CR 21 and turn right (south). From here it is about five miles south to the SWA.

I took all the photos in this post.

10 Essential Items For Kids On A Road Trip (Guest Post)

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While now is not really the time to take a recreational road trip with or without children, we can dream, plan, and scheme, right? If you will be traveling with children sometime in the future, today’s guest post from Cristin Howard of the Smart Parent Advice website will help you decide what items to pack to keep the little ones happy on the road. When the kids are happy, the parents are happy, and this blog post will help keep the entire family feeling good.

Planning a family road trip can be intimidating. As you prepare for your trip, your head will be swirling with packing suitcases and wondering how to keep your kids happy and comfortable for hours upon hours.

Let us help you get organized by assisting with your packing lists! Here are ten items to include in your arsenal to help make your road trip a pleasant experience for the whole family. 

Window Shade

One of the most essential road trip items for our family are window shades. Nothing makes children more upset than having the sun shining directly into their faces. Putting a shade on their window helps to dim the harsh rays of the sun while still allowing the sunlight to brighten up the car. 

Rest Stop Entertainment

Pack a drawstring bag with simple outdoor items, such as frisbees, bubbles, and a soccer ball. Any time you need to pull over to use the bathroom, encourage the kids to run around in the grass for ten minutes. This will allow them to use up some of their pent up energy.

Snacks

The day before you leave on your trip, pre-portion the snacks you want your kids to eat during the ride. This will save you from having to dig around in bags and pour and potentially spill goldfish all over your van floor. 

You can use plastic food storage containers for easily smashed snacks such as crackers or soft cookies. Plastic bags are a great choice for pretzels, veggies cut in thin strips, or their favorite dry cereal to munch on. 

Hydration

Make sure each child has a sippy cup within reach and that you encourage your child to drink regularly. You may be risking more bathroom breaks, but there is nothing worse than starting a family vacation with a constipated toddler. Staying hydrated will help their bodies to stay working efficiently despite the long hours of sitting. 

Comfort Items

I highly recommend having your child’s favorite stuffed animal and blanket handy so that when they start to whine and become uncomfortable, you can hand them their comfort items and offer to sing to them. Let them know that it’s okay to miss their beds and you’ll be there to keep them safe.

Books

While your little one isn’t likely to know how to read much yet, books can still offer hours of entertainment while they’re sitting in a car seat. In a sturdy tote bag, pack picture books for your child to look through as well as activity books.  

Some examples of activity books geared for young toddlers are: lift the flap books or any book with buttons to press (as long as they aren’t exceptionally loud for the driver). For kids preschool or kindergarten age, some great choices would be “spot the difference” or “look and find” books. 

Toys

Having a large bag full of entertaining toys is a must when traveling with a crew of little ones. I have found great success with letting my young kids offer ideas of what to pack so they can start to gain excitement for their road trip activities!

Here are a few ideas of what to include in your travel toy bag: magna doodles, puzzles, reusable sticker books, magnetic playsets, interactive steering wheels, or a variety of their favorite cars and realistic plastic animals so they can engage their imaginations.  

Gallon-Sized Zip-top Bags

You may be wondering why gallon-sized zip-top bags are a necessity on road trips. Many kids end up feeling car sick during their travels. When you suspect they are starting to feel unwell, assist them in holding an open zip-top bag and let them use it to throw up into. You can then toss the bag away at the next gas station. 

Media

If your vehicle has a built-in DVD player, you are set up for success. Kids love to watch their favorite shows, and it will make the time pass quickly for them.

If your car does not have a DVD player, you don’t need to worry. Grab some CDs full of well-known kids’ songs, and your family can sing your hearts out as the miles pass by. 

Podcasts are another great option for your kids. Sesame Street, Paw Patrol, and Story Time are entertaining, age-appropriate podcasts for your kids to listen to.

Backpack

Even though you will have bags full of car entertainment for the kids, it will make your life easier if each child also has their own toddler-sized backpack within reach. 

In the front compartment have tissues and napkins so they can help clean up their messes as they snack in the car.

In the large back section, have them choose a favorite book, a special toy, and their most loved stuffed animal. Having these items close by will allow them to have some independence during the road trip.

Don’t Stress The Little Things

Your family has been looking forward to this well-needed vacation. Don’t let the stress of having children in the car keep you from enjoying the road trip. Keep them fed, entertained, and above all, love on them as best as you can in those cramped quarters.

Cristin Howard runs Smart Parent Advice, a site that provides parenting advice for moms and dads. Cristin writes about all of the different ups and downs of parenting, provides solutions to common challenges, and reviews products that parents need to purchase for babies and toddlers.

Fort Garland, Colorado

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In the days immediately before we began our strict social distancing in March 2020, The Man got a job in southern Colorado. He was hired as a part of a very small crew remodeling a house. I drove him out there, and when the work week was over, the boss drove him all the way home. When he wasn’t working, he got to stay in a small camper on the property.

I had been so busy helping The Man get ready for his time away from home, I forgot to pack a snack for myself. By the time I got to Fort Garland, it was lunchtime and I was hungry, so I pulled into one of the town’s gas stations.

According to Wikipedia,

Fort Garland is a census-designated place (CDP) in Costilla County, Colorado, United States. The population was 433 at the 2010 census.[3][4]

The town is called Fort Garland because there’s actually a fort there! The Museums of the San Luis Valley website offers some information about the fort.

Established in 1858 in southern Colorado, Fort Garland, with its garrison of over 100 men, served to protect the earliest settlers in the San Luis Valley…Fort Garland was built after Fort Massachusetts proved vulnerable.  The Capote band of Utes occupied the southern end of the valley at the time of the first contact. 

(If you want to know more about the history of the fort, read “The Story of Fort Garland: 1858 – 1883.”)

The actual fort in Fort Garland is now a history museum. The aforementioned Museums of the San Luis Valley website says,

…you are invited to walk the parade ground of the fort and tour the adobe buildings, which feature a re-creation of the commandant’s quarters during Kit Carson’s time.  Rich in military history, Fort Garland also highlights the folk art and culture of the Hispanic community in southern Colorado. 

Admission to the Fort Garland Museum is $5 for adults, $4.50 for people 65 years old and older, $3.50 for youth 6 to 16, and FREE for anyone under the age of 6. Admission is also FREE to History Colorado members.

The Fort Garland Museum’s regular hours of operation are as follows:

March 1st – October 31st, 9:00 – 5:00pm daily 
November 1st – December 31st, 10:00-4:00 Wednesday – Saturday
January 1st – February 28th – CLOSED

If you want to call the museum ahead of time to make sure it is open before you head out that way, the phone number is 719-379-3512.

I did not visit the Fort Garland museum the day I passed through the area. For one thing, I did not really want to lay down $5 to look at military history, although I probably would have enjoyed learning about the “folk art and culture of the Hispanic community in southern Colorado.” Secondly, I was pretty tired of driving and really wanted to get home to rest. Third, Jerico the dog was with me, and I didn’t think it was fair to leave him in the truck while I took my good, sweet time enjoying a museum. Finally, although I (obviously) wasn’t totally practicing physical distancing at the time, I knew the less contact I had with (possibly COVID-19 infected) strangers, the better off I was. So I skipped the museum, although I do wish now I had stopped long enough to take a photo of the exterior or the sign or something.

I also skipped the post office. I really wanted to stop in to buy a roll of postcard stamps, but…COVID-19. The number of COVID-19 cases was already quite high in Colorado by then, so I decided I was better off not going into the very small post office. I did take a photo of the mural painted on the outside of the post office.

“Los Caminos Antiguos” mural on the north outer wall of the Fort Garland post office.

According to Waymarking.com,

Los Caminos Antiguos (“The Ancient Roads”) from the Rio Grande to Fort Garland is the best route to follow through the region of the upper Rio Grande – the northern outpost of sixteenth century Spanish territorial expansion.

“I bet the altitude isn’t the only thing high around here,” I joked on Instagram.

I could find no indication of who painted the mural or when.

I did go into one of the gas stations to use the restroom and buy some snacks. None of the workers at the gas station were wearing masks, but of course this was in the days when the CDC was still saying we didn’t have to bother with masks unless we knew we were sick. I tried to avoid the other customers in the convenience store, and I only talked to the clerk as much as I had to in order to complete my purchase.

My snacks were tasty, but they did leave me feeling a little queasy.

There’s not much more I can tell you about Fort Garland, CO. After eating my snacks and taking a few photos, I started the truck and headed home.

I took the photos in this post.

Physical Distancing Is Still Important

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Are you still practicing physical distancing? Although many states are beginning to “open up,” physical distancing is still important to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to the New York Times, the Trump

administration is privately projecting a steady rise in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths over the next several weeks. The daily death toll will reach about 3,000 on June 1, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times, a 70 percent increase from the current number of about 1,750.

The projections, based on government modeling pulled together by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, forecast about 200,000 new cases each day by the end of the month, up from about 25,000 cases a day currently.

The numbers underscore a sobering reality: The United States has been hunkered down for the past seven weeks to try slowing the spread of the virus, but reopening the economy will make matters worse.

So yeah, it looks to me like things may go from bad to worse in the next few weeks unless folks continue to practice physical distancing.

You may wonder what exactly “physical distancing” (also know as “social distancing”) means. According to the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center and Los Angeles County Department of Public Health,

Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

Physical distancing means staying home, avoiding crowds and staying at least 6 feet away from others whenever possible…

The less time that we spend within 6 feet of each other, and the fewer people we interact with, the more likely we are to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The aforementioned website gives the following advice for practicing physical distancing:

* Avoid any places where a lot of people are together such as gatherings, parties, worship services, and crowded parks.

* Work or study from home, if possible.

* Do not have visitors over or let your children have playdates.

* Avoid health care settings – unless you need services.

* Cancel non-essential health care appointments.

* Avoid non-essential travel.

* Avoid public transport, if you can.

* Avoid close contact with people – instead of shaking hands, come up with other ways to greet people that don’t involve any touching.

I know some of these recommendations are difficult for nomads to follow, especially working from home if we typically pick up odd jobs, seasonal jobs, or house and pet sitting jobs. Avoiding non-essential travel is difficult for us too, as non-essential travel is what we live for!

According to the CNN report “This Is Where All 50 States Stand on Reopening” by Alaa Elassar,

Stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders around country are being lifted in some states.

However, please don’t take this as an indication that it is safe to go out in public and carry on with life as it once was. As Colorado governor Jared Polis warned people during a press conference the day the state’s “safer at home” order was modified (as reported on the aforementioned CNN webpage),

It’s not going to be life as normal.

Many states that are opening up still require nonfamily members to stay at least 6 feet apart. In many places, retail establishments must limit the number of people inside. Please, if you are going back out into the world, follow these requirements, and be cheerful with the employees who have to enforce these regulations.

If you are in a group that is more vulnerable to COVID-19, please consider staying home (whether your home is a sticks-n-bricks, a van, an RV, or some other rig) even if the state you are in lifts its stay-at-home or safer at home order. You are safer at home, even if the state doesn’t mandate that you stay there.

(If you’re wondering what groups are more vulnerable to COVID-19, William Kimbrough on the One Medical website lists the following groups as most susceptible to SARS-CoV-2:

* People aged 60 and older

*People with weakened immune systems due to chronic illness or medications, including people with autoimmune disease or transplants who are taking immunosuppressive drugs, people with AIDS

*People with serious long-term health conditions including diabetes, heart disease and lung disease such as emphysema and moderate asthma)

If you do decide to practice social distancing by staying away from people, what can you do to keep yourself entertained? Isolation is getting more difficult to deal with as we spend more time in one place, get less stimulation, and miss our friends and family. Here are a ten activities you can do alone to stimulate your mind and body and ward off cabin fever until it really is safe to be out in public again.

#1 Write a letter or a postcard. May 3-9 is National Postcard Month, so it’s the perfect time to write a card to a friend or other loved one. If you have more to say, go ahead and write a letter.

#2 Communicate by phone. If you don’t like to write, communicate with your friends and family by phone. You can call, text, or send photos on most mobile phones available today. Use video calls to take your communications up a notch; get recommendations from Dan Grabham‘s article “Best Free Video Calling Apps 2020: Keep in Touch with Friends or Colleagues” on the Pocket-lint website. Marco Polo lets you make videos and send them to the people you want to be in touch with, but you don’t have to engage in a live conversation.

#3 Learn something new or enhance your skills. In April I shared a huge list of “Free Things to Do While You Are Hunkered Down.” From learning a new language to learning to play guitar, this list is sure to give you some ideas of activities you can engage in to keep your mind sharp even if you you’re sitting home alone.

#4 Read up on life on the road. I put together “A List of Posts about Vandwelling, Camping, Boondocking, and Living Nomadically from the Rubber Tramp Artist Archives.” It’s a good place to find links to past articles that tell you everything I know about life on the road. You can also see what other people know about life on the road by reading their blogs. I give you some suggestions about blogs to read in my post “10 Blogs by Vandwellers, Nomads, Vagabonds, RVers, Travelers, and Drifters.”

#5 Keep a journal. You might feel as if nothing is happening in your life right now, but you might be fascinated to remember your thoughts and activities during this time of global pandemic one, five, ten, twenty, or thirty years down the road. Also, the Positive Psychology article “83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress” by Courtney E. Ackerman, MSc. says,

Journaling can be effective for many different reasons and help you reach a wide range of goals. It can help you clear your head, make important connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and even buffer or reduce the effects of mental illness!

Certainly we could all use those benefits in these trying times!

#6 Practice gratitude. According to the Psychology Today article “Gratitude in a Time of Pandemic” by Zachary Alti LCSW,

Gratitude practice is not only important for making you feel better psychologically during this crisis, it can also help your physical health in response to respiratory infection and in general (especially in older adults who are in a higher risk category for COVID-19).

Whether you write down the things for which you are thankful in a special gratitude journal, jot down gratitudes on your calendar, note everything you appreciate in your regular journal, or simply count your blessings in the morning or at night, being thankful will make it easier to get through these difficult times.

#7 Meditate. The Psychology Today article “Meditation and Mental Health” by Samoon Ahmad M.D. states,

There are physical benefits [of meditation] that appear to be backed up by clinical evidence. According to these studies, meditation can help individuals sleep better, cope with some symptoms associated with mental disorders like depression and anxiety, reduce some of the psychological difficulties associated with chronic pain, and even improve some cognitive and behavioral functions.

If you’re not sure how to start your medication practice, see the extensive list from The Awake Network, “Free Online Meditation Resources for Times of Social Distancing / COVID-19.” Many of these teachings, practices, and other resources are being shared at no cost.

#8 Practice yoga, which is beneficial to both the body and mind. The Thrive Global article “Yoga Poses for Stress Relief During COVID-19” by Lindsay McClelland says,

As COVID-19 continues to spread we’ve all experienced change and stress in our lives…there are things we CAN do when confined to our homes, and luckily yoga is one of those things. In addition to being a form of exercise that doesn’t take up much space or equipment, there are specific poses that can help reduce stress in the mind and the body.

If you find videos more helpful to learn how to move your body, try Daily Yoga Practice for Stay at Home Covid-19 Quarantine | Yoga with Melissa on YouTube.

#9 Spend some time in the sunshine. Even if you practice yoga or do other exercise inside your house, it’s important to get outside and get some sunshine too. In the article “Get Sunshine and Fresh Air While Sheltering in Place” on The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center website, author Whitney Christian, MD points out

Direct sunlight is our bodies’ main source of Vitamin D, which has been known to help fight off osteoporosis, cancer and depression. Even just a few minutes of sun exposure each day can help increase your levels of Vitamin D…Taking advantage of sunlight can help ease muscle aches and cramps, strengthen our bones and improve our moods…Spending time in the sun also can help you recover faster from an illness or injury. Studies show that those exposed to more natural light have quicker recoveries and experience less pain than those exposed to artificial light.

#10 Take a hike. If you can safely go outside, seize the opportunity. In the American Hiking Society article “Hiking Responsibly: Frequently Asked Questions for Hiking During the Covid-19 Pandemic” explains,

spending some time outdoors every day (we recommend at least 10 minutes) is an excellent way to take care of your mental and physical health always, especially now. 

If you live in a rural area, you might have abundant access to open space and trails. In that case, if the park or trail you want to use is open, not crowded, and within a quick drive of your home (so that you don’t have to stop for gas, restroom breaks, supplies, etc.), then, yes, visiting such places for a day hike is fine as long as you practice strict social distancing and are following the guidelines of your local government and the federal, state, or local land manager. However, right now, we can’t risk diverting emergency medical care to wilderness injuries, so we urge that you only take an easy day hike in the front country.

Avoid parks or trails that have become crowded, even if the area is officially open.  If the parking lot is crowded, there are already too many people there. Turn around and find another location or go home.  Not only does crowding make it impossible to follow social distancing, but it puts extra wear and tear on trails and other park infrastructure at a time when volunteer crews cannot be operating. 

I hope these suggestion help you continue to practice physical distancing as long as it may be necessary for you. Please keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Stay home until the danger has passed.

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Hiking The Deepest Lake On Earth – Perils and Trials of Lake Baikal (Guest Post)

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Today’s guest post comes to you from James Redden of the hiking and outdoor gear review website TrekSumo. James recently hiked Lake Baikal in Russia and lived to tell the tale. In this post, he’ll tell the tale to you.

Cracks in the ice covering Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal, Russia. One mile deep and 400 miles long. Between January and March every year the surface freezes up to a metre (3.28 feet) deep. Explorers venture onto the ice as they seek to traverse the full length, or dash across the 50km (31 miles) width of this vast expanse of water.

This is Adventureland – what could go wrong? A lot. Let me explain.

My Love of Cold Places

I’m a former soldier with 13 years service under my belt. During my time in the British Army I came to love the Arctic training packages my unit attended every year. The journey from the UK took us across the seething North Sea, up the spine of Norway and into the Arctic Circle near Poersanger.

Brutal temperatures bit deep. At times the thermometer nudged -30C (-22F). But it was okay, our equipment was designed to keep us warm.

I was smitten.

After leaving the Army I spent some time finding my place in civilian life. Office work beckoned. Memories of Norway clung to me. After a couple of years, I decided to work on my neglected fitness. In what felt like no time I had completed ultra-marathons, several Spartan races, and many long hikes.

More. I wanted more.

The next steps were easy decisions to make.

North Pole – 2015

Not a full distance ski, but far enough to experience the thrill of a truly extreme environment. And appreciate what the world is losing. I joined a team and we spent two weeks skiing across the frozen ice cap, reaching the Geographic North Pole 16 days after my 44th birthday.

Norway Ski – 2016

Next came a trip to Norway. Covering 250km (155 miles) in 8 ½ days was hard work. High temperatures and unseasonal rain made progress slow and arduous. Over the course of the trip I lost a significant amount of weight and suffered the misery of extreme fatigue. 

Norway Ski – 2017

A shorter trip this time round. Only around 100km (62 miles) in four days, in part due to an injury received on the first day. A small tear in an abductor muscles left me in agony. 

Greenland Crossing – 2018

Success! No illness, just a 600km (372 miles) ski along the Nansen route that cuts across this gargantuan island sat halfway across the Atlantic Ocean. I joined 5 others, some of them former Army colleagues, and we skied into some of the harshest weather seen or experienced for about 10 years. The crossing was a joy – apart from my near-death experience!

2019 was a quiet year for me. A plan to solo to the South Pole was shelved due to lack of funding. Looking at maps in search of possible destinations, my mind was drawn to Russia. Lake Baikal beckoned.

The trip wasn’t expected to be too taxing. After all, I’d completed several tough expeditions – how hard could Baikal be?

The Journey to Lake Baikal

My flight left on the 14th February 2020. Valentine’s Day was celebrated 24 hours earlier. Landing in Irkutsk on the 16th February was a surreal experience. Monuments to Soviet heroes still dominate civic buildings, the city center has what felt to me like a harsh and alien vibe. How wrong I was.

I’d heard that many Russians are harsh, unsmiling characters. All those I came across were friendly, helpful (even if we couldn’t understand each other).

One night in a hotel.

My gear packed.

Pulka packed and ready to go. The Lexico online dictionary says a pulka [or a pulk] is “a type of sled without runners, pulled by a person or dog and used especially to transport equipment and supplies.”

An early start.

Crossing Lake Baikal – the seed of an idea – started a year prior to the 16th February 2020. But that time had flown by. I sat in a car, talking to Eugene (owner of A – B Tours, the logistics company that did the heavy lifting and administrative tasks required to get me to the start point) as we headed to Kultuk, the traditional starting point for the traverse.

A mild chill raced into the car every time a window was opened. Cold weather thrills me. The climate didn’t seem quite chilly enough for my liking. That was the first complacency.

2 ½ hours after setting off, Eugene helped me drag my 60Kg (132 pounds) from the back of his van and onto the ice. He took a couple of photos, wished me luck and departed.

Game on.

Before we move on, anyone planning a similar crossing of Lake Baikal should check out the post I wrote about my hike there with tips for hikers. All of the tips offered were learned during my 400 mile winter run/hike/ski traverse of this vast expanse of frozen water.

The Perils and Trials of Crossing Lake Baikal

You came here to read stories of man vs Mother Nature, of fear and uncertainty in an alien environment. So far, you’ve read a meandering, placid tale of one man’s journey into the wilds of Siberia.

Bear with me. We’re about to delve deeper.

Is It Possible to Haul Gear with Ankle Injuries?

60Kg of food, fuel and protection from the elements. Seems a fairly light weight when you’re traveling across ice. The task becomes infinitely harder when you start to pick up injuries.

Day 1, 10km (6 miles) out from Kultuk, the snow thinned. Movement was easy. Ridiculously easy.

I decided to jog, if only for a short distance.

My Merrell Moab 2 boots were ideal for this kind of work. Lightweight, with great ankle support, they gave me a sense of sure-footedness as I dashed across the ice.

Nature – or ill-luck – waits at every junction, in every pothole hidden by a thin cloak of snow.

We all know that feeling that something is about to go wrong. A sixth sense that predicts our, only our, misfortune.

Alarm bells rang. I fell.

Pain radiated out from my left ankle. Half a kilometre later, as night closed in, I hobbled to a halt and erected my tent.

For several days the injury slowed my progress. By day 5 the swelling eased off, and I felt ready to attempt an easy jog. Easy? The pace was excellent – nearly 6 miles per hour – and only mild niggling pain from my left ankle.

There was one issue. Compensation. To relieve the pressure on my left ankle my body had compensated – an invisible and instinctive reaction of which I was not aware – by shifting weight to my uninjured leg. My right shin and ankle ballooned.

Pain was a constant companion for the remainder of the journey. At times it was little more than an irritation, but on some days I had to take regular breaks to pop pain killers and rest.

Yes, it is possible to haul a pulka with ankle injuries. You just need to accept there will be pain, then ask yourself how much your journey means to you.

What could be worse than this? Well…

Filth. And the Effects of Mild Food Poisoning

5 years’ experience of hiking, skiing and trekking in arduous environments. That’s a good deal of experience in anyone’s eyes. My own back catalogue of adventures extends way back into my teens. That’s over 30 years of knowledge stored and available to me and anyone else who cares to listen.

Experience only matters when you pay close attention to the details.

6 days into the traverse of Lake Baikal, my right ankle grumbling in the dark cocoon of my tent, and a new sensation stirred.

I knew this one well.

In seconds, I had burst out of my sleeping bag, ripped open the flysheet zip and was outside relieving the pressure in my abdomen. Oh, the pain.

Some people revel in the details. Let’s leave those out of this tale.

Stomach cramps pulled me doubled over. The cold, normally my friend and constant traveling companion, multiplied the misery. Every step amplified the stabs of pain – the waistband of my pulka harness pressed hard on my abdomen.

For five days the discomfort and pain were all too apparent, only fading after I’d finished the crossing.

Looking back, I realize the most likely cause of the food poisoning was the interesting build-up of grey food under the rim of my thermo cup.

That was the most painful experience during my time on Lake Baikal, but what about the wildlife…?

He Who Doesn’t Dance with Wolves

Lake Baikal is home to a dizzying number of animals, in part due to the protection inherited from living in, or near, a national park.

Before heading over to Russia, I’d received warnings that bears and wolves stalked the ice. Planning how to fend off an attack was my initial response. “Would a bear take any notice if I started beating it with one of my hiking boots?” Unlikely.

Running fast seemed like a better option. I’m 48, but keep myself very fit. The reasoning in my mind was that maybe a dash across the ice, heading away from the bear would work. Ultimately, there was no need to test my theory as the bears were still hibernating.

Wolves are a different prospect, as I discovered.

Day 8. Clouds gather and darkness spreads. Nightfall shifts across the land. I’m trudging through deep now, my legs tired and my glutes a raging inferno. Soon it will be time to pitch my tent and cook up another evening meal.

Something catches my eye. A movement to my left.

Blurred shapes bounced and raced across the ice. At first, I assumed they were children from a nearby village, but soon realized the nearest habitation was about 8km (5 miles) away.

It was at this point I decided to move away from the loping shapes. As I moved off sounds rolled across the ice. I’ve seen wolves up close, but only in the zoo, and heard their bark-growl. A sense of urgency insisted that I move faster. Run, whilst dragging a 60Kg pulka.

After a while, I paused and looked back over my shoulder. The bounding figures were moving off in the opposite direction. They had no interest in me.

Meeting some of Baikal’s wildest inhabitants would have been a truly amazing experience. But I’m happy to keep those with very pointy teeth at a good distance.

And The Trials Kept On Coming

Lake Baikal is a beautiful and harsh mistress. Her icy embrace is a warning, one we would do well to heed.

I saw wolves, traveled nearly the full distance carrying ankle injuries and experienced the searing jabs of food poisoning. Yet there was more.

Temperatures of -20C (-4F), driven lower by the Siberian wind chill are a constant reminder that the extremities should always be protected. At times I was a little slow to heed that warning and paid a price…

Frostbitten thumb

At night the ice creaked and groaned, fractured as the immense plates pressed against one another. Periodically the ice would shift underfoot and sending me crashing to the ground, waiting for the plate to flip me over into the frigid waters.

Luck favored me. I remained dry for the entire journey.

Heat, or the contrast between hot and cold, was another unwelcome companion. During the day the sun climbed, beat down and forced me to remove layers of clothing in order to prevent overheating. Then nature spun the wheel, clouds gathered and the deep chill returned.

Clothes were quickly pulled on, but the cold had already found its way deep into my muscles. For a while, until my legs were once again warm, I shambled unsteadily over the ice.

Do You Want to Hike Lake Baikal?

Don’t let my story put you off attempting the 400 mile traverse. Lake Baikal is a place of mystery and beauty. Danger and thrills await intrepid hikers and explorers.

As a destination, I can wholeheartedly recommend Lake Baikal although I would give you one word of warning: seek guidance before you set off.

About the Author

James Redden is a former soldier in the British Army who now owns a technology company. In his spare time he travels to the most extreme and arduous destinations on the plane with the he aim to raise awareness and funds for mental health charities. When not working in IT, traveling and giving public talks James can be found working on his new hiking and outdoor gear review website TrekSumo.

The author provided the photos for this post.

A List of Posts about Vandwelling, Camping, Boondocking, and Living Nomadically from the Rubber Tramp Artist Archives

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It’s a tough time to be a nomad because we’re all grounded right about now.

Where are you hunkered down during the COVID-19 pandemic?

If we’re not hunkered down at our home base, we may be staying with friends or family members. Some of us may be self-isolating in a still-open campground or while boondocking on public land. In any case, we’re not out and about as much, not able to see new things or visit new places.

Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast

If you want to be productive while you practicing social distancing, I’ve compiled this list of Rubber Tramp Artist blog posts of particular interest to nomads, vandwellers, vagabonds, rubber tramps, RVers, drifters, and travelers of all kinds. You can use these posts to learn about everything from safety on the road and how to prepare for disasters to how to deal when the weather is bad and how to train your canine companion for life on the road. Especially if you are just beginning your nomadic journey, these posts can help you prepare for a nomadic life.

So here we go. Browse this list to find posts you missed and posts you want to revisit so you’ll be ready when it’s time to get back on the road. (I’ll also include some photos from my travels for your viewing pleasure.)

Mountain, southern New Mexico

If you don’t understand what all the fuss is about with this coronovirus and COVID-19, check out the post Living Nomadically in the Time of COVID-19 for information about what the pandemic we are currently experiencing means to individuals and to all of us.

Red flowers, location unknown

Before you hit the road, familiarize yourself with the basics of living nomadically. From lingo to budgets and all the preparation in between, these posts will help you get ready to go.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

If you don’t already have a rig, these posts may help you choose the rig that’s right for you.

Lake Isabella, California

Many nomads are going to have to work, at least part time. These posts will offer you tips on getting a variety of jobs, from camp host to house sitter to human guinea pig.

Adobe at sunset, New Mexico

Staying safe is important to everyone, especially when driving a large, powerful rig or living alone. Check out these posts for tips on staying safe while living on the road.

Arizona beetle

Maintaining mental health is extremely important too. These posts will offer advice for staying mentally healthy while you travel.

Gate and Ute Mountain, New Mexico

Unfortunately sometimes disasters happen. Here are some precautions you can take to help you avoid disasters.

Pine tree on Dome Rock, California

It’s important to know what to take with you when you hit the road. Here are some of the things I recommend.

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

It’s also important to know what to leave behind before you move into your rig and how to organize the things you decide to keep. These posts can help you purge and organize.

Waterfall, Oregon coast

When you’re living on the road, you’ll find yourself dealing with the impact of the weather. These posts will help you stay comfortable when the weather is less than pleasant.

Tule River, California

Need help staying busy and connected while traveling? These posts will help you find things to see and do while you’re on the road, as well as help you stay connected to other people.

Rocky Mountain high, Colorado

If you’re traveling with a companion animal (or more than one!) or if you’re considering getting one to join your nomadic life, these posts may be helpful

Goose on the water

If you’re traveling in a travel trailer, these posts might be of special interest of you.

Giant sequoia, California

So you want to go camping…Whether you’ll be sleeping in a tent or boondocking in your van, travel trailer, fifth wheel, or motorhome these posts will help you have an enjoyable experience.

Mesa Arch, Canyolands National Park, Utah

Now that you know how to camp, I’ll tell you where to camp. These are campsites I’ve actually been to, most of which I have spent at least one night at. Many of these campsites are free.

Joshua Trees, California

If you want to learn from other nomads, check out these interviews, as well as the post all about blogs written by other vagabonds, nomads rubber tramps, and van dwellers.

Monument Valley, Navajo Nation

I hope this post helps you pass the time and sends you on your way to so much good information. If you read all of the posts listed here, by the time you come out of self-isolation you will be totally ready to hit the road.

If you found this post helpful, I’d love your support! Hit the donate button in the toolbar to the right or go to Patreon to become my patron.

I took the photos in this post.

Camping Basics

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When I asked for suggestions for topics for my Wednesday posts of special interest to vandwellers, vagabonds, rubber tramps, nomads, and travelers of all kinds, my friend Laura-Marie of the dangerous compassions blog suggested I write about the basics of camping. Good idea! Camping season is upon us, so today I’ll share the steps for finding a camping spot, setting up your equipment, having a great time, and packing up to go home.

#1 Decide where you want to camp. Do you want to camp close to home, or do you want to visit a different region? Do you want to camp in a campground or hike into the back country? Do you want to camp at the beach or on top of a mountain? Do you want to camp in a forest or in a desert? Do you want to be in a remote, quiet location or close to civilization? Answering these questions will help you decide where to camp. (If you decide to camp in a forest, desert, or on top of a mountain, see my blog posts “How to Stay Safe and Healthy in the Forest,” “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Dessert,” or “Managing in the Mountains” for more tips for a pleasant camping experience.)

If the mere thought of using a pit toilet makes you gag, this might not be the right campground for you.

#2 Decide on the amenities you need a campground to provide. Do you want to rough it in a place with no amenities or stay some place with running water, electricity, hot showers, and flush toilets? Do you want to stay in a yurt with real beds? Will you be pitching a tent or staying in your motorhome, travel trailer, or 5th wheel? Do you need to take a hot shower every morning? Do you gag at the thought of using a pit toilet? Do you want to hike, fish, or collect rock specimens during your trip? The answers to these questions will also help you choose the right camping spot for you.

#3 Do research online before you hit the road. If you want to camp for free, check out both the Free Campsites and Campendium websites. These websites list free and cheap campsites across the USA and include reviews from people who’ve actually stayed in those places. Many of these camping spots are in primitive camping areas on public land, so be ready to boondock and meet all your own needs. (Not sure what it means to boondock? See my post “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers.”)

National parks, forests, and monuments often offer developed campgrounds. You can get information about and make reservations for your stay at these campgrounds at Recreation.gov. National forest campgrounds typically do not offer showers but often do offer pit toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings. Campgrounds in national parks tend to be a bit fancier and may include running water, hot showers, and flush toilets.

If you want to camp at a state park, do an internet search for the parks in the state you’re interested in that have campgrounds. State parks often have amenities like hot showers, picnic tables, fire rings, flush toilets, and even visitor centers with educational exhibits. If you need some comforts of home while still enjoying time out in nature, a state park campground may be the right choice for you. (New Mexico has fantastic campgrounds in its state parks. You can read my posts about camping at Elephant Butte Lake State Park, Brantley Lake State Park, Rockhound State Park, and Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. You can also read my post about the New Mexico State Parks Annual Camping Pass.)

Another camping option is a private campground. Some private campgrounds cater to Rvs while others have spots for tent camping too. Some private campgrounds prohibit car camping, so if you’re a vandweller, you may want to carry a small tent for just such occasions.

No matter what sort of campground you decide to camp in, make sure it has the amenities you need before you make a reservation or pay a fee. Get as much information as possible online before you make a decision.

#4 Pack everything you need. Where you camp will help determine what supplies you will need. If you’re not bringing an RV, at the very least you’re going to want a tent, food, and water. If you want even a bit of comfort, bring a sleeping bag. For extra comfort, bring a sleeping pad or air mattress to go under your sleeping bag. If you’re going to cook, you’ll need a portable stove, fuel for the stove, pots and pans, utensils, plates, ingredients, cooking oil, spices, etc. If you’re in a spot with no drinking water, you’ll have to bring your own. If there’s no water at all where you’re camping, you’ll have to bring water for washing too.

Other basic necessities: flashlight or headlamp with fresh batteries (it’s dark out in nature, even in a campground); tarp to go under your tent; rain gear (just in case); pillow (you can get small ones especially for travel and camping); strong stakes to help hold down your tent; small shovel, hand soap, and toilet paper if you are going to be primitive camping.

(For a very complete list of items useful for camping, see my Checklist of Things to Take on the Road.)

#5 Once you arrive at your general camping destination, find your campsite. If you’re staying in a campground, the camp host will probably assign you a site, or maybe you already picked your site when you made a reservation. Ask the camp host for help finding your site, check your reservation confirmation for your site number, or look for a placard with the name of the person who made the reservation on it. If you’re in a first-come, first-served campground, look for a site that’s not too close to the (possibly stinky) pit toilets and not on an obvious incline.

If you’re boondocking, find a spot that’s been camped on before. Look for a place where the groundcover has been disturbed or where there is a fire ring made of stones.

No matter where you are camping, you want a nice flat spot for your tent. (Creeping downhill all night because your tent is pitched on uneven ground is a special kind of hell.) Make sure you aren’t pitching your tent on top of bumpy tree roots. When you find a spot that seems workable, look up. You don’t want a branch falling on your tent in the event of high winds Once you’ve found a flat spot with no dangerous branches overhead, clear away any sticks and rocks. (Another special kind of camping hell is finding you’re sleeping on top of rocks, sticks, and roots.)

#6 Pitch your tent. For a complete step-by-step guide (with pictures!) to setting up (and taking down) your tent, see the WikiHow article on the subject, but for your convenience, I’ll hit the high points here.

  • Practice setting up your tent before your trip. This step is especially important if you won’t arrive at your camping spot until after dark. This will also allow you to make sure all of the tent components are present.
  • Once you’re on your campsite and have picked a place for your tent, unpack and lay out all the items you will need to set up the tent. These items include the tent itself, rain-fly, ground cloth or tarp, tent poles, stakes, guy lines, and a mallet or rock for pounding in stakes.
  • Lay out the tarp or ground cloth where you want the tent to be. The ground cloth will help protect the tent floor from tears and punctures and keep it dry. This bottom layer should be as big (or nearly so) as the bottom of your tent.
  • Lay the tent over the ground cloth.
  • Assemble all the tent poles.
  • Put the poles through the sleeves on top of the tent. Beware: With some tents, poles of different sizes go into specific sleeves.
  • Once the poles are in place, the bottoms of the poles must be attached to the bottom of the tent. Look for pouches at the bottom of the tent the poles can fit into or metal pins attached to the tent that slide into the hollow end of the poles. As the poles go into place, the roof of the tent should lift off the ground
  • If the tent has clips used to hold its fabric close to the poles, snap the clips over the poles.
  • The bottom of the tent should have loops through which the stakes go. Put the stakes through the loops, then pound the stakes into the ground using your mallet or a rock.
  • Stretch out your guy lines and stake then down. You want your guy lines to be taut but not overstretched. Staking the guy lines will help the tent stand properly and will help the zippers slide smoothly.
  • Attach the rain-fly if your tent has one. You may want to leave the rain-fly off on a clear night, but if there is any chance of rain, put it on. Trust me, you do not want to go outside in a thunderstorm to attach your rain-fly.

#7 Set up your kitchen. Your kitchen will be one of the mostly highly trafficked areas of your camp. If your campsite has a picnic table, that’s a logical place for your kitchen.

If you’re camping in bear country, you’ll need to take some extra precautions. In the book Bear Aware, author Bill Schneider offers an entire chapter detailing camping in bear country. One of the most important tips he shares is to separate your sleeping and cooking areas. If food smells attract bears, you want them as far away from sleeping people as possible.

“The sleeping area and the cooking area must be separated by at least 100 yards,” Schneider advises.

Also, he says be prepared to “hang everything that has any food smell” or store those items (including trash, toothpaste, sunscreen, lotion, etc.) in bear canisters.

#8 Keep a clean camp. Food and garbage lying around can attract flies, rodents, raccoons, ravens, and bears. Of course, you don’t want to tangle with bears, but even smaller animals can create a huge mess by dragging food and garbage all over your campsite. Flies carry disease, and no one wants to get sick while they’re supposed to be enjoying trees and birdsong. For more information about dealing with wildlife while camping, check out the great article “How to Keep Animals Out of Your Campsite” on the Camping Cooks website.

If you’re in a campground, dispose of trash in garbage cans or dumpsters regularly. Be sure you close garbage containers securely. If you’re camping in a place with no trash containers, tie garbage bags and stow them securely in your vehicle until you can pack out what you’ve packed in.

#9 Once your camp is set up, you’re going to want to relax and enjoy yourself. Most campers love to sit around a campfire, maybe roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories. Of course, before this fun can begin someone has to build a campfire. If there’s already a fire ring on your campsite, use it. Otherwise, build one with stones. Do NOT start a fire on bare ground. Also, you need a source of water, a bucket, and a shovel on hand at all times during your fire building and enjoyment.

If you are allowed, gather wood from around your campsite. Sort your wood according to size. Even if you’ve brought firewood, gather small sticks and dry leaves and needles for tinder if you are allowed to do so.

Place some tinder in the middle of the fire ring. Use sticks less than one inch around to build a teepee-like structure over the tinder. Shove balled up paper in between the sticks. Once the framework is built, light the balled up paper. You need to start your fire small, then add larger pieces of wood. Once the fire is burning strongly, you can add larger pieces. You can get more information about building a safe campfire from Smokey Bear.

Had your campfire fun and now you’re ready to go to bed? Make sure your campfire is DEAD OUT. Any time you leave your campsite, any fires must be DEAD OUT. Smokey Bear can tell you how to do this too, but briefly, pour lots of water on your fire or stir sand or dirt into the embers to bury the fire. Smokey says,

Remember:
If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.

#10 When it’s time to go home, break camp.

Make sure any rain or dew on your tent has dried completely before packing. If your tent is damp when you put it away, you will have to set it up again at home so it can dry, or you run the risk of unpacking a stinky, moldy mess next time you go camping. Pack up the tent in the reverse order of setup.

Clean up your campsite. Practice the leave no trace rule of camping where you remove every hint of your presence. Pick up all trash, including microtrash. Put all trash in trashcans, or if none are available, pack out what you packed in. Don’t leave any trash in fire rings. Be a good campground steward and leave your campsite cleaner than you found it.

If you piled up rocks, sticks, leaves or pine cones before you set up your tent, spread those materials out over the big bare patch where your tent sat.

If you built a fire ring, take it apart after you have determined that the fire is DEAD OUT. Disperse the rocks and ashes so their presence cannot be detected.

Don’t leave any belongings behind. Get everyone in your party to do a final walk through of the campsite to make sure everything brought has been packed up.

I hope you had a great camping experience! What did you learn that I left out? Share your camping tips in the comments below.

There’s no way to imagine or prepare for every situation one might encounter on a camping trip. Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you or protect you from every danger you might encounter in nature. You are responsible for our own self! Research the problems you might encounter in the area you plan to camp before you get there. If you plan to camp on Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service land, call the field office or ranger station responsible for that place and ask about hazards in the area. Think before you act. If something you’re about to do seems potentially dangerous, don’t do it!

I took the photos in this post.