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The Art of Close-to-Home Camping

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

There’s lots to like about RVing in your own neck of the woods, starting with shorter drives and more time for fun at the destination. 

If you’re like me, you’ve gone a bit stir crazy over the past few months. My family and I have blown through a massive chunk of Netflix’s lineup, even some of the weird Scandinavian crime shows. We’ve organized and reorganized our garden shed and passed the time by giving nicknames to the birds that dine at our backyard bird feeder. (Maximus the finch is a real seed hog and kind of a bully.)

Now that the country’s beginning to open up, you probably share our eagerness to hit the highway and explore the open road.

But not so fast. Many regions of North America remain subject to mandatory closures, and the danger of infection remains. Some of our most scenic destinations, like Florida’s Everglades National Park and Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border, are closed because of the threat posed by COVID-19.

Does this mean that you should put that long-awaited RV trip on hold? Not necessarily. For now, consider going camping in familiar territory: your own neck of the woods. You’ll not only reduce the risk of infection and the chance of spreading the virus to others, you may discover a new favorite camping destination just a few miles up the highway.

Where to Camp

It’s not hard to find great nearby locations. Just look at a map of your city or town and notice the surrounding public parks or wilderness areas you’ve never visited. Consult your state and local tourism organizations, and ask friends on social media for the best places to camp nearby. You may be surprised at just how close you are to fantastic adventures.

Even if you’re in a big city, you don’t have to go far to get away. Here in Oxnard, California, for example, we’re just a short drive from camping at places like Santa Paula’s Mountain View RV Park, next door to hiking in the Ojai Valley. On the opposite side of the country, guests at Florida’s Miami Everglades Resort camp near the Overseas Highway, the route to the stunning Florida Keys, which reopened to tourism on June 1. No matter where you are, chances are, you don’t have to look far for outdoor fun.

Close-to-Home Adventures

Once you’ve decided on your close-to-home destination, it’s time to pick an RV park for your stay. Make sure the park you choose is open, and note any restrictions related to COVID-19. In some states, for example, RVs are required to stay 20 feet apart. Some parks have closed common campground facilities like restrooms and rec rooms, though guests can enjoy full hookups at their sites. Get the lay of the land when you make your reservation. If parks in your state are required to limit occupancy, make reservations early so you beat the crowds.

Weekends Were Made for These

Close-to-home RVers enjoy shorter driving times, which allows more time at your destinations. These trips can fit neatly into a weekend, but you shouldn’t leave planning until the night or morning of your departure. Start prepping for the trip early in the week so that your departure goes without a hitch. Plug your RV in days before departure so that your batteries are charged. Pack the items you’ll need beforehand; don’t wait until the last minute to write up your cargo list.

Set aside the clothes you’ll wear on your trip and pack them neatly in the RV. Stow your recreational gear — fishing poles and tackle, boogie boards and hiking boots — in places where they can be easily retrieved. The same goes for the barbecue grill, camp chairs, patio mats and other items that you want to retrieve shortly after arrival. Set aside a batch of masks, hand sanitizer, gloves and cleaning products for protection against COVID-19.

Filling Tanks and Cleaning

Do as much cleaning as you can before your trip. Don’t let tidying chores fall to the precious minutes before your departure. Get your RV spick-and-span before going so you’re not faced with the task of scrubbing your microwave during your stay.

Make sure the vehicle has enough fuel in its tanks for the trip — don’t eat into that precious vacation time with a stop at a gas station. Keep your freshwater tank filled about a third of the way. Conversely, your black and gray tanks should be empty. Check your propane supply for the relevant power needs.

More Time Savers

To maximize the limited recreation time available on short trips, learn the traffic patterns along your route so you don’t get caught in rush-hour traffic. Your social-media buddies can share some anecdotal information about the best times to drive on certain roads and highways. Don’t wait until peak-traffic times to leave; take off work early so that you can hit the road before the rest (your boss will understand). Rely on your GPS or use the Good Sam Trip Planner to determine the optimal route for your vehicle and travel style.

Campground Hacks

Make the most of your camping stay. To start the fun right away, consider skipping sewer hookups until the second day of your trip. This strategy comes in handy when you have youngsters onboard who are impatient for fun. Ask campground management if you can extend your stay to later in the afternoon on the day of your departure.

Plan your activities before you start your trip. Are there local attractions to explore? Schedule side trips ahead of time and get tickets well in advance. Be ready with a Plan B in case weather conditions or COVID-19 protocols interfere with Plan A.

Longer Stays

Up to now, we’ve talked about short-term stays. Perhaps you’d prefer to stay at your destination for a longer span or repeat visits. If you have a favorite close-to-home park that you plan to visit frequently, consider a seasonal site rental, which allows RVers to leave their rigs onsite (unhooked) when not in use. Alternatively, check out the park’s storage options; some travelers store their RV at the campground then move it to the site for each stay. Going back and forth to the campground in the family car can save fuel and time over traveling with the RV.

Food Prep

For close-to-home trips, you don’t have to load your fridge to bursting. Keep meals simple so you can focus on the fun stuff. Plan menus with a few perishable ingredients that you can load quickly. Keep shelf-stable foods on hand like peanut butter and jelly, bread and crackers. Don’t forget those marshmallows, Hershey bars and graham crackers for s’mores.

Close-to-home camping destinations lend themselves to spur-of-the-moment travel whims. The short-travel distance means you don’t have to agonize over planning. And making reservations is easy. So hit the gas and go. Each trip will remind you why you chose RV travel as your favorite pastime.

Camp close to home and you’ll reap the rewards of nature without the long travel time — and you can meet new critters to nickname.

Camping Gear for Close-to-Home Trips

As summer heats up, the need for ice-cold beverages rises faster than the mercury. An ice-filled cooler packed with cold soda, water, beer and other drinks will make you the hit of the RV park. The Igloo IMX 70-quart cooler uses Ultratherm insulation for eight days of ice retention, according to the manufacturer. Anti-skid feet at the cooler’s base keep it stable on smooth surfaces.

Enjoy the comfort of a hammock without the search for two perfectly spaced trees. The Rio Hammock Lounger employs a unique suspension system to give occupants reliable comfort. This lightweight chair’s compact and efficient design makes it easy to transport, store and set up.

Close-to-home RVers require a portable grill that sets up as easily as it cooks tasty meals. The Portable RV Barbeque Grill from Patrick Industries is built for grillers on the go. The black-coated steel grill attaches directly to your onboard LP-gas supply with its quick-connect system. Use the included two-piece hanger bracket for mounting on an RV’s side wall.

Black grill attached to side of RV

Cooking over an open fire is the quintessential camping experience. The nifty Rome Cast-Iron Pie Iron will dramatically expand your cookout menu. The solid cast-iron construction and long handle enable RVers to prepare sandwiches, calzones and more treats simply by toasting the snack over the flames. Available in square or round shapes, the Pie Iron extends 28 inches, keeping campers safe from the heat.

John Sullaway has worked for years as a writer and editor for outdoor and recreational vehicle publications including RVBusiness, Highways and the Good Sam Guide Series. A SoCal native, John enjoys spending time with his family and two chihuahua mixes who think they’re pit bulls.

Camping lifestyleJohn SullawayRV CampingRV DestinationsRV LifestyleRV Travel

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