“I’m not camping, I’m just sleeping at a campsite,” I explained.
They looked skeptical, trying to process what that sentence could possibly mean.
To them, camping was itself a largely weekend endeavor: full of beer coolers and dutch ovens, carloads of friends, pine trees and hammocks. It was the central feature of the weekend—billed as a chance to let off some steam, day drink with some friends, eat more than you should, and escape the city heat. The point of the weekend was the act of camping itself.
But that wasn’t what I was doing. I was camping—well, I was sleeping in a tent at a campground, at least—specifically to avoid paying for an expensive hotel room. As a result, I hadn’t brought much beyond the basics: a tent, headlamp, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. I also had some snacks, a disposable cooler, and a barebones cook kit, though I had opted to grab a cheap sub on my way to the campground instead of cooking some elaborate dinner over a campfire. I was doing it all wrong, in their minds.
Don’t get me wrong, I love camping for camping’s sake. There are fewer things I enjoy more than sharing some adult beverages with good friends next to a campfire with a view. I’m constantly pestering my friends to join me for a night or two on the Mogollon Rim during hot Phoenix summers. Lounging in a hammock, staring up at the star-filled night sky above, the cool breeze carrying with it the relaxing scent of pine trees? Yes, please! I need that in my life.
But for me, camping is both a means and an end. It’s not solely a weekend activity with friends, it’s also the way I can afford my other travel adventures. And there are many other travel adventures to be had, after all.
Camping is the single best strategy to save money while traveling here in the USA. Hotels are expensive, and they often entail additional hidden costs. Once you have some camping gear, the primary cost of camping is a far cheaper campground fee and maybe the occasional $5 propane canister. Or you can find a dispersed campsite in our public lands and save the campground fee altogether. For budget travel, camping is a great deal—even if it requires a bit more time and gas…and far less glamour.
If you can get comfortable with camping for traveling’s sake, then you can unlock a whole new set of travel adventures. So when I’ve set my eyes on a new trip, and glanced into my wallet only to see moths fly out, I’ve quickly turned to “sleeping at a campsite,” or what you might call travel camping.
Want to travel to Maui, but can’t afford the $300 hotel rooms? Maybe tenting it at that $20 campground that’s 10 minutes outside of town isn’t so bad—especially if doing so allows you to spend 9 days on the island instead of just 2.
Want to take that long road trip to visit a bucket list destination, but can’t afford both gas and hotel rooms? Maybe a quick overnight stay at that state park along the way can help.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t stay in a hotel occasionally, or cash in some points for a room with your own private bathroom and complimentary little shampoo bottle. But adding the travel camping routine to your repertoire? Well, that gives you quite a few more options to play with. Suddenly, skipping that second hotel night stay to camp instead means that you can now afford that special boat tour, or maybe to extend the trip an extra day, or to indulge in a night of bar-hopping around the trendy downtown district. That flexibility can sometimes mean the difference between an experience you’ll never forget, and a slightly more private place to take a shit.
If you follow my travels, you know that I spend a ton of nights each year sleeping in a tent. But the majority of those are actually travel camping nights—not nights I’m spending backpacking or “camping with friends” (though I’d certainly love far more of those last two). Most of the nights I camp aren’t for the camping at all—it’s simply a way to spend more of my time traveling, exploring, and adventuring. And that’s why I do it. And why you should too.
My primary goal with this website is to help you Just Get Out More. Since travel camping is one of the key strategies to doing that, I’ll be writing in much greater detail on how I go about doing it in the not-too-distant future.