It’s the summer of camping. It’s the summer of RV rentals and takeout picnics, of visiting national parks, and exploring small towns. Summer has always been the season of road trips, but this year, being able to escape the four walls you’ve been quarantining in holds even more appeal.
After spending half the year cooped up inside due to a certain virus we’re all sick of thinking about, our need for a good old fashioned camping trip has never been greater.
But camping can be intimidating, especially for first-timers. The key is preparation.
What to bring (sunscreen and socks!), what to do (hike and stargaze!), and what to know (bears and bug prevention!) for a successful camping trip.
Socks might be the most important thing you pack. No kidding! Wet socks—whether from rain, mud, sweat, or a wet trail—make feet blister easier which can pretty much end your fun times right there.
To avoid unwanted run-ins with bears and other wily critters, you’ll need to put all of your “smellables” away (this includes toothpaste). If you plan on doing any hiking in bear country, invest in some bear spray.
Don’t forget the deet. And don’t stress about it too much, either. Past health problems caused by the insect repellent were mostly due to overapplication and ingestion. If you apply as the label recommends (once a day, to exposed skin only), and wash it off at the end of the day, you’ll be fine. It certainly beats risking mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile—or the woes of being the mosquito magnet at camp.
An added benefit of camping: You might just wake up to the sight of a rugged mountain range bathed in morning sunlight, like we did in the photo below at Catalina State Park.
Shutdown-induced boredom renewed our appreciation for scenic drives; now, we’re going full-on day trip, complete with roadside attractions, oldies on the radio, and a cooler in the back—but wait.
Weekenders, meanwhile, are back in love with RVs. According to industry predictions, 46 million people plan to hit the road in an RV this summer. And it’s not just seniors getting in on the wonderful world of sewer drains and s’mores; millenials who used to roll their eyes at their parents’ traditional ways are largely behind the wheel.
Those motorhomes, camper vans, and trailers are bottlenecking the national parks which are reopening across the country to renewed enthusiasm. For self-contained campers—those whose idea of roughing it includes being able to keep all your stuff within 10 feet—campsite reservations are among the hottest tickets to be had. Want to camp in Arches? Check back in October, when some spots might open up.
With the more popular parks at capacity, people are discovering America’s beautiful B-sides: Enter national forests with millions of acres to explore and hardly any people. America’s 154 national forests cover more than 188 million acres across 40 states: three times the total area protected by the 62 national parks. State parks, county and regional parks, and the lesser-loved national parks are now as valid a destination as Disney World reminding us that sprawling protected lands should never be taken for granted. So yeah, you’ve got options in these favorite often-overlooked natural playgrounds from coast to coast.
These throwbacks to the “good old days” have always been available to us. But a funny thing happened this spring when we all started to hunker down, faced with unprecedented anxiety about the still-uncertain future: Collectively, people yearned not just for fresh air, but for the familiar.
The past is telling us that the best way to experience the present is to hop in an oversized vehicle and hit the road. To take a three-hour detour to see the world’s largest pistachio nut or some cute little town that somebody said has good pie. To struggle with a cheap popup tent and tell ghost stories with our friends. To get out this summer and barrel down the highway to rediscover places from our youth.
For now, those simple pleasures of discovery and escape from an increasingly fraught world—and sometimes, that’s enough.
I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.