Q: Hello! I want to get into camping more but my work schedule makes it difficult to plan trips in advance. I have your car camping checklist and guide to finding last-minute campgrounds, but I think I need tips for getting out the door in a hurry.
A few weeks back we took our first camping trip of the summer and it took me a whole day to pull everything together and get it packed in the car. Planning out and prepping all the meals was especially stressful. We had fun but the organization challenges and packing every little thing was overwhelming and I packed a bunch of stuff we didn’t even use. There has got to be a better way.
Sounds like you need a better method for getting yourself out the door and into a campsite at a moment’s notice with low stress!
For me, spontaneous camping comes down to two things: 1) think more low-brow when it comes to camping cuisine 2) smart pre-planning when it comes to gear. I’ll explain.
First, I’ve had to adjust my expectations a bit when it comes to camping meals and stop trying to be such an over-achiever. Before I had a kid, I rarely went car camping. Instead I’d go backcountry camping (aka “backpacking”) where all of your gear has to fit into one large backpack, so lightweight, minimal gear was key. Getting ready for a weekend trip back then was super easy! I basically kept all my backpacking gear in one bin ready to be packed up, and all I had to add in was food and water. When you’re backpacking, food is usually really lightweight and often pre-packaged (think soup mixes where you just add boiling water, or freeze-dried pad thai) so there’s no stress involved at all. So what I’ve started to do is ditch the instagram-worthy campfire cuisine that has 20 ingredients per meal and instead think more like a lightweight backpacker when it comes to spontaneous car camping trips, and have easy, ready-made meals on hand for these occasions. Sure, you’re trading in a delicious meal for a pretty bland one, but if it gets me out into the wilderness more often then it’s worth it. Besides, even pre-packaged pad thai tastes pretty good when eaten under the canopy of a temperate rainforest.
The second thing to do is to keep your camping gear packed, organized and ready to grab and go at all times. This will mean purchasing duplicates of some household items (like aluminum foil, toiletries, a can opener, etc) that you only use when camping that never leave your camping bins. So you don’t unpack these items when you return from a camping trip, you just replenish what needs it and you’re ready for your next camping trip. I went through my car camping checklist and highlighted all the items I could possibly have pre-packed in easy-to-store, easy-to-grab boxes and bins. I chose transparent plastic bins so I could easily see what’s inside, and I have them labeled with their contents on the outside, too. For example, I have a “cooking box” that has a small cutting board, knives, salt, pepper, cooking oil, paper towels and so on. It stays packed and gets replenished as needed all summer long. This way, the only packing I really need to do for a spontaneous camping trip is perishable food items and clothes–everything else is already ready to go.
Hope this helps! ~Lauren
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