Road Trip! Planning A Week-Long Tent Camping Trip

Hey you! It’s nearly April. Have you put a week-long tent camping trip on your calendar yet? No?! What are you waiting for? Oh yeah, probably some help in planning for the trip. Well don’t worry, there’s still plenty of time to get things together and make that week-long trip a reality this year. I’ve done this before, so I can help you out. In fact, I’d like to do more of these week-long trips when I can. You end up seeing so much more, and you can do it much cheaper than a traditional vacation. Okay, enough procrastinating, let’s get to it!

Planning A Week-Long Tent Camping Trip

Where Do You Go?

This is probably the most important part of the trip – figuring out exactly where you want to go. When my wife and I did our week-long trip, we opted to do the Upper Penninsula of Michigan. We basically made it a loop, leaving home on a Saturday and returning home the following Saturday. The mid-point of the trip would be Sault St. Marie, Michigan, so we knew that we had to make it there around Wednesday to be able to make it back home in roughly the same amount of time.

So, where is it that you would like to go? Maybe its a few states away, or maybe its within your current state. It doesn’t matter where you go, just that you have a plan. Now if you are like me, you want to stop along the way to take in some of the great opportunities that will be available along the way, so you don’t want to just kill yourself driving to get from point to point. Give yourself time to drive, but also time to hit some of the things you want to. I would recommend that you don’t drive more than 4 hours a day while on the trip. That should give you around 200 miles a day, give or take, so plan accordingly. An eight-day trip like ours meant that we should end up around 1,600 miles in total, but more than likely it would be less as we wanted to get out and do things. In the end, we probably ended up around 1,300 miles door to door.

Now you might have a destination city that you want to reach, like we did. That’s a great goal, and provides you something to measure against as the trip unfolds. However, you can instead just work on creating a big loop, hitting various things along the route that seem interesting. Just try to stick to that 200 mile average per day (or less) and you’ll end up with a really good trip that isn’t all about the driving.

Where Do You Go

When To Go?

This is probably the next most important question to be asking. When you take this trip will depend on many factors, but a few things stick out. First, generally, you want to go when the weather is decent. For much of the country, this means going during the warmer months of the year, typically May through September. Sure, you can go later or earlier, but depending on geography you might be hitting weather that can turn cold in a hurry. Second, make sure that you have the time available to be off of work. Now this might be paid time off, or in some cases you could take unpaid time off, but regardless you will need to ensure that you can take the time off when you want to. Third, keep in mind your children’s schooling schedule. This will mean that your window of opportunity is even less than what I stated earlier. You’ll instead be looking at June through August, a mere 3 months, unless you are pulling them out of school for that week (which might cause issues with the school district, so check in to that).

So, once you’ve calculated those three big things, now you can better settle on a time frame for your trip. My wife and I have travelled many places together, and we have found that the month of September usually ends up being a terrific month for travel. There are several reasons for this, but the two big reasons are: kids are back in school, and the weather is generally still nice and warm. When we did our driving and tent camping trip to the U.P. of Michigan, September was the month that we went. We had a blast on that trip, and looking back on other trips that we have taken to the East Coast and elsewhere, September always seems to be the ideal month for us to travel, so this is my recommendation. You need to pick the time that works best for you and your family, and if you keep the above things in mind, it will suddenly become fairly easy to pick the right time.

When To Go

What To Pack?

Ah yes, the really important question! While this is a very good question, if you think about it a bit, it really isn’t going to be that difficult. By now you’ve picked out where you are going, as well as when you will be going. These will then dictate the type of clothing that you’ll be needing to bring along. This is no different from any other vacation that you have taken. And since you’ve been tent camping before, you already have your tent and sleeping gear taken care of that you’ll need. What’s left is the food aspect.

This is where you will need to put some heavy thought into the trip. Will you be trying to keep the trip as inexpensive as possible? If so, then you will probably end up cooking your own meals, which means you will need to bring and/or shop for your groceries on the trip. You’ll definitely want to make a list of the foods you bring and even meal plan for each day so that you don’t take more than you need. Will you allow for an occasional dinner out along the trip? No problem, just decide ahead of time how expensive you want to get on those dinners. Food tends to be a place where trips can get a LOT more expensive if a plan isn’t followed, so focus some time in this area and make a plan.

After all of the above, then it comes down to any other items that you feel that you’ll need for comfort and/or desire. Do you take that screen tent with you, or can you make it with just the tent? Do you bring the big camp stove, or just the single burner? Remember, you’ll have to deal with everything throughout the whole trip, so try to make things easy on yourself where you can.

What To Pack

Where To Stay?

Along with determining where you are going, you will also need to plan for where you will be staying all along the way. There are state parks, national parks, county parks, private campgrounds, waysides and more that are all possible places to stay overnight. Check out these places to make sure they will accept tent campers. Some places might be filling up during your desired time frame, so make reservations now so that you know you’ll have a spot. You don’t want to show up at a park and find out that they don’t have any sites available, forcing you to sleep in your vehicle.

These reservations will also have the effect of keeping you on task, as you’ll want to get there before the park closes for the night. If you are planning to cook your own meals, you’ll want to get there before the dead of night because you’ll need to not only cook your meal, but you’ll also need to setup your campsite as well. If you are crossing state lines, you may need to purchase a state park sticker in order to stay at state parks or county parks, so check on this as well and plan accordingly.

Where To Stay

What Else?

Well, we’ve hit the major points of where, when and what to pack. What else is there for a week-long tent camping trip? A few things come to mind based on my own experiences. First, chances are you don’t know everything that you might encounter on your planned route, and as such it pays to do some research to find out what possible activities you might want to take in. Museums, tours, strategic spots, vistas and more are all possibilities that you might want to take advantage of, and this means that you may need to make sure that you are certain places at certain times of the day. Find out if you need tickets ahead of time, or need to add your name to a list, etc.

Before you take off on your trip, make sure that you’ve inspected your vehicle well and checked as many things as you can. Windshield washer fluid, oil has been changed, tires are aired up properly, spare tire is likewise ready to be used, all external lights are in working order, brake fluid is full, radiator is good, and anything else that you can think of. You don’t want to deal with problems when you are hundreds of miles from home, so a little investment of time checking these things before you go will allow you to really enjoy the trip.

Lastly, make sure you have all of your insurance cards and information. In case things go really bad, you want to be prepared for anything. On our trip to Michigan, I was driving in the evening and hit a small deer on the highway. The vehicle looked okay and drove fine, so we kept going on our trip, but when we got back we had it inspected and found that there was significant structural damage that needed fixing. Our insurance covered it and we got our repaired vehicle back in a few days, but what if we would have needed to file a claim while on the road? We had our papers in order so we could do just that if we needed to.

Wrap Up

Combining tent camping with a vacation is a really fun way to see parts of the country that you otherwise might not see or experience. It really isn’t any more difficult than taking any other sort of week-long trip either. Soon I want to take a trip out to the Badlands in the Dakotas for a week-long camping trip, as well as other places (Kentucky is on that list as well). What have your experiences been? Where would you like to go on a tent camping trip?

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