Family Camping Resolutions for 2009

Now is a great time to focus on family camping plans and goals for the coming year.

Now is a great time to focus on family camping plans and goals for the coming year.

More camping

One of our family goals is to go on a camping trip at least once every month. We did not achieve that in 2008, mostly due to my wife Lisa’s commitments in her Master’s program, so it’s a good time to refocus on family time for 2009 and start planning more monthly getaways.

Our typical camping trip is a Friday and Saturday night at some reasonably local location. Luckily, we have a lot of nice places to choose from, here in the San Francisco Bay Area, from beaches to forests in the coastal mountains. For short weekend trips, like these, it does not make much sense to spend a lot of time driving, so we limit ourselves to roughly a 2-hour radius around our home.

Organize our summer camping trip

Each summer we take one big camping trip with our friends from Oregon. Unlike our regular camping trips throughout the year, our big summer trip is geared more towards a destination. The first get-together was at the Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park in the northwest corner of California, while our last two trips have been to Oregon locations, including Crater Lake National Park.

I think for 2009 we’ll come back to California, possibly to Lassen National Park, or Shasta Lake. We like to choose places that offer a lot of family activities, like hiking and sightseeing, so either of these two places would make great destinations.

Spend less

Yes, it’s a sign of the times, but we’re going to have to spend less in 2009. Luckily, that does not mean less camping, which is still one of the great low-cost activities that families can participate in. Spending less next year will probably mean fewer home improvements and fewer sporting events (sorry, Sharks and Raiders!).

Spending less doesn’t mean there won’t be any new camping gear purchases, though! There are a few items that I would like to get, including a few cast-iron cookware pieces and some hiking gear for the kids. To date, the kids have been hiking in their regular clothes, but our 8-year old is starting to go longer distances with me. She could make use of more breathable clothes and some kind of hydration solution.

See also…

20 thoughts on “Family Camping Resolutions for 2009

  1. “Given way” might be an overstatement, Chris. What we’re looking at are trends over time.

    Plenty of people still take one and two week vacations. In many cases they are, however, less traditional. They are, as with the example you gave, based around the needs of a particular family member or interest.

    However, the trend really has been to taking several shorter 3- and 4-day mini-vacations. There are many reasons for this; social, economic, and the constraints imposed by family life. Indeed, all the reasons you gave have contributed to this trend.

    “Camping” of course takes in a lot of ground. Three days in a backcountry tent camp can be a a bit much for many people. That same tent, in a private campground with bath house and other amenities available, is a different sort of trip.

    If you find yourself getting ripe after three days in a modern tent, try historic reenacting; living under canvass (or even without that) with no amenities for a week, preparing all food on an open fire using period cookware, etc.

    But that’s all grist for a different mill. Right now we’re talking about the dynamics of recreational travel. And the short answer to your question is, yes. It has changed.

    I think where the economy of the past two years has affected things is in the number of those shorter trips taken. Certainly 2008’s gas prices and general economy has curtailed them. But I think the signs were apparent even before then. Somebody might take the time off to assemble, say, one or two long weekends a month. But instead of camping, or other recreational travel, those days were used to meet other family obligations: hauling the kids to major activities; working around the house, etc.

    What trips were made tended to be closer to home as well. People discovered that there were all sorts of great destinations within their own state, and would visit them, instead of spending half their vacation time driving halfway across the country.

    Something that the gas run-up did affect was the nature of travel. There had been a clear trend towards touring. People were bored with the idea of heading to a destination and plopping themselves down for a week or whatever. So we were seeing more and more touring; driving from point to point, and spending only one or two nights in the same spot.

    With high gas prices, we’ve seen a return to the idea of sitting in one place.


    Brook’s last blog post..Dec 27, Catfishing. Catfish fishing for the Big Fish.

  2. Have there been changes in how American campers spend their vacation time? Has the good old 2-week summer vacation given way to multiple 2 or 3 day weekend trips?
     In this competitive job environment, I wonder if many people are hesitant to take a long vacation for job security reasons.
     Unlike in the fifties, today both spouses are likely to work; coordinating time is a challenge.
     Many people can’t/don’t keep jobs long enough to accrue more than 2 weeks a year.
     My family takes vacations around kids’ sports tournaments – usually a 3 or 4 day weekend. However, we don’t camp for these trips – need for showers, team dinners etc.

    However, shorter weekend trips work well for tent camping. I feel a little grungy after more than 3 nights in a tent. Only challenge is arriving in camp late and having to set up the tent(s) in the dark.

  3. “it always seemed to me that there is an ingrained bias against camping locally. ”

    I don’t know if that’s particularly true anymore, Roy. Long before the gas runup of the past two years, there was a pleathera of books based on the “X One Tank Away,” or “X One Day Away” theme.

    For ten years, Friend Wife and I wrote the On The Road column in Kentucky Living. It was all about local travel. And was the most popular department in the magazine. I don’t think that was particularly unusual.

    There have, to be sure, been some major changes in the dynamics of travel. Starting in the late ’80s, and accelerating through the ’90s, was the idea of not taking long vacations. Instead of a week or two all at once, the on-going trend was to string together long weekends. They’d take off Friday and Monday, for instance, and do that several times during the year. Almost by definition this meant traveling closer to home.

    And, of course, it came home to roost the past two years, as we’ve been discussing.

    Another change to travel dynamics is the direction people go. This didn’t effect us as travelers, but has had a major effect on travel and hospitality professionals and how they budget their spending.

    Used to be a general truism that you could move people southwards and westwards, but not the other way. That is, a travel professional in Kentucky could bring folks in from Ohio and West Virginia, but not from Missouri and Tennessee.

    All that has changed, and people in Tennessee are just as likely to vacation in Michigan as in the Ozarks.

    Nobody is quite sure what’s behind the change. But I’m sure if we had all the data, both the long-weekends trend, and the economy have played a role.

    Brook’s last blog post..Dec 27, Catfishing. Catfish fishing for the Big Fish.

  4. You know, Roy, the mainstream news media keeps telling us how badly travel was curtailed in 2008. But much of the reality ran counter to those claims.

    Example: I used to work part time at a motel whose primary business is transiets from southern Canada and the upper Midwest, going to, and returning from Florida. That business hardly suffered—in fact we’d done worse in 2007.

    A more cojent example: We spent a long week on the Outer Banks in June. The campgrounds were all full. We only saw two rental units that weren’t occupied.

    Everyone complained what a lousy spring it had been. For that period they were down as much as 30%. But—and this supports my contention about short vs long trips—the spring business there is primarily weekenders coming down from Norfolk and Richmond. And last spring, y’all may recall, was lousy weather. Wasn’t a weekend that didn’t rain at least part of the time.

    So, while gas prices maybe too the hit for it, there actually were other reasons.

    I’m sure the reasoning was, that especially given the price of gas, there was no point in spending a weekend at the shore just to sit and watch the rain.

    Brook’s last blog post..Dec 27, Catfishing. Catfish fishing for the Big Fish.

  5. Nancy & Brook – it always seemed to me that there is an ingrained bias against camping locally. I don’t know if this is an “already been there” mentality, or just a natural inclination to want to “get away.” Maybe a little of both?

    From a consumer spending standpoint, this has been a pretty severe recession. I think a lot of people have put vacations, even short weekend trips, on hold. Time will tell, but I believe we will see things improve this Spring, as uncertainty wains and people feel more comfortable about spending some money.

  6. That just supports what we’ve found on a national level, Nancy. And it’s especially pertinent. In my opinion, Virginia’s state parks are among the best in the country.

    But, as with most state parks, they’re are mostly used by residents. In past economic hard times, camping was seen as a way to save money—lodging costs were lower, food was no different than cooking at home, activities were free, etc.

    Last year, however, tight-times were centered on the cost of gas. And people avoided those costs by staying home.

    The problem with attracting short-trip travelers to any venue—be it camping, sites and attractions, restaurants, etc.—is that most of the time there is no budget for promoting such trips. In your case, the Department’s advertising and promotion budget is set, and the programs approved, before hand. It’s hard to react to a changing economic environment. It’s even harder for privately owned campgrounds, hotels, restaurants, and attractions, most of whom have little promotion money to begin with.

    However, if you target short-trip travelers as a specific market segment, and have the bucks to spend reaching them, it can be done. For instance, last year the “news” was all gloom and doom about gas prices. The overall message was about how expensive travel had become. Nobody was talking about how local travel made even more sense in such an environment.

    Accomplishing this needn’t be as expensive as many people think. The trick is to stretch your budget by working with travel and outdoor writers, instead of directly advertising. You sell your program to the writers, and they will sell their readers on it.

    If you want to discuss specific ways and means, contact me directly ( Meanwhile, keep monitoring my webpage (, as it can help you focus on outdoor topics that interest potential state-park users.

    Brook’s last blog post..Dec 27, Catfishing. Catfish fishing for the Big Fish.

  7. We noticed camping was down this summer even though in years past a bad economy usually meant more business for state park camping. So it does seem that shorter trips were down. Is there some way camping venues could attract short trip campers when gas prices are high (although certainly not an issue now)?

    Nancy Heltman’s last blog post..New Years Resolution

  8. Maybe I wasn’t clear, Roy. What I’m saying is that on a long trip the gas gets lost in the overall costs. But on shorter trips it looms proportionately larger.

    For instance, let’s say you go on a long trip, and spend a total of $2,500. Gas represents, say, $300 of the total.

    Now, while 300 bucks certainly is a bunch of money, it’s small piece of $2,500.

    Conversely, say you head out for a nearby weekend. Total cost is $90. But you spend $24 on gas. As a part of the whole, the gas price becomes a major factor.

    I think an analysis of travel habits last year would show that there were two major results of high gas prices. One, short trips were curtailed. And, second, on longer trips there was more of a tendency to plop down in one spot than to tour.

    Eating habits, apparently, changed too. Many people, even when camping, eat out rather than cook. What we saw, at least in resort areas, is that people went out less often. The same family that normally ate out, say, four nights, was now only going out twice.

    Brook’s last blog post..Dec 27, Catfishing. Catfish fishing for the Big Fish.

  9. That’s interesting, Brook – was it the cost of food? Our biggest expense on long trips is (of course) gas, but it didn’t change a lot last year – I think we spend about $850 vs. $650 on the same distance in 2007.

    No doubt, Tony – that sounds like a good idea for a post!

  10. Great ideas. Just because money is tight doesn’t mean that you have to cancel a camping trip. There are always ways to save on cost.

  11. Many of us camped a lot less than we wished, last year. Between the outlandish price of gas and other factors.

    But we found it was actually the shorter weekend trips that, proportionately, were the more expensive. We still managed our one big trip. In 2009 we’ll be making at least two, and upping the number of short trips.

    Don’t forget that a great camping vacation requires planning. It’s one thing to take off spur of the moment for a couple of days, something else to do that for a couple of weeks.

    I’ve written an article about planning the camping trip. You can find it at:

    Brook’s last blog post..Dec 27, Catfishing. Catfish fishing for the Big Fish.

  12. Hi Nancy – looks like you’re off to a great start! We just had someone asking about places to camp and hike on – you might want to stop by there and introduce yourself.

    John – that’s a great idea. I’ve never been a big fan of Shasta Lake, but it was suggested by our Oregon friends.

  13. Hey Roy. My main resolution for camping/hiking this year is to get started earlier in the year. I put my main backpacking/hiking trips off until July and August, and then Siskiyou County in far northern California (where I live) got slammed with wildfires that filled the skies with smoke until October.

    I suggest you replace Shasta Lake with Lake Siskiyou near Mount Shasta. You have the lake for swimming and non-motorized boating, lots of trails, lots of mountain lakes, and of course the big monster mountain to gawk at and climb on.

    John Soares’s last blog post..Guided Snowshoe Walks in Lassen Volcanic National Park

  14. Hi Chris – yes, those Car Top Campers are awesome. Not sure why they haven’t caught on quicker here in the States, but I’m sure they will. I think if you read CampingBlogger, though, you’ll see we’re pretty agnostic when it comes to the mechanics of camping. How you go is not nearly as important as just going!

  15. I started to sell car top campers over the Internet. Amazingly, the car top camper category is not covered by most camping media. Yet these products more compatible with today’s economic reality that any other type of RV.

    A car top camper provides a dedicated bed with a built in mattress like an RV. But it is affordable, easy to use and works with almost any small vehicle. For those that don’t want to mount a tent on the roof of a car, the car top camper can be towed using a trailer from – this is the least expensive towable RV available. So, how about giving this category the break it deserves and cover the car top camper in your blog. Your readers will be appreciative!