camping tips

Tales from the Trail: What My Camping Mishaps Taught Me

Guest post by Kate Harveston*

Camping is a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of your busy life. I love camping, but it took me a few tries before I really got the hang of it. That’s why I’m here today — to share my camping mishaps so you don’t make the same mistakes that I did.

Lesson 1: Be Aware of Your Surroundings

You’ve found the perfect camping spot — you’re right next to a river for fishing, with plenty of trees for shade and a nice level patch of ground to pitch your tent. Before you start setting up, take some time to scout around. Make sure that there are no hazards like animals, insects or dead trees around.

My brother missed this lesson during one of our family camping trips. Mom and Dad were setting up the campsite and he took off to explore. He hadn’t made it 50 feet before he ran headlong into a nest of bees and came screaming back to camp. He was fine, and we laugh about it now, but at the time a dozen or so bee stings cut our trip short as we headed back to town to the ER.

Know how to tell the difference between bees and yellow jacket wasps too — the latter build their nests in the ground, and if you step into one, they’ll chase you for miles.

Lesson 2: Keep Your Food on Lockdown

A locking cooler is your very best friend when camping, but don’t trust the lock. Don’t leave your cooler in your tent. We made that mistake once, camping in Florida. We didn’t want to leave the cooler in the car because it gets so warm, so we took it out and put it in the tent, zipped it up and assumed that the tent would discourage any would-be food thieves.

Oh, how wrong we were.

The raccoons at our campsite were smart. They unzipped the tent neatly, climbed inside, and had a party on one of our sleeping bags. They tore into the milk, the pancake mix and everything else they could open. They even took the peanut butter outside, turned on the water tap and tried to soak the jar open.

We learned later from one of the rangers the raccoons had gotten so clever that they were known to open doors and climb into RVs in search of food.

We actually got two lessons from this one. First; make sure you keep your food secure. It was important with our raccoons in Florida, but it’s especially important when you get into parts of the country that have larger critters, like bears. Locking coolers, metal food lockers, or just keeping your food in the car are all good ideas.

Second, hanging your food from a tree is a great idea, but be sure that you aren’t just storing it in a bag as raccoons and squirrels can chew right through that.

Lesson 3: Make a Checklist, Then Double-Check It

The most important thing to remember when you’re planning your camping trip is to make sure you pack everything you’ll need. I’m usually pretty good about packing everything that I need for a weekend trip. One of the few times that I’ve headed out solo, I thought I had everything I needed stuffed into my pack, so I drove up to the mountains, parked my car, and hiked for the better part of a day to get to my campsite. It wasn’t until I stopped to answer nature’s call that I realized what I had forgotten — my toilet paper.

To this day, I am grateful none of the leaves I grabbed were poison ivy.

If you’re planning a camping trip, start a checklist of everything that you’re going to need. Customize one if you need to, or just use one of the free printables that are all over the web. Go over it once before you pack, again while you’re packing, and then a third time just to be sure you have everything.

*Kate Harveston is a freelance writer and blogger from Williamsport, PA. Her writing tends to focus on politics and social justice. To follow her writing, you can visit her blog, Only Slightly Biased.

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Nikki is an author and writer specializing in green living ideas and tips, adventure travel, upcycling, and all things eco-friendly. She's traveled the globe, swum with sharks and been bitten by a lion (fact). She lives with her husband and a very bad dog.

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