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Lessons Learned from a First-Time Camper

Over the years, we’ve enjoyed lots of family camping trips in our home state of Florida. When my eldest daughter, Chloe, moved to California after graduating from high school, she invited my sister on a glamping trip to a KOA campground in Monterrey, California for her birthday.

They had a blast. And like most of our family camping trips to KOA, the accommodations made it easy since they stayed in a beautiful Deluxe Cabin at a campground that’s a one-stop shop for all your camping needs.

At 19, Chloe has quickly become quite the world traveler. Unfortunately, like many of us, she had to cancel her scheduled trips abroad this summer. A couple of months ago, she convinced a friend to join her on a 10-day road trip across California, Nevada and Utah. Chloe mapped out the itinerary, and made a list of campgrounds they would stay at, including the Seligman / Route 66 KOA Journey.

She told me she had it all figured out. She reserved her tent site online, packed her gear and enough food. The reality, however, was a little different.

She’d only looked at the daytime temperatures, which were over 100 degrees, and neither her nor her friend considered the weather once the sun set. She was not prepared for the cold nighttime temperatures in the desert and wound up purchasing warm blankets at a not-so-nearby convenience store. Those blankets probably would have cost less had she bought them in advance.

Of course, this wasn’t the only mishap from Chole’s first camping trip. Here’s a list of rookie mistakes others can hopefully avoid.

1. Failing to check the forecast (day AND night!)

No matter where you go, but especially if you´re camping in the desert or at high altitudes, make sure that you’re aware of the forecasted weather conditions day and night and prepare accordingly. A down sleeping bag is a great option as it can accommodate both warmer and cooler temperatures and you can purchase one with different heating levels. It also helps to layer your clothes so that you can adjust with the temperature changes.

2. Packing too much perishable food

If you’re camping in a tent and do not have access to a refrigerator, it’s likely a lot of your food will spoil. Chloe now carries canned food and a portable stove, but also purchases dehydrated food, nuts, and protein bars to enjoy a greater variety. She also uses water purification tablets now to avoid carrying too much water.

3. Not taking season-specific issues into consideration

It’s important to study the area you’re headed to and plan accordingly. When Chloe and her friend arrived at one of the campgrounds, it was so windy they couldn’t pitch their tent. They also couldn’t start a fire to keep warm at night on account of the wind and risk of brush fires in the area. They wound up having to find indoor lodging. Now, she knows a Camping Cabin or Deluxe Cabin would have been the way to go that time of year.

4. Underestimating your camping gear

When it comes to camping in a tent, there’s no such thing as overpacking. It’s better to be overprepared. Invest in hiking poles if you’re doing a lot of walking so that you can carry a solid tent that fits everyone in the group, or ensure everyone has their own individual tent they can carry themselves. A sleeping pad or inflatable mattress is also ideal for a good night’s sleep.
This camping checklist is a helpful guide – especially if it’s your first camping trip!

5. Building an overly ambitious itinerary

On paper, Chloe´s plan of spending each day at a different place sounded great. But she quickly realized that pitching a tent and preparing meals each night after an 8 to 9-hour drive, was draining. In the end, she wound up skipping a couple planned stops to bake in some additional time to rest. It helps to build that down time into your itinerary to account for that rest. Often, spending more time in fewer places allows you to enjoy them that much more.

Chloe most recently hiked the Tahoe Rim Trail and made sure she was well-equipped for any situation! She certainly learned from her experience – and so did I!


Lorraine Ladish is a bilingual author, writer and editor, and founder of Viva Fifty!, a bilingual and multicultural website and community that celebrates adulthood over the age of 50. Lorraine has contributed to dozens of publications, including People en Español, La Palma of The Palm Beach Post, NBC Latino, Babycenter and Redbook, among others, and previously managed VOXXI Mujer, an online news site for English-speaking Hispanics. Lorraine’s also participated as a panelist and keynote speaker at various conferences and gatherings, including the We All Grow Summit, Dime Media Summit, The Niche Parent Conference, BlogHer and Hispanicize. Lorraine lives in Florida with her husband and teen-aged children.