As I packed the camper for this weekends camping trip to our favorite state park, I thought about how easy it was and how different it used to be. Over our 28 years of camping, I have learned quite a few lessons on how to easily get the camper ready.
We started camping in tents. Even before the kids were born, I was taking too much stuff. We would take bags and boxes of extra clothes, food, kitchen supplies, towels and more extra clothes only to bring over ½ of it home untouched. That was part of the reason we bought a camper. If I could leave it packed and ready to go, maybe we would go camping more often. It did work, we definitely camp more often now, than we did when camping in the tents.
It took me awhile to really make it easy though. I would make over 20 (really) trips from the camper, after a weekend trip, to unpack all the stuff I had taken. Thankfully, I have learned some tips to make it easier.
- Use a List I love lists. I still do paper and pencil lists, but the husband likes to use his phone. I have lists of chores, weekly routines, summer projects and of course camping lists. My camping lists used to be very long: regular notebook paper on both sides, some with 2-3 columns.
I had 3 master lists- Leave in camper, Take every time from home and Food. As I checked each list, I made smaller lists of needed items, so I didn’t write on the master list. I kept the lists on a clipboard with extra paper (more lists) in the same place in the camper.
I still use lists, especially the food list, but with the help of Hints 2 and 3, the other lists are much smaller and I don’t always check them. I usually look at the Leave in Camper List in the spring, in case stuff has wandered inside over the winter.
This year, I thought I was doing well, not much had moved into the house over the winter, so I just packed food and checked clothes. I was wrong: despite a note- the remotes and coffee filters were left at home. Thankfully, a paper towel can work as a coffee filter in a pinch.
- Have Extras Hand-me-downs, garage sales, auctions and presents are all great ways to get extra items for the camper. Having extras will greatly reduce the amount of things you need to take from the house and will greatly increase the pleasure and ease of packing and unpacking the camper. I used to take 20 trips to pack and unpack the camper. Now, getting ready is so much easier since we have more extras.
Hand-me-downs are great; I’m not talking just clothes. As friends and relatives get new items, they are often happy to pass on or sell older, still usable stuff. Our fire coffee pot and most of our corelle dishes were passed on to us when we bought our 1st camper, since the owners were done camping. The old green coleman campstove was passed from my in-laws. Our memory foam mattress pad was passed from camping friends who got a camper with a bigger bed; the husband’s back really appreciates it.
Garage sales can be a great place to get extras. It is easy to get too much though, so I keep a list of things to buy. I don’t want to end up with an over-abundance of one thing, like 6 twin sheets for 1 twin spot.
Auctions can also be a frugal way to get camper extras. We have a $2 large emergency flashlight and a $2 coffee maker that the husband ‘accidentally’ bid on at an auction. I love it though; I hated dragging the coffee maker from the kitchen.
Presents are another way to get extras. The husband is especially good at this one. I love the salt and pepper shakers, camp flag,campfire popcorn popper, dutch oven…….I have received. He loves Christmas maybe more than I do.
One year, he couldn’t figure out his huge present under the Christmas tree, but he loved the 6 pillows I bought him on sale. I love not moving the pillows from the house and sometimes forgetting them.
- Marking Extras I love having extras in the camper, but sometimes it is hard to keep them in the camper. The coffee pot and toaster usually stay put, but clothes and towels need to go in to get washed. They didn’t always make it back out to the camper, but eventually I found a system that works for me: colored dots. I used to mark the kids clothes with dots to help me remember whose shirts were whose. 1 dot for first born, 2 dots for second born….. After always having to check and restock camper clothes- it hit me: The camper stuff could be different color dots!
It works great!
2 campers in a row and all our vehicles were burgundy at the time, so the camper dots are red/burgundy. It worked so well that now, the washcloths, towels and kitchen towels are all red/burgundy also. I don’t have to think as I’m folding clothes, burgundy towel=camper.
- Simple Food I’m still working on this tip. I love to cook and experiment over the fire, and I know we should be eating healthy, so I would bring waaay too much and waaay too complicated food. Easy grilling or campfire food, sometimes with just a little prep at home works better for us. I’m learning to accept the fact that cold sandwiches are ok, just like one new fire recipe per weekend is ok.
It is hard to remember that for two days of camping, the refrigerator should not be stuffed full, unless it is with milk- we never have enough milk. I try to plan a few fire meals, a few easy meals in case the weather doesn’t cooperate and a few snacks.
I do leave some canned goods and non-perishables in the camper pantry all summer. Pork and beans, marshmallows, breakfast puffs, cocoa mix, cinnamon sugar, peanut butter and unopened crackers all stay in the camper. Since we don’t leave the camper plugged in with the refrigerator on (to save money), I have a shelf in the house refrigerator that always goes to the camper. That way, I don’t forget butter, ketchup, mustard, mayo or bbq sauce.
Over our 28 years of camping, the packing and unpacking has gotten progressively easier. The last suggestion I have is to ask the family for help. Not just tease or joke with them about it, but have them help. At the end of a weekend, I go through the camper in a circle. I start at the door and quickly go through all the cupboards and cubbies- taking out stuff that goes back into the house and then shutting the doors. All the stuff goes into a few laundry baskets: food, refrigerated food, mason jars to be refilled, sandals, medicine, hand sewing, books.
The kids take all the baskets in for me and we are done. No wondering if I left something in the camper, no repeated trips out to find stuff. The kids might make 2 or 3 trips into the house, while the husband unhooks the camper. It is so much easier than 20 trips to unpack the camper. It is also more enjoyable and encourages us to camp more often.
I hope you will be able to use some of these hints-maybe like me, you are a list person or will start combing garage sales and auctions to find extras. I hope you will figure out how to make your extras stay in the camper and figure out some simple camping meals to make your camping trips easier and more frequent.
Happy Camping (and packing the camper)!