Friday, September 25, 2020

The What, Why, and How of Camping Staycations

You don't want to travel, but you want to get away. You're nervous about getting away, but you want to get out of the house. You're well aware of the risks of getting out, but with social distancing, aren't there some activities that are okay? The term "staycation" has been popping up more frequently now that people are staying closer to home during the pandemic. What is a "staycation," why is the word a current hot topic, and how can we take--these are all questions pertinent to the times.

According to Merriam-Webster, a staycation is "a vacation spent at home or nearby." A blend of the words "stay" and "vacation," the first mention of the word was in 1944, so it is not a recent word made up just for the COVID-19 pandemic. Our M-W dictionary detectives first found mention of the word in a full-page beer ad during World War II, citing the patriotism of victory gardens, gas rationing, and staying-at-home vacations. Staycation, it seems to me, is a very appropriate word for our current times--staying in place and social distancing in order to keep the pandemic from overwhelming our health system. 

Camping staycations don't need to be enjoyed just from home, although many of the first staycations mentioned during the pandemic were backyard and driveway camping experiences. Searching my own blog with the word "backyard," I was reminded that in the last months I've written quite a few articles about backyard and local camping, the most relevant article being "Safe Pandemic Camping? These Folks Discovered Their Backyards and Driveways." Scrolling through the search list, though, I realized that I've been writing about staycations even before becoming acquainted with the term, even before the pandemic. One article was written in early August about my setting up camp in a local county park just four miles from home, "Are We Camping or Picnicking? Who Cares." In that article, I was addressing the need to get away, especially focusing on my wife's dilemma of having an at-home business and really never getting out of the house. Although pandemic related, the article's focus extended beyond the pandemic. With another article, written in January of this year, "Camping Local: Discovering Your Big Backyard," the pandemic wasn't even in the news, but the concept of enjoying the benefits of local camping was still relevant. 

A camping staycation doesn't just mean camping in your backyard, your driveway, or at a local campground. Even full-time campers whose houses are their camping rigs can plan staycations, and many have changed their camping travel plans in order to "hunker down" by staying in one place for longer times while camping, with "Drive Less, Stay Longer" being the motto of the day. The benefits of camping for longer times when we stop extend beyond the patriotic origins of staycations, although helping keep ourselves and others safe is certainly patriotic or socially responsible. Beyond the common sense of the day is also the concept that staying longer at one place provides for a deeper experience of a place--a deeper geographical, historical, and ecological experience of a place. Not only that, staying longer in one place can promote a deeper personal, inner experience that nature can inspire. We can spend less time driving and setting up and breaking down camp; we can spend more time enjoying just being alive and well.

Good old Kampgrounds of America has published an article on their website that offers ten reasons for trying the staycation experience. Although the article isn't a deep dive (and has no reference to the pandemic), it does provide some good ideas to consider about why to camp locally, maybe even at home. 

  • Save money
  • Get a Fresh Perspective on Your Area
  • Truly Unplug
  • Save Time
  • Test Out New Gear
  • Say Goodbye to Packing Stress
  • Improve Your Camping Skills
  • Connect More with Loved Ones
  • Recharge Your Own Battery
  • Spend More Time with Your Furry Friends
"Furry Friends"? Okay, like I said, not the deepest list. However, all these ideas together do provide a thoughtful reminder that road trips aren't the only reason for rolling. Staycations have their place in the scheme of all things camping. Maybe it's time to take advantage of the "no longer than 14 nights" limit on a campground stay. That's right, just max it out! A two-week stay at a campsite means a half-day of set-up, a half-day of break-down, and thirteen days of whatever combination of rest and adventure trips your trigger. 

I'm not just a guy who researches a topic, a guy who engages in the concept with just my imagination, so I recently spent two weeks camping at one campground a little over an hour from home. Buck Creek Campground is an Army Corps of Engineers facility on Rathbun Lake in SE Iowa. Since it was the end of the camping season and because I have my federal Senior camping card, I was able to get the rate of $9 per day, which was great. I drove up for a first come, first served site and found one close to the lake, overlooking morning mists and sunset reflecting off the water.

Was the experience of camping in one place for two weeks "deeper" than camping in, for instance, four locations? My weather experience was four days of straight rain, followed by ten days of great weather. Luckily, I was able to set up camp just prior to the rain hitting, so my set-up and break-down experiences were dry and cool--and those of you that camp know that means wonderful. Because I brought my bicycle, the outer experience of my two-week staycation did involve quite a bit of local exploration--both by myself on my bike and with my wife on the weekends, when we hiked together and took some short driving excursions to other campgrounds on the lake. On the rainy days, I rested more, wrote and read, and enjoyed some cooking time in my Clam shelter. More time was available for both active recreation and also writing. I wrote three articles during my stay (and planned this one).

These articles reflect how I was active and what I was thinking. I didn't write about road conditions, traffic, and my GPS fiascos, all of which I've written about before. "Camp" started feeling more like "home," if you know what I mean. My wife visited on both weekends of my staycation, and truly felt she was taking a break from work. This staycation was fairly local at a little over sixty miles away, but the funny thing is that I could have as easily stayed for two weeks at a local state park that is only seventeen miles from home. Staying in one place, even well-known locales, can yield undiscovered places and moments.

It's fall now, and finding two-week campsites is much easier. In a little over a week, I'm heading out again to Rathbun Lake, this time to a different campground, Honey Creek State Park. My wife has never camped there, but she was excited to discover during our day excursion at the park that there are more bluffs and hidden coves to explore than in the Army Corps sites. I'm looking forward to time alone, I'm looking forward to sharing some camping time with my wife, and I'm looking forward to resting and exploring. I'm happy to know that I can do all this safely camping in my tiny trailer. Even during the time of this pandemic, it's great to know it's possible to keep myself and others safe by setting up my little home away from home for two weeks--on the beach, on the trail, and on the program.

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