It’s not like we haven’t been camping before. Just a month ago, we spent 5 nights camping – definitely our longest adventure (read about our week without a house here). But this trip was different. Every minute, we were asking ourselves: what will it be like when we’re doing this for a whole month?!
In 8 days, we will leave Tucson to begin our cross-country road trip to explore every National Park and beautiful place we can squeeze in along the way before settling in NYC. We are starting to get very excited! And pretty freaked out, too.
And while it seemed extravagant to go to San Diego just 2 weeks before the big trip, we learned a lot on this trip that will hopefully make our traveling more doable. We all romanticize road trips, but in actuality, they can be incredibly frustrating and fight-inducing, especially when your “flexible itinerary” leaves you not knowing (or agreeing on) what exactly you should be doing or where you should be going, and eventually the hangry sets in and decision making becomes nearly impossible.
With that in mind, as soon as we got back from San Diego, we started seriously planning out our big trip. Some flexibility is always good, but having an itinerary of destinations and adventures planned out with relative timelines is a relationship-saver. Another relationship saver: gin and grapefruit juice! Since we couldn’t go have a cocktail on the beach, we brought our own cocktails to the campsite. 🙂
Another realization on the San Diego trip: the biggest challenge on our trip will definitely be that our dog is accompanying us and obviously cannot go a whole lot of places. On top of that, she is not an off-leash dog (as the stubborn, independent dog that she is, we have little confidence that she wouldn’t just run off… which she has done more than once). So it is always a constant battle to keep the off-leash dogs away from her because of course, the other owners don’t seem the slightest bit concerned or apologetic that their dog is running up to a dog they don’t know anything about. Not that our dog is aggressive – but they don’t know that!
While we didn’t get to do any of the things that we normally do in San Diego – like sun bathing casually on the beach, jumping wave after wave as we go further and further out into the ocean until one takes us under, eating fish tacos at our favorite beach restaurant with open air windows overlooking the ocean, or cuddling up in a nice, comfy hotel bed – we had some great discoveries that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
- Our campsite in the Cleveland National Forest was $14/night (half price if you have a National Parks pass), had its own water spigot (amazing), and was only 1 hour from the beach. Yes, it’s a drive, but we saved hundreds on hotel costs! Even just a campsite in the city is $45+!
- There is an amazing neighborhood park that overlooks Pacific Beach and the city. My pictures do not do this place any kind of justice. It is a busy park, but we easily found our own shaded corner to chill for several hours without too many off-leash dogs wandering over.
- When traveling, always, always, always pack extra food. We really wanted to get a take-out order of a couple of fish tacos from our favorite spot, but discovered the harsh reality that they don’t offer take-out. We were majorly bummed and tried calling a few more places to no avail. Luckily, we had plenty of food in the car to make a pretty decent lunch. We ate: multi-colored carrot sticks (the purple ones have the most nutrients), snow peas, pre-packaged beet salad, and tortilla chips with pre-packaged Kale and quinoa salad as a “dip.” Later in the day, we supplemented with PB&J.
- Campsites where you can forage for firewood are the best!
- We still need to make a list of camp meals to make on the trip. Since we’re car camping, we’ll be able to bring in fresh vegetables and not have to rely solely on dehydrated foods. In San Diego, we made a big pot of (almost) vegetarian chili which was perfect for the cool evenings (see the recipe below).
- The coolest thing – by far – was when we learned that Domino (our English bulldog/American bulldog mix) can swim!! She is 10 years old, and we literally always thought she would be too top heavy to swim. But as we walked into a calm alcove of the ocean with her, she got pretty excited and starting jumping in the water. I think she liked the splash. And then she jumped right into the deep water! My heart jumped and I leaned towards her in case I had to scoop her up and save her, but she immediately started kicking her little, squatty legs – and she swam! Of course she swam right back to shore and ran directly out of the water to shake off. I still don’t know if she was proud as she pranced around on the beach or just terrified that we might make her go back in. We didn’t. It was already perfect. Though I’m pretty sure that we’ll be seeking out more swimming holes on our big trip!
The one thing we DIDN’T learn was what this weird, dark cloud was hanging over the skyline. We kept debating: smoke, smog, or storm?
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Here’s the recipe we used for our vegetarian chili. You could easily make it vegetarian by switching out the beef broth for vegetable broth. Please share links or ideas of your camping meals/recipes in the comments below. We could use some more ideas! 🙂