Who doesn’t love a good adventure? And adventure can mean different things to different people. For some people, a great adventure is getting lost in a world created by an author that paints magical places in your imagination. For others, a great adventure is bungee-ing off a cliff that takes you to a magical place inside yourself. For the two of us, me and my Tall Dark & Handsome, a great adventure is setting out on the road less travelled to see magical places. While camping!
You might be thinking to yourself, “Camping?! No thanks!!”. Trust me … as little as 6 years ago, those were my thoughts exactly. All it takes is one magical experience to change your mind … the right people in the right place, and you may yet be swayed by the magic of the outdoors and the open road.
So here’s my How To guide on trying camping for the first time and why the road to nowhere can be a meaningful journey that can have you living your best life.
Take an Open Mind on the Open Road
If you set out thinking you’re going to hate it, then you will and nothing you experience will change that. So my suggestion is to keep an open mind. Don’t expect magic, necessarily, but be open to the possibility of it at the very least.
I’ll give you an example.
We travelled to the desert in Namibia, to experience Sesriem and the Dead Vlei. It would be our first trip camping in desert conditions (no shade, no grass, sand everywhere, etc.) but we were excited. We had no idea what to expect. When we arrived at Sesriem, after a hectic trip on gravel in a sedan, we were exhausted and it was already 6pm but set up camp, we must. However, the desert was not about to make it easy. An insane wind was blowing in from the dunes. It was hot and relentless. As we tried desperately to set up our (very flimsy) tent, it kept getting stronger until our tent was actually being pushed flat by the wind. We had an old thin tree on our site and we ended up fastening the tent to the tree to keep it standing. But the wind kept going and the cover of our tent flapped mercilessly, creating a cacophony that I thought would drive me crazy.
Tall Dark & Handsome finally said: “Let’s just take off the cover!” which seemed weird to me and something we’d never done but as soon as he did, the noise was gone and we could start to relax. The wind was still going strong but we had finally finished setting up and calm was restored. When we went to sleep that night, the wind had stopped, the night was still and clear, and we found ourselves literally sleeping under the stars. It was incredible! The negatives of having no tree for shade and a wind that forced us to take off the tent cover to remain sane, ended up affording us one of the most amazing sights we had ever experienced. The stars in the desert are next level. It cannot be described. Now, when we camp, we almost always take off the cover just to experience the stars and the cool night air.
Bring Your Best People and Your Best Music
Company makes the journey. Sharing epic travel memories for years to come with your best people will keep joy in your heart much longer than the purchase of a new iPhone or indebting yourself up to your eyeballs to buy a swank new car.
But that all comes after the journey. On the journey itself, especially if it is an Epic Road Trip, you’ll want some great music for the road, and some like-minded people to share the experience. You’ll be amazed at the sing-alongs, the new plans and ideas, the resolutions, and the sharing that happens in the confines of a vehicle when there are hours to kill. You’ll get to know your favourite people in ways you never thought possible.
I’ll personally never forget one drive to Mountain Sanctuary Park and the crazy louder-than-was-entirely-necessary singing along to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Or a long road trip to Grahamstown, which included a breakdown in Cradock and a four-hour wait for the tow truck. It resulted in some serious bonding amongst the three of us that remained behind. Or coming upon an unexpected tar road after a long, arduous day on Namibian gravel and wanting to get out and kiss the tar!
Your first camping road-trip should not be to the furthest reaches at the end of the worst gravel road – where there’s no electricity or water or signal. If you’re new to camping, check out some of the amazing places just a few hours’ drive from home and spend a weekend getting to know this side of travel. Maybe you’ll find that the most you can do is 2 nights. Maybe you’ll start feeling that camping is life and you’ll be back at it again the following weekend. Maybe you’ll start looking at those public holidays and figuring out how far you can go!
When you start small, it’s easy to handle not having all the right stuff with you and figuring out as you go what you’ll need next time. When you go Next Level to a 3-week camping trip into places with no signal, and few shops, and where you see other people on the road only once every four hours, you’re going to want to be prepared. Smaller, starter trips will get you there.
My first amazing camping experience was to Mountain Sanctuary Park in Magalies, and I’ve returned there many times since. It will always have a special place in my heart.
Take It All
People are quick to tell you to pack sensibly and take as little as possible. If you’re in a car (i.e. you’re not flying somewhere with luggage limitations to worry about), and you have the space, take ALL THE THINGS. You’ll soon start realising what you never use, don’t need, or can totally live without. A weekend away with a car full of stuff is no big deal but sitting there wishing you had matches or that you remembered to bring your charger or an umbrella or even a kettle can take away from the joy. But like … leave your TV and that kind of stuff. Remember, you’re there to experience the environment in which you’re making your home for the weekend.
In our case, we pack for a 15 to 19 day journey when it comes to the big trips. We pack everything. Washing powder and buckets, copious amounts of water and games, frozen meat and long-lasting veggies (potatoes, onions), foil and ziplock baggies, canned food (back-up only) and cereal, long-life milk and enough tea & coffee to last, loo rolls and towels, gas cooker and battery packs … you get the idea. When you’re camping in a spot with no electricity, no water, no ablutions and no shops anywhere nearby, you need to be prepped. We’re professionals at the Epic Road Trip now though and know what to leave at home.
I’ve seen people working out how many hours it will take them to travel x amount of kilometres, with reasonable stops and such, and then sticking to that schedule like their life depended on it. Been there. But it’s no fun. You end up badgering yourself for every 20 minutes you lose for an unscheduled loo stop, and you speed past beautiful things without even knowing they’re there. Have someone on the look-out for that “padstal” sign or an epic photo opportunity or just to step out of your car and go “Look at this place! Wow! It’s so different from home.” Check the map and see if there are any interesting things along the way and work that into your planning! Don’t just get the A to B thing going. Opt for the A to Z thing, and check out all the letters in between.
We stop everywhere and for anything that looks remotely interesting. We’ve stopped on a remote gravel road in Namibia, and walked far from the road just to go check out an interesting ravine. Whenever we see interesting rock formations, we stop. Whenever there’s a photo op of something we may never see again, we stop. Padstal? Yes, stop. Wildlife? Definitely stop. Toilet? Absolutely stop.
Feed Yourself Well
Bring lots of snacks. Find some decent stuff at your local grocery to throw in the car, and bottles of water to stay hydrated, and you’re basically golden. And you’ll save by not spending ridiculous amounts of money on snacks at the garage shops. Some great road trip snacks that will keep you going strong and are less likely to leave you slumping on the sugar-binge and then feeling drowsy on the drive are things like fruit, biltong, home-made popcorn, carrots, dates, dried coconut, nuts, peanuts, etc.
The road trip snack is everything. I even bring cheese. But that’s just me. Snacks to last the entire trip is a must! And anything that doesn’t perish easily is ideal. I even take popcorn kernels and a pot and oil on the trip with us, so I can keep replenishing our fresh popcorn snack box.
“But”, you say, “Travel is Expensive”
Yes, it certainly can be. International travel is killer. You pay a tonne of money before you’ve even left the airport (visas, flight tickets, currency, etc.).
You have two options: Work extra gigs and get that side-hustle going strong, cut random extras like fancy coffee drinks, and save for the big European trip in a few years. I have a job AND a side-hustle or two (or three).
Or be a tourist in your own country/region. It sounds cheesy but it can be amazing. When you get a group of friends together, you split the cost of fuel and tolls. When you go camping, you pay R200 to R400 per night for an entire campsite, which can often accommodate up to 6, sometimes even 8, people. Meanwhile, booking a chalet can be R650 per person per night! Do some proper planning and club together for your groceries and drinks, and you’re saving more every time a friend says “I’m coming too”.
Finally, stop thinking or wondering if camping and road tripping is for you, and just go.
You can read more about our food and travel adventures on www.jozifoodwhore.co.za
Also, find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as JoziFoodWhore
And let me know when you go camping. Perhaps I can help with the planning!