The thought of going away has been swimming around in my mind as of late. Since this month has not been inexpensive based on my calculations, my best option (meaning least expensive) is either camping or a day / weekend trip to a nearby city. I’m lucky to live on the coast and in an area that has a temperate climate all year long, so my options are copious. Ideal camping destinations are within an hour or three at the most, and gorgeous day trips involving either travel by train or car are within the same amount of time; from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, or Ojai to the Sequioas, the price for living in Southern California is sometimes negated by the glorious destinations within a 200 mile radius.
I’ve decided to break down my options by type, instead of price. Though the price range is similar, the experiences are not. First let me explore camping, something I love to do. Over the years, my husband and I have acquired enough camping equipment to make camping very comfortable (I also won’t be factoring this into the overall cost since it’s been compounding over the years). We are still “roughing” it in a tent, but our tent is larger (in comparison) than a studio apartment in New York. Below are some camping benefits:
- Beautiful scenery. Again, I’ve got weather on my side and a choice of desert, valley, mountain, or coast locations to choose from. I like to use ReserveAmerica.com to reserve campground spots. They show you an actual map of the campground sites and, if the campground allows, you can select your exact spot. This has come in handy when camping at both unknown areas and familiar ones. For instance, we like to camp at Wheeler Gorge. A creek runs through the entire campground and some sites are closer to the water than others. Their map allows me to reserve my favorite camp site, number 41, exactly where the creek bends. (I realize I just gave away my favorite site!) There is a small fee attached to booking through this site, but it makes up for it in convenience. Most camp sites range between $10 a night to $20 a night.
- Peace and quiet. Most campgrounds have a “lights out” policy and by 10 pm campers are required to whisper, or at least not whoop it up. For the most part, this is enforced. My husband and I have only had two problems (one really wasn’t a problem, just a very loud couple – if you get my drift.) One of the worst problems we ever encountered was a small campground that did not have a ranger on site, too many people in one campsite partying all night is not the ideal camping experience. We now make a point to camp at places that have a site manager or ranger.
- A camp fire. Who doesn’t love campfires? Roasting marshmallows over the fire, sitting so close you have to jump back to make sure an ember doesn’t land on you. Another benefit to booking online is making sure your campsite allows campfires and comes with a fire ring. Living in SoCal has made me very fire conscious, and we have learned the hard way that not all campgrounds allow camp fires. (P.S. The thought of marshmallows is much better than the real thing. After eating one or two, I’m done!)
- Hiking. Many of the campgrounds I stay at are within national parks. Most national parks have ranger stations where you can pick up a map that details the hiking trails. My husband, who is a good sport but not an extreme hiker, likes to choose the easier hikes that are under a 2 hour time span.
Making our camping comfortable has been a learning experience. We’ve now gotten savvy to a camping checklist and make sure we run through it before leaving. Organizing our camping gear in large, clear rubbermaid bins has also helped. Some things we take making camping comfy are a tackle box full of cooking utensils and spices, a blow up air mattress, an air compressor to blow up the bed, two camping stoves, an ice chest, camping dinner ware and cookware that stays in the garage all year long (we wash them before and after our trip), flashlights, lanterns, matches, and a portable heater in case of cooler nights. (And lots of propane!) Total cost of camping, including the cost of the site and groceries is usually around $200 for a three day trip. This price could be reduced based on the type of groceries purchased, but my husband loves grilling up filets while camping.
Our second option is a day trip to a nearby city. We have a couple of choices for traveling to a place such as Santa Barbara, San Diego, or San Luis Obispo. We can either drive, hauling our bikes on our bike rack, or take an Amtrak train. A couple of years ago we opted for the train to Santa Barbara. It was my first experience on a train and I loved it! Not only could we place our bikes in their luggage car, but the seats were really big and comfortable and you could get up and walk around to the diner car. The travel time wasn’t much more than if we had driven. Below I’ve outlined some benefits of a day trip (either by car or by train):
- Explore a quaint ocean city by bike. I’ve mentioned how much I love my bike before, but one thing I’ve noticed about cities such as Santa Barbara and San Diego is how bike-friendly they are. Bike lanes are clearly painted on most of their streets. Biking also lets you see each individual store and restaurant much clearer than driving past them.
- Bar hop. Yes, I know I shouldn’t be biking and drinking. However, I do feel it’s safer than drinking and driving. At least the only person I can injure is myself.
- Check out the residential neighborhoods. Exploring coast line cities is always fun, and checking out their residential architecture is something I like to to, whether on a bicycle or in a car.
There are definite benefits to both driving and taking the train. Train rides are generally a little more expensive. For instance, our trip to Santa Barbara cost us $67 for two people round trip. Driving, we probably would have spent about $30. When I factor in shopping and dining in a nearby city the cost ends up being very close to camping, hovering around $150 – $200.
What trips are you planning this spring or summer? Are you finding ways to save money? Are you staying close to home?