Sunday, October 13, 2013

Downsizing

Vacation options for big families on a budget are limited to those with lots of beds in one place--lake cabins,
Lake cabins. Cheaper than the beach :)
campgrounds, and not a lot else. We did both, plus a dude ranch twice and Disney every five years or so, staying in a...cabin or campground, but with a big Mickey imprint. Plus peacocks. Fort
Disney peacock, and her train
Wilderness is the only place I've ever seen a peacock peeking in my cabin door.

When our kids were younger and extremely badly behaved, we went on trips with other foster families who wouldn't be shocked. We met some nice people on these trips, but there was an obsession with trying to get the kids under control that I don't see in families where two parents have their own six or eight (or more) kids. I'm not sure why that is, but it was nerve-wracking to watch, and especially to live around for a week. So we stopped those trips and just went off by ourselves, or with our friends or relations. That worked better, as long as they could tolerate our own...obsession with getting our kids under control.

In the end, what worked best was an RV at a campground resort, with daily activities ranging from kickball
Travel Trailers: they pack a lot of beds
to scavenger hunt to bingo to movies. The camper payment was less per month than one night in a hotel, and a full season of camping every weekend we could get there was less than a week's vacation anywhere else.  Our favorites were Brialee  in Odetah, CT, and Strawberry Park, in Preston. We spent a lot of years in these two spots, cozy in our air-conditioned, heated travel trailer that slept 10 and had 2 televisions with VCR's and cable, a 3-burner stove, a large fridge, a couch, a dining room table, a separate master bedroom, a bunkhouse and a bathroom.

Lake Zoar at Kettletown State Park
The thing about having all those luxuries for less than the price of a new car is: lower-end travel trailers like the ones that sleep 10 (as opposed to higher-end ones marketed to senior retirees) are not that sturdily made. Especially if you take them to Disney every few years, or even to the Cape. All the rattling on the road shakes the brackets loose, and the glue sometimes holding the cabinets together loses its grip. Things were crooked after a few years. We traded one in and got another. That one was worse, after less time. We fought to get it replaced through the lemon law. It apparently doesn't apply. So we lost our enthusiasm for travel trailers around the time our older kids outgrew camping and didn't go to any campground for another few years.

This year we re-discovered camping in a downsized fashion. Tents. State campgrounds with few amenities
Lake Waramaug State Park  in Kent
and typically no activities. They all have seem to have at least one essential missing. At Kettletown, it's firewood. At Hammonasset, it's hand soap and fire rings (though you can rent them for $15/weekend plus $30 deposit). Lake Waramaug had ice, but it was only available for 3 hours a day. More quirky than annoying, it made camping a scavenger hunt. Kids: can you find the recycling bin and the dishwash station? Not at the American Legion State Forest, you can't.

American Legion State Forest
in Barkhamsted
Yet roughing it was better than camping had ever been at commercial campgrounds. The focus was on hiking, and swimming, fishing and boating. If we looked up we saw stars; if we took the fly off the tent we could sleep that way. The kids we brought contented themselves with kindling gathering and digging holes in the ground. Mark got on the trails nearby and the kids begged to go with him (lots of stories there). Our daughter with a bug phobia got over it, fast, and became an expert fire-tender. We walked and talked and shared a lot. We ate good food. We read.

There's a lot of mental adjustments to make when going from an RV to a tent. There's no temperature control on your bedroom, to start. We boiled. We froze. We bought battery fans to cool, and mummy bags to warm. Cooking's also more complicated, including the preservation of food in coolers. It was very overwhelming for me to start, but practice did make it more fun and manageable. I put the camping list I compiled on my website here. Not for this year, since camping's winding down, but for your winter of planning for warm-weather vacations.

Next year I hope to go camping outside of Connecticut, ideally in Acadia National Park in Maine. But I can't put the link in here because the government has shut down and none of the websites are running. Which I still can't believe. Those in National Park Service campgrounds this month had 2 days to leave before most of the rangers were furloughed and the gates locked. Totally absurd when they're such a tiny part of the federal budget (1/15th of 1% ) and the disruptions so major.

But that's the thing about downsized, back-to-basics camping.
It's an unpredictable adventure, the best kind.

Love, Lisa









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