Living Our Lives: Our Very First Camping Adventure

This is a little departure from all the planning aspects we have been discussing.  As part of our journey to FIRE, we want to share some stories of our adventures and how we are living our lives today and planning for some cool things we want to do when we Retire Early.  This series of articles is not focused on the numbers (which Mr. FoF spends way too much time looking at).  They are the balance to the financial aspects of planning for FIRE.

Let’s Try Camping!

About a month ago Mrs. FoF announced she would like to go camping.  This was a big surprise since Mrs. FoF had previously been pretty vocal in the past against camping – especially camping in a tent as she was interested in trying.  After some back and forth and lots of “are your sure?” type questions, we kicked of some research into our first camping adventure!

I have not been camping since I was in my early twenties and not sure Mrs. FoF has ever been camping (note from Mrs. FoF – I had been camping!  but not since I was a kid), so this was going to be a new experience for us.  We had been discussing plans for retirement, and travel has been high on our list.  Her thinking is that when we retire we want to stretch out our travel budget and spend some time out West.  The idea of camping in some of our National parks has some romantic aspects to it.  Just me and Mrs. FoF in the wilds out West (note from Mrs. FoF – I can’t WAIT to retire with Mr. FoF!).

After several more queries confirming Mrs. FoF was indeed serious, we started planning our camping test.  

Outfitting the Trip

We did not want to make a huge investment in this experiment since I had my doubts there would be a second attempt.  Mrs. FoF is a Master Planner in everything, and our camping trip was no exception.  She researched everything we needed for the camping trip, found a great deal on a nice tent that did not break our budget.  Mrs. FoF also maybe went a little crazy on Amazon for some nice to have items to make the experience nicer like a camp stove table.

To keep the budget inline, we did borrow some items like the camp stove from family members.  Our initial attempt at camping could be classified as “glamping” since for the two of us we had a nice ten-person tent and a double thick queen size air mattress (which we already had from one of our moves).

Extended note from Mrs. FoF.  I really wanted this to be a fair test of whether we would enjoy camping. and didn’t want it to be a negative experience because of some silly minor thing that could have been avoided.  Did we have to take the queen size air mattress?  Not at all – but if my back had hurt on a sleeping pad, I might have blamed that for the reason it wasn’t a good trip, which wouldn’t have been fair.  (Spoiler alert – the queen air mattress still hurt my back).

Solving for the Key Issues

The key issues we wanted to have solutions for was:

1) Facilities (for nature calls in the night):  Mrs. FoF found the Luggable Loo (basically a 5-gallon bucket with a seat) and some sanitary bags to use with it.     At first, I thought she was crazy!   Surprisingly this may have been the best purchase she made since walking around the camp ground at 2am trying to find the public restroom would not have been fun.

2) Cooking Setup:  Mrs. FoF didn’t want to be kneeling on the ground cooking her food.  We needed a travel set for the grilling out, and a mess kit for eating.

3) Sleeping arrangement:  We didn’t have a sleeping bag or camp pillows (in retrospect, spare sheets, a spare comforter, and our regular pillows would have been fine).

4) An Organized Campsite:  (Note from Mrs. FoF – there’s probably medication for my need for being organized).  We bought some nice bins to keep things in order, that could also double up as nightstands and side tables.

Soon the Amazon boxes started arriving… and arriving, and arriving.

What did we Do?
Note: We did return the grill shown since we were able to borrow a camp stove from family

The Camping Destination

About a week after our initial conversation, Mrs. FoF had our “kit” all planned out and started collecting items in storage bins for organization.  We still had no idea where we would go camping.  Since we never really were that interested in this before and have only lived in our current house for a year, so we had no idea where to go.

One option would be to test it out in our backyard, but this felt like cheating.  (Note from Mrs. FoF – our backyard also slopes into a ravine, so there’s also that). Enter Google, and after some quick internet searches we found a ton of state parks and private camp sites within a reasonable drive from the house.  We live in central Ohio, and a nice area nearby is Hocking Hills which looked like it could be a good test area.  Turns out Hocking Hills is very popular and the weekend we wanted was not available at either the state park or the KOA site.

A second nearby option we found was Alum Creek State Park, that had a man-made lake and a nice camp site.  I liked this option for another reason: it was close enough to our house that if Mrs. FoF really hated it we could easily abort!

Are We Really Doing This?

As we approached the week of the camping trip we were excited to test this out.  Mrs. FoF had all our gear packed in plastic bins for easy transport and protection – and as a bonus, it was organized by activity type, for easy access.  We left work early to pack the car, and I was amazed that I was able to fit all this in the Chevy Volt.

For our meal plan we kept things simple and planned to do burgers for dinner and some eggs for breakfast, nothing too fancy for our first time out.

Mr. FoF made a tactical error and let the kitties out for the day before leaving for work.  They are usually waiting at 5:30 pm for their evening snack, but unfortunately Mr. Taz, our tabby, was MIA.   The cats have occasionally spent the night outside, but we do like to have them safe at home when we travel.  By 6:30, there was still no sign of Taz.  After some debate, we decided to leave him some food and head out.

Mr. Taz (aka Tazilla)
Don’t Let the Cute Picture Fool You!

Day 1 – Setting Up Camp and Our First Meal

Being only 30 minutes away, we arrived at the campsite with plenty of time to setup camp.  The tent we purchased was awesome.  Mrs. FoF did a lot of research on this and it was a good tent for the money.  It only took about 10 minutes for us to setup.  I did provide links to some of the items we really liked below.

After an hour or so of setup, we had our camp in pretty good shape.  It was great having AC power (I could even charge my volt!) and water nearby.

Our “Glamping” setup
The Tent is Awesome!  Even Has Built In LED Lights.

Dinner went well, we cooked our “deluxe” burger meal using the camp stove.  After a little time adjusting to the burners, it seemed to have two settings – “scorch” or “is it on?” – we had dinner cooking. 

Note from Mrs. FoF: While we were cooking, I kept smelling a bad smell.  I was really convinced someone had “done their business” too close to the campsite, which was kind of gross. This will be important later.

Our Camp Kitchen Setup – Cooking Dinner

After dinner, we went out to explore a bit and to find some wood for the fire.  This is one thing we did not buy ahead of time.  We found a neat little ice cream shop while we were out, and got to enjoy a little treat (roughing it!).  After striking out at the nearby bait and tackle shop, we hit pay dirt at a little roadside site for the firewood – mission accomplished!

Mr. Taz and the Thunderstorm 

Just when we got back to the campsite, I received a Ring alert that Mr. Taz had finally arrived home.  We started to feel guilty leaving the little guy outside all weekend, so we took the 30 minute ride back home to let him in.

Mr. Taz waiting at the front door.
Thanks to Our Ring Doorbell

On the way home, the sky opened up, and we had some crazy thunderstorms.  In retrospect, we probably should have closed up the tent when we left.  Mrs. FoF was closely monitoring the radar to see if the campsite was going to be hit.  We made it home and of course Mr. Taz was not around.  Mrs. FoF took the opportunity to take a shower (yeah, I know we are cheating) and we waited for Mr. Taz.  Just when we gave up and were about to leave, his highness finally showed up.

We raced back to the campsite, watching the radar the entire time, and pulled in at around 10 pm.  Amazingly, still no rain.  With thunder still around us, we skipped the fire, and instead pulled our chairs into the tent.  The tent had a cool screen room on the one end, so were nicely protected from the bugs.  As we were sitting at our campsite we could see and hear thunder both south and north of us and watched on the radar as the two storms went right by us by less than a mile and merged together on the opposite side of the lake.  We really did luck out.

Radar of the Thunderstorms 

Day 2 – Kayaking

That night we slept reasonably well, though the air mattress is no Tempurpedic.   Saturday morning, after making some coffee on the camp stove, we headed down to the marina for our Kayaking adventure! 

Making the coffee was also when we discovered that the funny smell was not from someone “doing their business” close to the tent, but was instead a propane leak, and one of our two small propane tanks was now empty.  Good reminder to always check your propane connection for leaks, and take an extra tank or two, so you don’t have to make a supply run to Walmart.

We spent a couple of hours on the lake and had a lot of fun kayaking down to the local beach and back to the marina.  By now, we were getting hungry so back to the campsite for some breakfast, Mr. FoF’s favorite meal of the day!

Our Fancy Camp Breakfast

We made a decent breakfast, using the 2-burner camp stove – truly a challenge!  (Note from Mrs. FoF – he’s being really modest – it was a FANTASTIC breakfast!)  Eggs, bacon, hash browns, and baked beans (Mrs. FoF family has roots back to Boston where I guess this is a thing).  It was very satisfying after our Kayak adventure.

Damn It’s Hot

We cleaned up and relaxed at the campsite.  After a couple of hours on the kayaks and a big breakfast, there is only one thing to do: nap!

But by mid-afternoon, as the temperatures climbed to about 90 degrees, we started to get hot and bored. Mrs. FoF came up with the great idea of going to the movies.  I think this is cheating again 😊. (Note from Mrs. FoF – no regrets!)

Mid Afternoon Detour

We closed camp for the day and headed back home to catch a quick shower and head to the movies (Mission Impossible rocked!). Then it was back to the campsite for another dinner of burgers.  Finally we got to have our our camp fire and have s’mores for dessert!  Those were pretty tasty!

Day 3 – Let’s go Home

By the morning of day 3, we were ready to head home.  The air mattress, though not terrible, still did not provide a great night’s sleep plus after Kayaking the day before, we were both a little sore.  (Note from Mrs. FoF – it was terrible).

We made our final meal at the campsite before breaking down and heading home.   I tried cooking over easy eggs instead of scrambled!  After a few days of practice, I nailed the cooking temperatures to cook a decent over easy egg.

Will We Camp Again?

The short answer is yes!  The longer answer is probably not in a tent unless we consider cooler temperatures… and a better bed… and better camp chairs.   We are at an age where we want to have some creature comforts and though we would try camping again, we probably would look at options to rent a camper or RV.  Mrs. FoF has set the minimum standard to include AC if we camp in the summer, some level of bathroom facilities, and a decent bed.  Not unreasonable requests.

Camping out West is one of our goals for our retirement and Mrs. FoF is already looking at camper rental options for planning our next local adventure, so we can get some additional camping experience under our belt.

The Budget: what did our  adventure cost?

Using YNAB, we did capture all the costs around this camp trip.    We spent a total of $922.68 on the trip (not including the movie 😊). 

$105.00 was for the campsite, we rented for 3 full nights, so this could have been reduced to two since we did not stay a third night.

$120.00 was for groceries and last-minute supplies.

$32.00 was for the kayak rental.

$665.00 was for onetime expenses on items we can reuse.  The tent, $180.00, which was a little bit of a splurge for the ten-person size (no way could 10 people have fit in that tent!).  Even if we rent a camper, we would still consider using the tent to provide an additional screen room and relaxation space.  

We splurged on some non-essentials for about $300.00, things like the camp kitchen table was a bit pricey, but worked well.   We will get more use out of this even for backyard BBQ’s.  We could have spent a little less, but part of the fun was setting up our camping kit to make our experience more enjoyable.  We do plan on more camping adventures and most of these supplies we will use again in the future.

This first trip ended up a little more expensive than a weekend in a hotel with dining out, but $665.00 of this expense are items we plan to use in the future.

The End…

So that’s the end of our first camping adventure.  We hope you enjoyed our little story and just a reminder on your FI/RE journey to make sure you take some time to have your own little adventures.

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Recommended Camping Items 

Here are a few items mentioned in the article that we highly recommend after testing out ourselves.  Some of these are affiliate links so we do get some compensation if you decide to purchasing these items through these links.

You Need a Budget YNAB  – This is the budgeting tool we have used for the last four years and it has been instrumental in changing our relationship with spending and making sure all our money has a goal.  We will have some more detailed review of this in a future post.

Ring Door Bell – I really like this doorbell after trying a few different models.  We even have it setup to trigger the porch and foyer lights when someone walks up to the house.  Also works well to alert us when the kitties want to come inside.

The Tent – We loved this tent and it was well made.  It had a several nice features for the price, including LED lighting and plenty of little storage places.

Ozark Trail 14′ x 10′ x 78″ Instant Cabin Tent with Light, Sleeps 10

Camp Kitchen – This was a splurge but help make cooking much more organized.  Mr. FoF also plans to use this for family BBQ’s to help keep the grill organized.

Lanterns– These small battery powered LED lanterns worked great and were a really good price.

BBQ Kit – This little kit worked well for cooking at the camp stove and had a nice carrying case.  Not sure about the rice spoon though.

Mess Kit – At first I thought this was not necessary, but it reduced the amount of garbage we produced and they were super easy to clean.  The food  wiped off these plates with a napkin and cleaned up great with a little soap and water.

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