I just returned home from a camping trip in the Florida Keys. We spent 4 nights and 5 days in Bahia Honda State Park on a little slice of heaven known as the Sandspur Beach. We are not seasoned campers yet but have a few trips under our belts at this point. Our first camping trip was to Bahia Honda 4 years ago and we were in tents. It was HOT!!! We decided then we loved camping but would sleep better with a bit of air conditioning.
Hubs set out to find us an affordable pop-up camper and was successful. We are the proud owners of a 15 year old Coleman pop-up camper complete with air conditioning. The only upgrades we have had to make to it were a new set of curtains and new tires. It sleeps 3 comfortably and 4 can be done with a little compromise. We have camped with it all over Florida and have really enjoyed it. It fits in places that a big RV could never go and I can tow it and set it up myself. This has allowed me to do an all girls camping trip in St. Augustine with my step mom and daughter.
We have brought our 5 year old grand son Amari along on most of our camping trips and this one was no exception. He is a great camper and enjoys the outdoors. Camping is not for everyone, our son Sam does not enjoy any kind of roughing it and so we do not bring him. Unhappy campers are like a virus and can really ruin a trip. This brings me to my first tip: Leave non-camping folk at home!
I struggle with over packing.
Any kind of trip that I take I always seem to over pack. I have decided for our next camping trip we will try a more minimalist approach. I watched more than one compact car pull in to a site and take out a tiny little tent, a bag of charcoal and a swimsuit and that was it! Not us. We had 3 bikes, 1 wagon, 1 microwave, 7 fans, a fully applianced camp kitchen, 4 reclining chairs, 2- 10′ x 10′ awnings, 1 kayak with life vests and oars, 3 coolers and a 14 CF fridge! We all have some type of memory foam mattress topper which we just had to have as well. I printed a packing list off the internet to help with kitchen and toiletry items, this was extremely helpful to me and I highly recommend using one of these pre made lists. I was talking to my step mom today and she said while the trip was fresh in my mind I should make a list of the items I did NOT use. The only thing I could come up with was 4 out of the 7 fans.
Then I wished we had an extra bike so we could all ride at the same time but it would not fit on the truck. Tip # 2: Bring only what you know you will use…….or use everything that you bring! I opted for the latter.
Planning meals ahead of time is a huge help and money saver. We had a menu all mapped out for the days we were there and I had all the meat and pre-prepped meals frozen for the long ride in the coolers. We used all our food and ended up eating out the last day. I was not prepared for how much food my grandson could eat. Swimming makes small people starving! Next time I will pack more rations. I am always learning and each trip we take I get a bit better at the meal planning. Camping in the Florida Keys provides some challenges as stores are far and few between. We did make an emergency store run for bacon to keep our grandson happy. He calls himself the baconater. Tip # 3: Pre-plan your menu and pack some spare food!
Bahia Honda State Park is one of our many affordable state run parks here in Florida. This one is quite a gem because it offers a handful of ocean front tent sites. The tent sites are hard to get and you have to work at it spending time on Reserve America’s website. You can book 11 months out and no longer. It is well worth the effort. The park offers lots of fun activities and the best beach in the Keys as far as I am concerned. The Rangers have put together some children’s activities that teach the kids about the shore line and what they may find there. Amari participated in a crafty lesson on sea beans. He learned about keeping our shores clean and created a mobile with trash, treasures and sea beans. Tip # 4: I was totally impressed with the program and would encourage you to see what is available at your local state parks for children.
Camping in a pop up with no shower, kitchen or toilet does have some challenges. Planning for these ahead of time helps. Remember to have any medications packed and handy. I put together a small plastic bathroom caddy that we keep our bathroom essentials in. Having this handy makes shower trips easier. We use the truck’s tailgate as a kitchen counter of sorts and set up a dishpan and rinsing area to do dishes. I do not use any paper products as then we are making constant trips to the trash dumpster and wasting a lot of money. I do the dishes after every meal. Tip # 5: Camping creates a lot of laundry and dirty dishes. Be prepared for this.
Take some time to enjoy the area you are camping in, explore the area and ask the locals about interesting spots or attractions. Spend a bit of time in advance doing some online research and try something new if you have been to the area before. We love the Florida Keys and have found many restaurants, attractions and landmarks that we enjoy. We were able to share some of those with our grandson.
I walked with my daughter Vicky through the shallow Atlantic waters along the coast for over 2 miles. This is our second time doing this and it was so much fun. Because the water in the Keys is so shallow you can be very far off the shoreline and still able to walk. You feel like your in your own private paradise. While I was out walking with her I kept thinking about how lucky we are to be able to do things like this. I spent a few minutes being grateful for my daughter, the ocean, our ability to walk in such a magnificent place and that no sharks came out to visit us.
On our first camping trip to the Florida Keys we found the Turtle Hospital in Key Marathon. This is a real hospital that holds tours to teach awareness and to help fund their non profit mission. We were so impressed the first time we decided to take Amari. Our tour guide was passionate about the turtles and the mission of the hospital and her information and delivery was top notch. She was like an evangelist of sorts and I learned more about the turtles. Amari fell in love with this little green turtle named Taco. Tip # 6: Plan fun activities that focus on the area of the country you are in.
Check and see if your campground allows dogs and consider taking your well behaved dog. Our dog Reebok comes with us when we camp. This saves us money that would have been spent on a dog sitter. Reebok is not a barker and is very friendly making him a good fit for traveling.
There is lots of prep, planning, packing and researching involved in a successful camping trip. Make sure to spend some time relaxing and enjoying your family. Talk over your day in the evening and ask for feedback. Find out what everyone would like to do the following day. Amari is a swimmer, his plans included morning swimming, mid morning swimming, noon swimming, afternoon swimming…. this worked out fine for us and we were happy to enjoy the water with him.
Pennies to Prosperity, Holly