Car Living Pros/Cons & 7 Essentials for Hosting in National Parks
There are lots of perks to being “sans home.” We don’t have to clean the house (unless you count constantly straightening our car). If our tent, car or anything else is dirty, it will just get dirtier tomorrow. We don’t waste time showering. We don’t have to make your bed (although we usually stow and pitch the tent in a new place everyday). If something like wolves howling outside the tent sours our current spot, no worries, we’ll be moving tomorrow. We only have to decide between 6 or so possible articles of clothing to wear. We don’t need to sort through mail everyday (only once for like an hour when we get back to our mailing address Elizabeth’s parent’s house). Dishes never stack up because we don’t have a sink. Am I selling this or what?
Believe it or not there are a few downsides to living out of a car/tent. One that we didn’t quite grasp at the outset of our journey to 59 National Parks in one year was the loss of community. When we lived in Kansas City, we enjoyed plenty of different communities – Elizabeth’s fellow teachers, my work colleagues, our church, the neighborhood we lived in and, of course, our friends. With our current transitory existence and fast-moving schedule, finding communities like these isn’t possible. We love the comments and interactions on our blog and social media from friends family and other #ParkNuts, but nothing can beat good ol’ in-person connections.
When one of my best friends from way back in grade school and his girlfriend asked about road tripping from St. Louis to join us for Memorial Day Weekend at Rocky Mountain we were super excited. Then we wrangled in two other couples from Kansas City and Detroit – including my freshman roommate and friend since kindergarten – and it was a party. It was actually three of the four groomsmen from our wedding (the fourth was tragically out of commission after foot surgery- he’s represented below by the stick).
Throughout the year we have loved staying with relatives and meeting up with college friends who we never get to see and are scattered in every corner of the country. But with most of our friends centered around the National Park desert of the Midwest and most actually work (pssh, lame), we haven’t had many chances to share them with people in real life. In Rocky Mountain National Park we were really excited to welcome people into our “home.” We were excited to play host in the National Park.
Last year we posted about the 7 Essentials for a National Park Family Vacation. This time I’d like to share our essentials for hosting friends in the National Parks.
- Reserve campsites – We’ve learned firsthand how stressful a campsite goose chase can be. When planning for a group an early reservation is essential. Since our visit was over Memorial Day Weekend the few campgrounds within the park open that early were booked solid. So we grabbed two sites at a nice place 5 minutes from the park.
- Do your research – Make sure you know what parts of the park are open, what parking lots fill up, what trails are snow covered, etc. We were super lucky that when we drove Trail Ridge Road was only the second day it was open.
- Prepare a game plan – We tried to come up with a rough itinerary for each day full of crowd-pleasing stuff. Then we’d pitch it to the group and they were basically happy with whatever we came up with. One day we did about 5 miles of trails up to Emerald Lake. The next we drove the length of Trail Ridge Road and hiked to waterfall at the far end of Grand Lake.
- Get an early start – This is especially important when the park is crowded like it was on our weekend. But you don’t want to be the bad guy with the hyperactive alarm clock either. Luckily both days our group was rising and shining and heading to the park by 8-9.
- Don’t over-pack the day – I had to keep reminding myself of this one. Everyone has a different level of optimum activity, just ask Elizabeth who is constantly hoping for some R&R while I run around to every trail I can. But in a big group it’s probably best to plan for the lowest common denominator if you will and others can add on activities for themselves as they like.
- Wind down in the evening – Usually we are out and about in the park until close to sunset, but it was a really nice change of pace to get back to camp in the late afternoon. I think everyone enjoyed the time to relax after a full day, place some games, drink some beers and start up the fire.
- Bring extras to share – As much as you can, bring extra gear. If you’re the host, it’s on you to make sure camp is comfortable for everyone. If you are traveling into the mountains like us, send the forecast ahead of time. Make sure everybody knows just how cold it gets overnight and how the weather is very unpredictable. Fortunately, when you live out of your car you have a lot of stuff to share – 3 sleeping bags, an air mattress, a tent, a few chairs, an awning, a rain jacket and some layers. Even with all that, it was crazy windy our first night and our friend’s tent pole snapped and they slept in the van the next two nights. So hope for the best and prepare for the worst!
With our friends traveling many hours and taking off days to join us, there was a lot more at stake than just our own Rocky Mountain Experience. And I think everyone had an awesome weekend. The National Parks and Great Outdoors can be an imposing place for anyone. We just tried to make everyone as comfortable as possible. We wanted to share with our friends why we were crazy enough to spend a year living in parks like Rocky Mountain. It’s always a blast to share something you love with others. Also, I don’t think any home we ever have will be able to match the hosting venue of a National Park.