Camping 101

For the people who have never ever ever never camped!

After having gone backpacking a few times, car camping feels a bit like glamping. This is glamorous camping, because you can bring anything you need for maximum comfort, including whole food (as opposed to dehydrated meals) and luxury items like an air mattress, or pillows! Here are some basic camping tips from around the web.


From Liz Stanley of Say Yes
Skip the campground. Campgrounds feel like cities, only you’re closer together. The only thing between you and a bunch of drunk college kids is a thin sheet of nylon. If you’re scared of bears, campgrounds are the worst place because they know that’s where food is. In Yosemite, we saw a couple a day! You are allowed to camp in any national forest or wilderness area surrounding a national park.

WHY IT’S SO WORTH IT: It’s so nice to wake up in the morning when it’s chilly, and have a long hot breakfast with coffee or hot chocolate… Sitting around the campfire at night — drinking a mug of wine, talking, making s’mores — is amazing. Since it gets dark at 8pm, we’ll often hang out for a while yet still go to bed early, which feels so good, too. My husband and I once took a kayaking trip and ended up on a gorgeous lake under the Grand Tetons. We went skinny dipping at midnight. I loved that combination of paddling and camping. It was magical.

Joanna Goddard at Cup of Jo
Do periods attract bears
Poor Joanna was shamed into sleeping in a cage while camping on a school trip. She reports that periods do not attract bears. Yellowstone reports that polar bears are likely attracted to menstruation, but black bears are definitely impartial. Grizzlies? Unknown…


From Ranger John
Make campsite reservations as soon as you can. Campsite Reservations have become the norm in today’s campgrounds. Packing a car at the last minute on a Friday afternoon and rushing to a park typically leads to disappointment and driving around to multiple campgrounds all with their Campground Full signs posted. You end up camping in your car overnight at the Wal-Mart parking lot or the local motel/hotel with everyone complaining about this being the worst vacation ever.

Pack bacon!  I consider bacon the official torture smell for all Park Rangers. There is nothing like going to work and heading through the campground and smelling bacon cooking everywhere. For some reason, this smell triggers all hunger senses in your brain and you too now want bacon. I will look at my watch and have another 3 1/2 hours to lunch and the sandwich I packed doesn’t smell as good. Of course, I will notice other campers getting up walking to the restroom starring at the campsite next to them cooking bacon, they have this look of wanting to invite themselves over for breakfast too, perhaps the look of plotting how to get the bacon from them devising a scheme used by the famous bear known for stealing picnic baskets. Save yourself this torture and pack your own bacon and be the envy of the campground.

Carry the 10 Essentials! I encourage everyone to carry the 10 essentials with them anytime they head outdoors. It’s the one thing you hope to never need but will also be your best friend if the occasion arises and you do need it. Click here for a list of the 10 essentials you should have with you camping!

From Joanna Hawley of Jojotastic
Use the Airbnb of Camping: 
When it comes to travel, I have two schools of thought: living like a local via Airbnb and dirt-bagging it by camping. I’m a mix of hi/lo, luxe and earthy. Plus, if I’m camping, often that means I’m also climbing… which equals one very happy Joanna. So you can imagine my excitement to recently discover Hipcamp, which is like Airbnb but with campgrounds, ranches, farms, even a vineyard! This is definitely the option for the adventurous of heart.


Nature Week Book Club!

John Muir is wilderness famous. With parks and trails named after him, his legacy is a permanent part of American history. This collection of short stories is the easiest insight in to his writing and philosophy on natural preservation. In his stories, he urges readers to not only take part in a great appreciation for nature, but to actively strive to preserve it.

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My photo from Muir Woods

I started reading Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey while living in the Southwest, and Abbey showed me how to slow down and notice the native animals and native rocks and native people in a thoughtful way. When exploring the west, he showed me how to peel away the unnecessary layers of “protection” and go out into nature with only what I needed, in an effort to know the land a little better. His criticism of the National Park System is paralleled by an acknowledgement of its importance- all spoken from the voice of a Moab Park Ranger/ New Yorker. In fact, the friend that recommended the book to me was at the time a Moab Park Ranger/ New Yorker. It is interesting how nature can pull people away from the glamour and appeal of the big city. I loved Desert Solitaire so much that I am currently reading this Collection of Short Stories by Abbey. When searching for these links, I found these Files on Edward Abbey, published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation! Presumably these investigations regard his dissent for the system and maybe acts of eco-terrorism? That is pure speculation, I suppose I need to read these. Related: Journeys of Simplicity, featuring “Traveling Light with Edward Abbey.”

Life in the Woods by author Henry David Thoreau is an American classic. I am embarrassed to say that I have not read it! Any way of life, city or otherwise, during the age of the industrial revolution seems very back-to-nature in our 21st century eyes. With that perspective, in fact, I would argue that the pioneer lives featured in Little House on the Prairie really harken back to nature. Back to Thoreau, his writings are early sources for the environmentalist movement, and like Edward Abbey after him, he was comfortable criticizing the system in place to utilize and preserve nature.

I have always written off my dad’s love for Foxfire books, in part because I didn’t know what they were about and in part because when you are a kid you think your parents are boring. As an adult, though, I realize that my parents and I share an affinity for good books and information, a mutual appreciation for nature and a desire to acquire new skills devoted to a greater sense of self-sufficiency. NPR has a great article about how Foxfire came to be. On the topic of long-term hiking accounts being turned into movies… A Walk in the Woods will soon be made into a film. This narrative details the trek through the Appalachian trail. I have not yet read this, but my sister has and loves it. This is now her bucket list hike. Of course, you can’t talk about books about the great outdoors without talking about Wild. This book is Cheryl Strayed’s account of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail… solo. If you haven’t read it, you might have seen the movie. I know many avid backpackers are annoyed by this book, because they think it makes light of a serious situation, and because it has inspired many people who are unprepared and inexperienced to try this trail themselves. I certainly wouldn’t admit to this book being my first exposure if I was chatting with other hikers on the PCT given the harsh criticism many have given it. All of that criticism being taken into account, however, this book is a story of nature being used as a metaphor for life, and of championing months of meditation through solo hiking. Since reading this book one year ago, I have now taken 2 backpacking trips, and am making a third this week. The “elite” hikers may criticize this story, but it was the first inspiration for me to take my hikes from day trips to multi-day explorations.

“Named after a bioluminescent fungus that glows in the hills of North Georgia on certain summer nights, Foxfire started in 1966, when an English teacher in Rabun County was having a difficult time engaging his students. Out of ideas, he let the kids design the lesson. They chose to publish a magazine that would document the mountain culture all around them.”

With my growing interest in understanding the struggles of Appalachian people, I am inclined to read the whole series. They also have books specific to the topics of music, folk remedies, and of course, pickling and preserving. You can also visit the Foxfire museum and headquarters! I might have to plan a trip for Dad and I.


Intro to Nature Stories: I was raised to have an appreciation for these types of books. Growing up, I read the survivalist stories Hatchet and Touching Spirit Bear. Before that, I had engulfed Where the Red Fern Grows, where all the action happens outside, and of course Little House on the Prairie. As I said before, any pioneer life feels downright in touch with nature because… well, back then you had to be.


Other book lists: Summer Re-Reads, Dystopian Novels that Warned You this Was Coming, and The Most Relevant Book

Weekend Link Pack!


I am really excited about camping soon, and when it is a short trip, you have the option of cooking over a fire! Love this paella recipe. Not camping? Try it on the grill or in your firepit!

29018cba-939e-4308-a42c-14fee8572a26.jpegJuly 22nd is National Hammock Day! I am loving this limited edition campy print.


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Did you end up getting anything on Amazon Prime Day? We didn’t, but now that we have paid bills and assessed our finances and needs for the summer, we are placing a small order. As an active freelance musician, it is crucial to be able to record and livestream performances. We are going to take the plunge and by the simplest, cheapest Go Pro. We are also solving all of our back problems with a foam roller, and file under weird: we are getting a squatty potty for that “back to nature” experience. Don’t ask. Just watch these ridiculous videos.


pwbJ40RUO179-yMOyt5j_AndriusBurba5.jpgAbsurdly cute photos of cat bellies.


Have you seen the voice of Gollum reading Trump’s Tweets? HILARIOUS!


ac9497672748fd60314b6c63b1ac55b18a9e4c3e.jpegCheck out this incredible Chicago loft!


download (2).jpegNPR draws parallels between our beloved undercover investigators and the reality of today’s FBI investigations.



Don’t follow the norm too closely. Humanity is getting stupider.


I know it’s still a month away, but I am so excited for the next season of Broad City! It feels like the contemporary Seinfeld, and sometimes walking around downtown Chicago in the summer feels like being in my episode of these New York based shows. My dad says it’s because I’m “urban” now. I guess he’s right! I definitely love trading smoothie strategies with my best friend.

19050652_1916497905230123_2233495599372566528_nWhich shade of millennial pink wins your vote?


How sweet is this? Did you cry? Did you call your grandmother and tell her you love her? What a wonderful celebration of life.

Spring Break: Day 2

The Spring Break series has been pre-written and is an anticipation of what I should be doing right now!

Last night we camped in the Kaibab National Forest.

5 a.m.: Hopefully we didn’t stay up too late! We will wake up and heat water for hot granola and coffee. After that we will pack up all of our gear and hike back to our car.

6 a.m.: Drop our things off at our car and head to the information office, which opens at 8. We are waiting for a number for tomorrow’s queue.

9 a.m.: By this time we may have gotten our number for tomorrow. We are free to choose how to spend our day! We may do a day hike, such as part of the rim to rim hike. Or…

12 p.m.: We stick around for lunch, fix our packs up, and leave for an evening/ night hike.

If we do a night hike, these are the views that await us:


Amazing, right???

Maybe we will be insane and hike north during daylight, take a break, and hike south at night. Am I 100% crazy???

Or we will camp at large in the Kaibab National Forest again, after an easy day hike.

Spring Break Planning: The Wild West!

Last year, I lived in the Wild West for a little over 4 months. I was learning and teaching on the Navajo Nation, living in New Mexico near the four corners area. When my roommate and I ended our stay, we had already started our job search in the Midwest, but felt like we had so much more to do and see out West!

Since leaving, I have had vivid dreams of my stay there. Often times my dreams will be technicolor canyon memories, like the photo below.

These dreams are accompanied by the regret I have not seen the Colorado River, despite having visited the Grand Canyon twice, along with several other canyons formed by the river.

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Hiking and exploring is so meditative. I have not really taken a break during my first year as a full time teacher, and certainly haven’t taken any special trips like this one. This spring break, I am determined to see finally see the Colorado River. I am also determined to relax and savor my time outdoors in the sunny canyons.

Below is my itinerary and budget for this trip. I am trying to be very transparent with my anticipated spending, and including prices of gear and food in addition to the expected cost of travel and lodging.

Since I lived out West for four months, I have a lot of places I want to visit again, along with photos from my most memorable experiences. Unfortunately, after spending four months out there and still not crossing everything off my list, I find that in one week I can barely scrape the surface of amazing experiences!

Spring Break Out West

The italicized expenses have already been paid.

The day before we leave:
We have to board our kitten at the nearby kennel! We are still getting settled in Chicago, and really don’t have any close friends that could house him for an entire week. We decided dropping him off the night before our departure would make goodbyes and last minute packing a little easier, since we plan to catch an early flight the next day.
Cost: $12 a day, 10 days

Daily Total: $120
Paid: $0
Left to Pay: $120

Day 1: Fly into ABQ
Today we fly into Albuquerque at 10:25 a.m. and begin our journey out West! We will rent a car at the airport and head on our way. First stop is Canyon de Chelly. We will check into our hotel (Best Western is THE budget hotel when you are out West. Seriously: they are the Best when you are Western), and then do a warm-up hike. Canyon de Chelly is a sacred Navajo site and the only hike available without a hiring a guide is the Whitehouse Trail, which about a 6 hour day hike. Since this is the first day of our trip, I wanted an easy hike in a scenic location.

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A bonus to this stop is the delicious diner attached to the hotel that serves authentic Southwestern and Navajo cuisine. Also attached to the hotel is a small trading post/ gift shop with some local wares from several nearby tribes. Last year I bought some silver and turquoise Zuni earrings there.

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Last year, I had an official meeting with the director and participants of my education program at this restaurant and canyon. We had breakfast and our class discussion together that morning, and continued our meeting on a 6 hour day hike. It was amazing, and is definitely the best way to have a meeting!

My food memories from that visit last year include a breakfast of a massive breakfast burrito loaded with green chile, and a post-hike piece of mutton folded into a piece of dry bread (fry bread cooked dry on the skillet instead of fried) with a whole roasted green chile!

Expenses include:

Flight: $911 for two tickets through Southwest Airlines
Rental Car: $30 a day
Hotel: $117.85 for one night at the Canyon de Chelly Best Western
Navajo Park Fees: the Whitehouse Trail is free!
Food: For at least 2 meals, $50 per person 
Trading Post Allowance: ___

Daily Total: $1,281
Paid: $961
Left to pay: $320

Day 2: Travel to Grand Canyon, attempt to get backpacking permit (oops)

If we get an early start that day, I would like to take a detour to the Hubble Trading Post or the Petrified Forest, two sites I have driven past and not yet visited.

Time is of the essence though, because in January I submitted a permit request for backpacking in the Grand Canyon… when I needed to submit the request in November. My request was denied, I’m kicking myself for the late application because now I need to spend all night at the Grand Canyon Registration office in line for a backpacking permit. I will try for Bright Angel or South Kaibab, but if you have advice as to another trail that can be done in three days and won’t kill us, please share!

If we want to start our hike on Day 4, then we need to be there overnight on Day 2/ Day 3 to apply for these very competitive slots. I made my camping reservations for Day 3 on before I received my permit request rejection. The plan is to park somewhere and just sleep outside of the office or in the back of the car until we can go line up. Or stay awake outside of the office and have a thermos of coffee to share with other hikers? I’ve learned on other last minute attempts to acquire a permit that this line is a good way to make outdoorsy friends.

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Gas: $60
Food: $30 per person
Trading Post allowance: ___
National Park Pass: $80
Cost of permit: $42

Daily Total: $212
Paid: $80
Left to Pay: $132

Day 3: Free Day in the Grand Canyon

After camping outside the registration building all night, we will probably want some downtime, and we will need to get our packs ready for the next day. We could take a helicopter tour or mule train, but that’s not really in our budget or quite our style. I’m thinking we might take a short South Rim hike. Something easy before the grueling journey ahead of us.

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Camping: $18 per day (paid for duration of Grand Canyon visit)
Food: $8 per dinner for 2 people 
Gift Shops: ___

Daily Expenses: $80
Paid: $80
Left to Pay: $0

Day 4: It begins!

At this point everything is paid for. We will have bought our permit and while we already owned most gear, there are a few essentials we purchased before this trip.

My sister and I purchased a cheap water filtration device for our backpack treks we take with our brother, but we decided for as much water as we go through with two or three of us it is time for an upgrade. I am planning to buy this filter to maximize efficiency. I think I am also ready for a dromedary, in addition to a couple of hydration reservoirs that we already own. I am going pace my water intake carefully by moving water from my dromedary to my hydration pack at my rest stops. Otherwise, I will leave myself high and dry for the last three hours and wish I was dead!

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Regarding food, we wish we had the tools to dehydrate our Green Chile Green Chili. Since we are not yet at that level, we are packing a few tried and true meals to have for our hikes and other nights spent camping. This beef stew is definitely our favorite! I also really like the Mountain House breakfast options, although we may take the cheaper route down and just pack baggies of oats with dehydrated milk and dried fruit. My lunch plan is crackers and salami, plus GORP and Clif bars. What is your lunch strategy for backpacking trips like this?

We already own our tent, backpacks, sleeping bags (although I may upgrade before this trip), and stove, but my parents are insistent that we have an emergency power source so that we could maybe communicate if we happen to get cellphone signal from deep inside the canyon. I will probably go big or go home.

Today we will descend all the way into the canyon and camp at the Colorado River. Ahh! I have already experienced the first 1/3 of this hike on two different trails.

The asterisks indicate gear upgrades we may make before the trip.

Food: $4 per meal x 2 people x 3 meals+ astronaut ice cream!
*Water Filter: $112
*Dromedary: $49.95
Fuel: $15.90
Charger: $169.95

Daily Total: $24+ 347.80*
Paid For: $24+ 347.80*
Left to Pay: $0

Day 5: Climbing out part one!

Ahh, wasn’t that first day fun? I mean, I’m sure my quads are killing me my shoulders are burning, it was worth it for the amazing views! Today we are hiking halfway out, and camping at Indian Gardens. There is a day hike there, so we can drop our packs and just take water and snacks if we get there early enough for the day hike. This is all assuming we get the permit for the Bright Angel trail, and not a different trail. Maybe I should order a Grand Canyon Hiking Guide right now? Just in case? I think I will. Yeah, I should.

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Grand Canyon Hiking Guide: $14.63
Food: $4 per meal x 2 people x 3 meals

Daily Total: $38.63
Paid For: $38.63
Left to Pay: $0

Day 6: The Home Stretch!

Today we get OUT of the canyon and I am sure we will be desperate for a shower and a hot hot meal. We may just do the camping version of “Netflix and chill” by heating up another dehydrated meal and passing out in our tent… but if we are out early enough we could have the energy to go buy a hot dinner after we’ve showered.

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Food: $4 per meal x 2 people x 2 meals + HOT MEAL UP TOP 

Daily Total: $66
Paid For: $16
Left to Pay: $20-50 for hot meal

Day 7: Shonto Trading Post, Monument Valley

This should be a lazy hazy drive with plenty of stops along the way. We will drive through the quiet and spacious Southwest, hopefully finding a roadside tamale stand for lunch. Mmm. I LOVE tamales. We will definitely buy some piñons and maybe some jewelry or RUGS at the hidden little trading post in Shonto, a “census-designated place with a population of 568.” I have some friends, and friends of friends, who have taught at this school and fallen in love with this community and lived there for years. It is a life you choose if you are content with a quiet, small town life.

After our visit to Shonto (and maybe the weird Burger King/ Code Talker museum ???) we will head on to Monument Valley. We may visit Page, AZ if we have extra time.

Our end goal, though, is monument valley, where we don’t even have to hike if we hurt too bad, but if we do want to hike it is actually just a walk with wild horses.

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This is the anticipated view from our tent:

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Camping: $20.95
Food: $25 per person
Trading Post Allowance: ___
Gas: $30

Daily Expenses: $75.95
Paid: $20.95
Left to Pay: $55

Day 8: Visit With Friends or Continue On

Today we may visit the town I lived in, and the families we befriended while living there. I want nothing more than to connect with the students, teachers, and members of the community that made sure we had a welcoming experience. However, the school district is closed on the day we have allotted for this! Another example of me not checking all of the details soon enough. If we are not able to plan a visit with anyone, we will move on ahead and spend a day in Albuquerque or Santa Fe. I love Santa Fe.This city is made of adobe clay and piñon smoke.

Gas: $30
Hotel: $80-150
Food: $60 per person

Daily Total: $240
Paid: $0
Left to Pay: $240

Day 9: Homeward Bound

We have an early flight back on Day 9, and we be back in our apartment with our kitten early in the afternoon. We will probably take a nap, order deep dish pizza, and do laundry.

Laundry: $10
Pizza: $25

Daily Total: $35
Paid: $0
Left to Pay: $35

Total Cost of Rest and Relaxation in the Wild Wild West: 

Trip Total: $2,172.58
Paid: $1,220.58 (could add $347.80 in gear)

Left to Pay: $952 + Whatever I am able to save for trading post purchases

Rough Breakdown of Weekly Expenses: 
Food Expenses:
$300, 2 people for 9 days
Lodging: $450.80+ $120 for kitten
Ground Transportation: $270 rental + $120 for gas
Flight: $961

This post really sheds some light on where money really goes when traveling! Because most of this trip is dehydrated meals and campsites I did not expect food and lodging costs to be $300 and 450, respectively. However, about $1,000 per person for a 9 day trip including a flight, rental car, and kitten lodging is not too bad.

Besides, the true cost of being in a warm canyon, thousands of miles from my students? Priceless.

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