Our Camping Notebook – Keeping Organized from One Trip to the Next

During our tent camping days, when we were young and childless and believed that impulsivity was a kind of virtue (although let’s be honest, I’m an obsessive planner so it was more like I wanted to believe that impulsivity was a virtue), we put very little planning into our camping excursions. We had all of our camping equipment carefully packed away into two large plastic bins and when we decided that we wanted to go camping, we made reservations, hastily scribbled out a shopping list of the food items that we might need, and then prepared for our weekend away from home. The one exception to that planning system was the one week whirlwind trip Jeff and I took out to Yellowstone in our third year of marriage. We had one week to get from northwestern Indiana to Yellowstone National Park and back on a tight budget. But while I carefully planned the food and each stop, we still didn’t keep much of a record of the what and how of our trip. We didn’t need to. All we needed for camping was our car or truck, clothes, non-perishable food in a paper bag, minimal perishable food in our cooler, and we were good to go.

And right now I’m asking myself how I thought that was all too complicated once we had kids.

Once we had kids and we made the transition to our camper, our camping preparation changed. Not only did we have more options in how much we could take with us, but we were no longer restricted to what we could fit in our cooler and whichever vehicle we were taking. The freedom was a double-edge sword. The camper offered us comfort, but with more options available to us it increased the possibility that we would forget something that we had suddenly decided we needed. We no longer had to follow the rules of minimalism with our packing practices.

For the first couple years of camper camping, we frequently found ourselves using part of our “relaxing” weekend away on the road traveling to different stores to get the supplies that we had forgotten that we felt we couldn’t do without. To say that it drove me crazy would be an understatement. I wanted to go camping in order to relax and unplug and here we were going back into the “world” instead of hiking, biking, and playing with our kids.

I finally got better at making lists in the days leading up to a camping trip. Jeff and I would check and recheck the list to make sure that we didn’t forget anything and it did help. However, I could never remember from one trip to the next what we had packed for the previous trip. I also couldn’t remember what we had run out of on the previous trip, even though there was always something that we decided we “needed” before the next trip out.

Last March, as I prepared for our long spring break weekend in Arkansas, I finally decided to start keeping a camping notebook. Years ago we purchased a camping journal, a cute, spiral bound notebook with spaces for writing in all sorts of information about our camping adventures. I had written in it intermittently, but I had not been good about keeping up the record keeping, preferring to blog about our adventures if I was going to do anything. That, however, did not help us plan our future trips.

I started making two separate lists in the first two pages of the notebook. The first list was a shopping list for the items that I knew we needed that we didn’t have. The second list was our packing list for all the items that I knew we needed to take with us. For the last year, the first list has typically been made up of food items and those items that we determined we needed on a previous trip. Everything from the first list goes on the second list but the second list includes everything from food to towels and toiletries (and for our upcoming trip I have to remember the fire starters that I just made).

For longer trips, like our Christmas break trip to Fort Davis and Big Bend National Park, I also plan out our meals to make sure that we have everything that we need and more. While I know there are chances we will have a dinner out or our daily plans might change, when we are out in the “middle of nowhere” with more limited food options (like that particular trip), it is important to make sure that we have a plan. I would rather bring food home than have to search for miles to find a place for lunch or dinner.

Honestly, I wish I had given in to the camping notebook much longer ago. It is so helpful to be able to go back and look at previous trips to see what we brought and decide if we really need that item for the next trip. Knowing what we have brought in the past has helped us remember a lot of items that we might not have remembered otherwise. Starting the notebook earlier would have saved us a lot of headaches, gas, frustrations, and irritability with each other, but experience is the greatest teacher and I’m just going to be happy that I gave in a year ago and started keeping a packing record for each camping excursion.

And now it’s time to start going through the list and seeing what we will need for our next trip. Happy camping, everyone!

A simple composition notebook, but really you could use any notebook as long as the pages don’t fall out between trips