KOAs are not primitive camping (or ‘camping’ as I was raised with). They are more like RV parks with tenting capabilities. Generally speaking I prefer solitude to amenities, but when traveling on the cheap and with children, these really are great. For $30-$45 a night you have a spot to park your tent and cook your meals and a convenient starting point for enjoying the lovely city of San Diego and surround areas for example. The KOA in Chula Vista has a play ground, a pool, a cafe, quad cycles that you can rent, jumping pillows, a climbing wall, and best of all- trees and grass. The kids thought they were at an amusement park. Showers and restrooms really aren’t awful to have access to either. Also, there are sweet little cabins available if you feel like a little luxury.
We paid extra to have a more out of the way site without any neighbors (it also happened to have electricity and water), but there were various tent camping spots available. Our site has wood chips, the other tent sites have grass.
The next morning we woke up and packed up right away. It took us 15 minutes to get to the San Diego zoo, and we even beat the crowds to a choice parking spot near the entrance.
When you are traveling on the cheap and trying to cover many miles, taking the time to pick out the perfect campground in an unfamiliar wilderness (or city) doesn’t really make sense. Pulling over at the nearest safe spot so you can eat and sleep and the kids can burn off some steam does. I will also add that both of the KOAs we visited on this trip were extremely quiet. It seems that quiet hours are either strictly enforced or respected or both. I am so pleased to have discovered such a convenient and affordable way to have room and board on the road and on the fly.
Does the U.S. love road trips? Yes it does! Our country is large. Our terrain and culture is varied. Our parks are many. We love automobiles. And it is the ultimate in democratic travel. Everyone with a road worthy vehicle can partake. Gas is currently way more affordable than plane tickets for a family of four. And I like to think that some of the mythological American still exists. The rugged individualism, the ‘go west and find prosperity and adventure’ the fierce independence of what we thought we once were. But I digress.
Trailer packed. Roof top tent mounted on trailer. Futon in Subaru. Our two-bedroom-road-trip-camparu was ready. Both kids had runny noses, one had a cough. Just under 1,000 miles of road, most of it the long dry desolate desert of Arizona lay ahead of us. We would be enjoying many climates, from cold mountain air, to desert heat, to sandy beach humidity. And we set off on the adventure.
Things I have learned since leaving three days ago:
1. Yes. It is a long haul with small children.
2. Yes. It is worth it.
3. KOA campsites are your friend. They are everywhere. (Middle of nowhere, middle of city). They are easy to access from the highway. They are cheap. They are quiet. They have bathrooms and playgrounds.
4. Do not try to make good time on such a road trip. Plan for many stops and long stays so the kids enjoy themselves and don’t make you pay from their car seats.
5. Whatever your set up, if you decide the next campground you see is the one you want to sleep at, and your kids are asleep in their car seats- you will want to be able to set up beds quickly. Lightning fast. Our first night, we stopped driving around 9:30. By 9:45, both boys were asleep in their respective beds and J and I were enjoying a beer under the starry desert night of AZ. (This involved futon in the Outback and a roof top tent on a trailer). An airstream would be easier. But we can’t tow one with our 4 cylinder outback and we can’t afford one/ don’t have time to renovate one we can afford.
5. Absolutely indespensable items:
- A good attitude and flexibility.
- Organizational skills. Do not bring anything that you can’t keep organized. Three camp meals a day with two little ones, and getting everyone dressed will make you crazy unless you run a tight ship. (Or it does me).
6. Things I didn’t think I really needed until I used them on this trip:
- An awning. We have th REI Alcove and it is great. Shade is obviously important. The optional side wall gave us privacy in the crowded campground. We backed the car right up to it, shading the car and providing a living room of sorts for the car bed. I stretched the sidewall over our car windows at night for added privacy.
- Our berkey go water filter. We can fill our plastic 3 gallon water can up at any campground faucet and have plenty of clean and safe water to drink. Keeping hydrated is so important, this keeps the cost and waste down of endless plastic water bottles
- The out sunny aluminum folding table. (Pictured above) It is tiny, and it is a tad shaky at times, but we ate every meal there. It’s big enough for my 6’1″ husband and small enough for our one year old. It folds in a flash and is lightweight. We actually never even brought our camp chairs out.
- A fan. Yes we froze in the high desert at night, but once we reached the coast, California was in the middle of a heatwave. A car at night can get stuffy under the best of circumstances. Our little fan powered by an incredible 8 D batteries kept the air moving just enough to make the paltry breeze moving through the two open windows feel good.
All in all the trip has been wonderful. We are already planning another even longer trip next summer. The kids are absolute troopers and watching them experience the ocean for the first time has been amazing. We our leaving our beach campsite and heading to the city next. The world is wide and time is short. I’m so pleased to be able to introduce the joys of travel to these boys and not have to wait until we can afford it.