The vibrating buzz of crickets at dusk in front of a dying campfire. Cooking hotdogs on sticks in the smoky flames. The darkness descending imperceptibly. In the morning, a chorus of bird calls outside our tent. The kids’ sneakers are soaked-through from dew on the grass. They play hide n’ seek behind the broad oaks and elms and climb all over the small playground. We are in the birthplace of Mark Twain: Hannibal, Missourii. The campground is called Mark Twain’s Cave Campground and soon we will do a cave tour, visiting the nearby cave from the famous Tom Sawyer scene.
In Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, we camped in a crowded park on the edge of town, woke to the rumble of a freight train nearby, and went canoeing on a lazy river. We were swarmed by mosquitoes in rural Ontario, and were left scratching mosquito bites for days afterwards. In New Brunswick, we nabbed one of the last campsites in Fundy National Park and walked along a beautiful cold beach, watching mist float across the seawater and obscure the ragged cliffs of tall, thin pines.
To camp or not to camp?
The obvious benefit to camping on an extended trip like ours is financial: it costs as little as $20/night to pitch a tent in a campground. Most campsites have showers, laundry, and free wifi. When we camp, we also tend to cook our own food rather than depending on restaurants or roadside diners. There is also something satisfying about sleeping in a shelter that we carry everywhere we go; it makes me feel truly nomadic, somehow self-sufficient: cocooned in my sleeping bag in the very early morning, listening to rain smatter on the tarp overhead, knowing we are dry and safe in our small shelter.
On the other hand, camping involves a great deal of set-up: pitching the tent, blowing up our air mattresses (which still deflate midway through the night), coaxing a fire from damp firewood. Staying for two or more nights makes this worthwhile, but if we have to take it all down the next morning, it’s a pain. Then there is always the risk of foul weather, freezing nights, or unbearable swarms of insects. Finding a spot in a popular campground or national park is usually difficult unless one plans ahead of time (which we did not). Inevitably, sleeping on the ground (on a half-deflated air mattress) results in sore mornings.
So camping has it’s pros and cons. I would not use a tent as our sole means of accommodation, but it’s wonderful to occasionally crowd around a campfire, roasting marshmallows in the open air after a few nights of stuffy hotel rooms smelling of sanitizers. If I were to offer advice to road-trippers who are tent camping, I would say invest in a good quality air mattress. It makes all the difference, apparently.