Thinking ahead before vacation

There’s an article over at MSNBC about planning your trip to a national or state park – and some of the pitfalls travelers have run into when they didn’t look up the rules:

But Peck, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, had her heart set on poking around the national parks in Arizona and Utah, hiking and camping with Amie, her black lab. “That plan quickly fell apart,” says Peck, who discovered during the first few days of her trip that most every national park in the United States prohibits dogs on back-country trails.

Something simple, easy to find out – yet it wasn’t until she arrived that she ran into the rule.  In a recent post, I talked bringing your mind on vacation, but that can also apply to before you leave.  Having lived in tourist areas, as well as working in various parks at times in my life, I have seen a lot of the problems when people don’t think – or plan – about what they’re going to do.  I was reminded of that fact by a friend who works at one of the local campgrounds.  This past weekend, they had had a couple show up at the gate looking for a camping site.  Not a problem, right?  Except they had no tent.  No sleeping bags.  No camping equipment whatsoever.   They then proceeded to go on a 120 mile round trip to acquire the necessary equipment.  I asked my friend what happened, and they said “well,  they ended up leaving when they couldn’t figure out how to set up their tent.”    Funny?  Well, yes, to us, but not to them.

While I don’t remember anything quite that bad from my own days in the parks, I do remember having my share of people who were woefully unprepared for camping.  People who’d rented RV’s or pop-ups, and had no idea of how to set them up  – but maybe the park ranger knows!  No, I didn’t.   The ones who didn’t think we were serious when we said there were bears around, and then complained about bears getting the food they’d left unattended.  The girls who looked extremely fetching in their shorts and bikini tops, except for the slight problem that it was 40 degrees out, and they hadn’t brought appropriately warm clothing.  The people working the campgrounds today tell me that technology has made people helpless.  They can’t grasp that there’s no cell phone service.  That no, there sometimes is no street address for your GPS, and even if there was, the odds are (from friends who have it) that it might not get you  there.   The idea of using … a map … or looking at the thoughtfully printed directions one the reservation web site doesn’t seem to register with them.

What used to drive me nuts – and from my friends who currently work the parks it still happens – was the people who couldn’t grasp that there were rules, or who managed to ignore what most of us would consider common sense.  One of my big annoyances were the people who would show up with their dogs – and no rabies vaccination tags or certificates.  I don’t know of any parks – although there might be some – that doesn’t require that, if they allow dogs.  I used to compete with my dogs  and did a lot of traveling with them.  I had copies of their vaccination certificates in my glove box for all of them, even the ones who were staying at home.  So it was something I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t just something that you wouldn’t do.   But, apparently, quite a few people don’t seem to grasp that.

Having spent a few paragraphs venting, what should you be doing?   Research.  Find out how to get to your destination.  Print out a map.   Go ahead and read the rules for the park(s) you’re going to stay at, and pay attention to any special requirements.  Find out what you need to bring, and if you don’t know how, learn.  It’s not that hard to set up a tent, but trying to do it in the dark when you’ve never done it before is something you shouldn’t be attempting. The same thing holds true if you’re bringing (or renting) an RV, trailer,  or pop-up camper.   As the sales or rental agent to explain things for you, and read the manual.  Finally, bring money or a good credit card.  There’s nothing worse than being several hundred miles from home and being broke.

Most of the problems people run into when they go on vacation are preventable.  An hour or two of research and planning will save you a lot of trouble, and make your vacation much more enjoyable.  Don’t want to be bothered with that?  That’s OK.  You’ll make a great funny story for us.

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