In all my camping excursions I have learned a few things about various campsites and just how the booking process works from state or national facilities down to the mom and pop campgrounds. While many have jumped on board the online movement for booking, several in fact still remain on the first come first serve basis.
Now this can lead to a lot of confusion for those looking to secure that perfect campsite for their adventures or family outing so I have found that the following are the best realistic expectations to take into your search for that special home away from home.
- Look online first! When searching do a generalized search for campsites in the area you are looking to stay. This will list most if not all camping areas available, some will have a web presence while others will merely list a phone number.
- Do not exclude campgrounds because of a lack of web presence. You might have found a gem that is less traveled and thus more catering to you as the camper. Instead, give them a call and make sure you ask questions about their facility just like those you are seeing which have a web presence.
- Write down everything and make your own checklist! When making a checklist remember things you are looking for as a camper including hot or cold showers, flushing toilets, fire rings, picnic tables, pad sites for tents or hook ups for tents or rv campers. Also things to consider are tree coverage, access to trails if applicable, frontage to waterways, access to wifi and distance to clubhouse or laundry at some facilities. As you call each facility make sure you check off on each of these items which the facilities meet to find your perfect solution.
- Look at reviews from other campers in regard to the campground using popular ratings sites to get a complete picture of the facilities from those who have visited or stayed. Many times some of your most brutally honest reviews can be found on these sites giving feedback on every aspect from cleanliness to staff engagement.
- Now it is time to book your site because you have decided! Booking online can be subject in some regions to service fees while in others no additional charge is applicable. For those sites which require a service fee for processing, unfortunately there is no way around this short of showing up on the day of arrival and hoping there is a site available. Another options is calling the facility directly to book your campsite. In many instances national sites are a little more efficient online or over the phone than state, but this does depend on the state of course. I have found that through my travels the state of California outsources their booking and in doing so their call centers while very friendly tend to know less about the actual campsites and their locations while in Arkansas booking through an agent or online tends to yield a processing fee. KOA campgrounds typically are very quick and easy to navigate online, no additional fees in booking.
- You have booked your site, now the difficult part is complete. If you have booked with an individual or online you should always ask for a confirmation number or email to present upon check in. Since you funds are taken at the time of the booking this will assure that there is no confusion upon your arrival. Make sure you write down this confirmation number in an easy to access location or have the email in a special place saved for access upon your arrival.
But what happens if you get to your campsite and it isn't what it was said to be?
Unfortunately, this does happen! When I traveled to San Clemente, CA this very thing happened. A third party booking agent had secured my "beachside" camping which come to find out wasn't beachside at all. When I arrived after 8 hours of driving I was expecting to take my shoes off and wander into the waters set up tent and watch a sunset, but instead I was about a mile away from the water and not even a water view was in sight.
To say I was disappointed was an understatement, especially with camping costs in the state. Was the campground nice? Yes, but that was completely beside the point when I was sold a dream and in fact it turned into something else.
In these cases, unfortunately there is little you can do because of the booking agent being the middle man. State facilities in these states do not have a customer service agent you can speak to in person and instead you only have campground attendants and hosts to speak to. You can decline your reservation, however if you dispute you are not likely to get your money back. So what do you do? Make lemonade of lemons in this case and make a mental note next time about this third party so it does not happen again. Require a map produced by the agent on the phone so you can be on the same page and when in doubt don't rush the process, which unfortunately is what we had done on this trip being so excited about sleeping on the beach. They sold us sand in the desert so to speak and until we got there money already taken from the account we didn't even know.
The moral of the story is simple, always look ahead of time, really go through and make a checklist of your wants and then make the best decision based on all the options before you. As tedious as the process can be, this is your adventure and your family outing that you are planning and if you have a specific idea in mind then it is worth it to put in the effort.
I will say in all my travels I have stayed at facilities of all types and not excluded not one as a viable option for that unique piece of happiness I have been seeking. When in need of a little extra I can always turn to the commercial sites for that comfort, a mom and pop stop tends to have a lot more focus on customer service while state and national facilities tend to put you in the heart of the outdoor action you are traveling to see. It really is up to you on what you would like to call home for a few days and how your checklist stacks up in the long run.
Don't be the person in a campground a mile away from the beach just wishing you were on the beach, instead be the one with toes in the sand living up every moment knowing you have found your piece of vacation heaven.