13 Camping Tips from an Imperfect Camper

My perfectly imperfect first camping trip

Traveling across England

I looked out of the train window and saw the gorgeous English countryside whizzing passed me. I could not believe it. I was in England! I had only been there for a few days, and I was already heading North to Cumbria County for a camping trip in the famous Lake District.
It was early in the morning, gray and misty, when we departed from the Accrington train station. During our one-hour layover in the town of Preston, we loaded up on some popular English snacks I had never eaten before: BBQ Beef Hula Hoops and orange Lucozade. Both snacks were a great combination of fantastically delicious and wildly unhealthy. After our layover, we took another train from Preston to a tiny, backpacking town called Ambleside. There we aimlessly wandered around in a fancy grocery store, unable to purchase even one expensive item.

After we finished drooling, we got our heads together. We actually needed to find a campground to camp in. I was quickly sidetracked while searching for the information center. I spotted a group of backpacking hippies, sporting dreadlocks and Bob Marley t-shirts, and carrying hiking packs protected by waterproof covers.Their hiking gear preparedness reminded me of our lack thereof. Traveling in leather jackets and borrowed rain boots (a.k.a. wellies, as the English call them), we were carrying a leather side satchel and a canvas backpack. Each were filled with a pair of one-piece footy pajamas, a bottle of water, and a change of clothes. Also split between our bags was a variety of fruit (soaked, mashed, and inedible by the time we got to it) and a very cheap (perhaps the cheapest) bottle of white rum. If that wasn’t enough, we were lugging around a massive two-person sleeping bag and a borrowed tent worth £20 (which might as well have weighed 20 pounds, it was so heavy).


The unheeded warning, and the damage that ensued

I took is trip in the summer of 2012. I was 24-years-old, six months away from college graduation, and I was in love! My head was high up in the clouds. Our friends and family warned us against camping that weekend, due to severe weather alerts, but we didn’t even hear them. We had just reunited after three months of living with half a country and an ocean between us. In our desperate minds, being together and in danger was better than being safe and apart.
What followed these warnings were dangerous storms, powerful gusts of wind, and some serious flooding. This crazy weather plagued much of England in June of 2012. The clouds dumped a month’s worth of rain on Cumbria County in a 24-hour period, during the weekend we camped. And there we were on foot in the Lake District, with almost nothing waterproof, a cheap and heavy tent, and little to no knowledge of what the heck we were doing.
But we weren’t without ideas. We pitched our cheap tent on a hill, as opposed to the soggy flat land below it. We thought we were so smart! Unfortunately, we hadn’t practiced putting up the tent beforehand, so we spent the next miserable half hour erecting this cheap and ridiculously-designed tent while the wind smacked us with thousands of tiny rain pellets. I felt like we were the targets and the wind was a bb gun with unlimited ammo, and a sick desire to torture us! Despite our difficulties, we got that tent in an upright position, atop that little hill, next to a tree. We climbed in and hung on for dear life. Due to the torrential rain, a powerful river surged through our campsite that first night. A river that wasn’t there before, and wouldn’t likely be there ever again.
Here we are at the end of the weekend at the Great North Swim wearing borrowed sweatshirts, waterlogged wellies,
and clothes that had been soaked and partially dried two or three times over.


That weekend, we were in a campground called Great Langdale. Thick fog covered the Langdale Pike mountain range on our first day there. By day two, the fog had lifted and the mountains were freely exposed to the sun (and my curious eyes). We hiked towards Windermere Lake through the mountains, in our wellies and the only clothing that was dry: our footy pajamas. We were exhausted, and looked ridiculous, but a natural Emerald City of greens surrounded us, and we were inspired to push on!

I still say it was one of the best weekends of my life. We survived on adrenaline and cheap white rum. It was nothing short of an adventure; one I was definitely not prepared for and will never forget.
Since then, I’ve made some MAJOR alterations to my camping techniques. These alterations are the result of research, more experience, and a whole lot of trial and error.

Without further ado, here is my list of 13 Camping tips:

1. Book your campsite way ahead of time.

You might be able to get away with booking a campsite in a private campground, the day before you leave for your trip, but national and state parks are particularly busy, and might require booking up to six months in advance.

There is plenty of information regarding national and state parks online at recreation.gov or over the phone at 1-877-444-6777.

2. Bring extra tent stakes.

You never know when one of them will get bent out of shape when you’re pounding them into the ground.

3. Practice putting up your tent ahead of time.

The quickest and easiest frustration on a camping trip can come when you’re putting up the dang tent. If you don’t know how, it just becomes an extra annoyance when you’ve just gotten to your campsite and you’ve got all your unpacking and setting up to do.
My best advice is to pick a nice day and then spend half an hour getting to know your tent out in your backyard or at your local park.


4. Bring a little lantern.

Having a lantern makes a world of a difference in your campsite. It’s nice to have your campsite lit up while you’re hanging out, or making dinner.

Here is my Ultimate Survival Technologies Brila Mini Lantern:



I bought this lantern at the REI in Fresno, California on my last camping trip, when I decided that it would really improve my camping experience. Luckily, it was around $15, so it didn’t break my wallet.

I like it because it’s small enough to fit in my pack or my pocket, and it has a hook on the top (so I can hang it in my tent, or on a tree branch) and a powerful magnet on the bottom.

The only downfall is that the lantern runs on AA batteries, which means I will need to keep buying them.


5. Bring an extra tarp.

I say extra tarp because you should already have a tarp for underneath your tent, if there is even the slightest chance of rain. I haven’t had any water leakage in my tents when I’ve use a tarp, but I have definitely had water leak into my tent when I didn’t use one. Many times it’s not necessary, but it’s good to be safe.

Camping Fail: It started raining on day two of my camping trip in Sequoia National Park. After hiking all day, we didn’t have an awning or a tarp to hang out under. In sheer desperation, we constructed an overhang for our picnic table out of whatever scraps of plastic we could find, and some rope and duct tape. The plus was that we had an overhang to use, but the minus was that everything underneath was already soaking wet.

How to use the tarp:

  • You can tie your extra tarp to trees, your car, or even a broken tree branch shoved into the ground (as I recently witnessed a neighboring camper do).
  • Stretched out, your tarp can be an overhang for a picnic table or some camping chairs.
The extra tarp is also useful for:
  • sanity, when it’s been raining for 3 days straight, and anyplace is a better hangout than your the tent you’ve been banished to since the start of the rain
  • playing a game of cards in your campsite, during a downpour
  • drying out wood, clothing, blankets, or sleeping bags
  • impressing fellow campers who aren’t as prepared as you are
  • storing extra gear
Active.com has a great article called 15 Ways to Use a Tarp at the Campsite. Check this out for tips and ideas on tarp use while camping.

6. Get organized!


This is a no-brainer. I always make a list before I go on any trip, but especially before I go camping.
The list works for the physical items you’re planning to bring, but also for the things you have to do before you leave like putting gas in your car, asking your neighbors to feed your pets, or asking your work for time off.
Scoutlists is a website filled with all sorts of packing lists broken down by climate, season, and potential activities of your upcoming camping trip.

7. Think ahead about devices and chargers.

Let’s be realistic. Most people bring their devices everywhere they go; even camping!

  • Pack chargers, back up batteries, and extra memory cards.
  • Empty the pictures out of your phone so you have plenty of space for new ones.

With that said, plan to have no signal or anywhere to charge your devices. That way, there’s no shock or disappointment when you realize you’re out in nature where you’ll be left to your own devices.

Major camping fail: On my most recent camping trip, I brought the wrong charger for my digital camera. After the camera was dead, that was it for great quality photos in Yosemite National Park. And I could have avoided the whole mess if I had been more careful while packing.

8. Think about what kind of a camper you are and pack accordingly.

Some people can camp with very little, and some just can’t. That’s okay, but make sure you realize what kind of a camper you are before you’re out there camping with more or less than you are comfortable with.

9. Tell someone where you are going.

If you have an itinerary, print off an extra copy for a family member or a friend. If you don’t have an itinerary, give someone a basic idea of where you’ll be, just in case anything goes wrong.

This tip is especially beneficial for people who plan to hike while camping. Here is an article that includes phone apps designed for safety: 10 Must-Have Smartphone apps for Hikers.

There are also handheld GPS devices available for hiking, and other outdoor activities. Here is an article that compares and reviews several of these devices: The Best Handheld GPS Review.

10. When camping in bear country, hang your food or store it in a bear canister.

These (sometimes even human proof) devices are designed to keep bears out of your food and away from you and your campsite. Anything with a scent is fair game for a bear This includes toiletries like soap and shampoo This stuff isn’t safe in your car either, unless you’re okay with a few broken windows, dents, and bear paws all over your stuff

Bears that eat human food can become aggressive and in some cases required to be put down. Using a bear canister is for the safety of you as well as the bears Click on this link for more information from the National Park Service about bear safety and food storage in human-and-bear-shared nature areas.



Check out my blog post on safe camping in bear country for more info!

11. When camping ANYWHERE, store food carefully.

There are plenty of other animals that would love to eat your tasty human food.

Camping fail: Years ago, while camping, our group left the campsite to visit a neighboring site. We returned to find a family of raccoons tearing the campsite apart, because we had been foolish enough to leave our food unattended.

12. Semi-plan your meals ahead of time.

It’s always annoying when you have too much food and end up going home with an abundance of stale, fire-stinking, dirt-filled food that doesn’t seem nearly as appetizing in the comfort of your own home, where you have an array of fresh (and hopefully clean) foods to choose from.

What’s not only annoying, but potentially dangerous, is going on a camping trip and realizing that you don’t have enough food and that you’re going to have to ration the little food you do have.

Estimate how much food you’ll need per day and work off of that estimate:

  • Scenario 1: Dehydrated meals for EVERY meal!
  • Scenario 2: Oatmeal each morning, snacks during the day, and a big meal cooked over the fire each night
  • Scenario 3: Three big meals, all cooked on the grill
  • Scenario 4: Glamp it up with bacon and eggs or a tasty tofu scramble! With this scenario, you won’t want to forget your sides and condiments like olive oil or butter, ketchup, bread, cheese, milk, etc.
You get the point. Without a tentative plan, you might end up being the little piggy who had none!

13. Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

To other campers, to the wildlife, and to the environment. Simple.

Do you have any helpful camping tips?

Share your ideas in the comment section!

If you need anything, come on by! I’m Two Tents Down!

Email me with questions, comments, or concerns at twotentsdown@yahoo.com.

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10 Terrific Tips for Teaching English Abroad


The opportunities are endless for people who want to live abroad and teach English. There are a number of continents, each with at least a handful of countries that will gladly accept you as an English teacher, if you are only willing to get out there and do it.
Foreigners of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of education are accepted, depending on the requirements within each country, city, and school. There are even opportunities for non-native English speakers, again depending on each school’s requirements.
If you decide to travel to a different country to teach English, there are some things you should do to prepare yourself for this awesome adventure.


1. Get your passport/passport pictures.

This is a top priority! You can’t go anywhere without your passport, and leaving it until the last minute is a dangerous thing to do, when you don’t know exactly how long it will take to get one.

First, you’ll need to fill out the form DS-11 online (make sure you use a .gov website) or in person at your local passport office. Important: Do not sign your [DS-11] form until you are at the passport office, standing in front of the person who is collecting the paperwork from you.

  • Passport pictures: You’ll need at least one. This is no simple task. They must be recent pictures (within 6 months), great quality, and the perfect size. Unless you’re a professional, it’s probably best you leave it to the professionals. Walgreens, Walmart, FedEx, UPS, or the 1-Hour Photo Lab at Costco are all places where you could get your passport photos taken. For more information, read “Where to Get a Passport Photo Taken“.
  • Necessary forms of ID: Proof of citizenship (like a previous U.S. passport or a birth certificate) and proof of identity (like a social security card, military i.d., or a naturalization certificate). Without those, you’ll need two forms of secondary identification, which include things like a credit card or a library card. My advice is to have as many forms of identification as possible, in case one form is denied.
  • The cost to get a passport: The fee is around $130 (not including the price of photos).
  • Time it takes to get to your mailbox: normal processing time is 4-5 weeks (or 2-3 weeks, if you pay for a speedy delivery)
  • How long is it valid?: 10 years

If you’re still confused about how to get your passport, read “U.S. Passport Applications and Renewals”.

2. Pick a country, then pick a city.

This is a big decision. You have to settle on a place you’re willing to live in for 6 months to a year, or more.

Consider these things:

  • The culture: What are you interested in? What are you comfortable with? Make sure to do your research.
  • The proximity to your interests: Do you like to surf? You’ll probably want to live near the ocean. Do you like to rock climb? Then living in the mountains would be helpful.
Beach view in Xiamen, China
  • Technological capabilities: For example, China has internet, but limitations on surfing the web. Read “Top 10 Internet-Censored Countries” for more information. Many of the countries on the list don’t have access to many of the social media sites (or blogging sites) you might consider a high priority to have access to. Countries with slow internet speeds might also be something you want to be aware of.
  • Personal qualifications: Your most important qualification is that you speak English as your first language (though it’s not always a deal-breaker if English is not your first language). Many countries require a college degree, a TEFL or a TESOL certificate, or in some cases even a degree in English or Teaching.
  • Job Opportunities: Some countries have more job opportunities than others. Some pay more, and some pay less. Some countries require you to interview in person (which means you’ll need to already be there before they will hire you). All of these things will be important when you are making your final decision.
JimmyESL has an article called “The Best Places to Teach English Abroad in 2015“, complete with information on current average wages and job availability in 10 different countries.

3. Save your money.

You can make some good money teaching English abroad, but you’ll have to have some money saved up before you leave.
Here are some of the things you’ll need to save money for:
  • Your plane ticket: Flight prices are constantly fluctuating, but you should expect to pay at least $1000, if you’re traveling to Asia from the United States, and about the same to fly to South America or Europe.
  • “Settling in” money: It costs more than you think to move into a new apartment in a whole new place. Consider what you have in your own place back home, then think of what you can do without. Most things you’ll need to buy when you move into your new apartment (Examples: Pots, pans, garbage can, laundry basket, broom, cleaning supplies).
My first apartment in Taiyuan, China
  • “Before the first paycheck” money: Waiting for the first paycheck at any job can be hard, but waiting for your first paycheck from your new job, in a new country, in a new city, in a new apartment, can seem like it’s taking forever. Plan to have money for a month to a month and a half of food and entertainment.
Here is a good breakdown of the start up costs for teaching English abroad.

4. Get your visas.

You do not want to get turned away when you’ve arrived. Having the incorrect visa, or no visa at all will be the easiest way to make that happen.Talk to your future employer about which visas you will need, and which visas they will provide or reimburse you for. Then, do your own research to make sure you have the proper documents that will grant you access to the country you’re headed to.

Here is an article with the visa basics, called “How to Get a Work Visa for Teaching English Abroad“, provided by GoOverseas.

5. Buy a plane ticket.

It may seem like a simple task, but routing your travel can be overwhelming and time consuming. Luckily, it is easy enough to keep track of good deals on airfare, through email notifications from sites like Kayak, Expedia, CheapOair, Priceline, or Orbitz. That way, you don’t have to sit there pouring over flight times and prices. You can just type in your tentative dates and times, sign up for notifications, and wait for the deals to come to you.Mashable has compiled a list of 10 great ticket-buying websites. Each site has a different feature to cater to a veriety of travelers.

Other than signing up for email flight price notifications, Clark Howard has a few simple tips for ticket buyers:

  • Buy your tickets about 8 weeks in advance
  • Fly on a Sunday
  • Use social media sites to find deals

6. Do your research!

Have I mentioned this before? It is so important to know where you are going and what you are getting yourself into. I made the mistake of not doing my research on the city I’d be moving to
and the school I’d be teaching at, before moving to China, based on a friend’s recommendation. There were a lot of things that weren’t as I expected them to be, when I arrived.

Make sure you know about:

  • The city/town you’ll be moving to: Is English spoken commonly, by the local people? What is the environment like? Are there local things you might like to do while you are there?
  • The school where you’ll be teaching English: Is it a reputable school? How do they treat their foreign teachers? It might be worth while to try to contact another foreigner who has worked at the school.


Morale-building field trip for staff at the school I worked for in Taiyuan, China
  • The living conditions in the city: Some cities are very Westernized, and some aren’t. The city I lived in had a lot of squat toilets (including the one in my second apartment) I had to get used to very quickly. I also had to boil my water before drinking it, but I could live with that. Every city or town has different living conditions. It might be something to think about before moving.
  • The cultural differences: There are things you may or may not be comfortable with in other parts of the world. Make sure you can get comfortable with the culture you’ll be immersed in, before making your final decision.

7. Study your contract.

Read your contract inside and out before you sign it, discuss it with your employer to make sure you both understand it, then have the school email you a copy right away. This is the piece of paper that both you and your employer agree to abide by for one whole year.

If you or your employer fail to honor your deal, during this time, you both have negotiating rights, based on the contract. I was able to negotiate a paid vacation (something I have never done before) in China, because my employer broke my contract.


Vacation time in Hong Kong

Contract items you might want to be aware of:

  • Number of work days/hours per week
  • Sick leave
  • Health insurance
  • Local language lesson availability
  • Western holiday recognition
  • End of contract bonus
  • Paid return flight
  • Paid Vacation

8. Consider getting your TEFL or TESOL certification.

The Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate, or a similar certificate, is a must-have for many schools in many different countries. The English school I worked for (in China) did not require me to have a TEFL certificate, but many other foreigners I talked to were required to have their TEFL certificates.

Certifications for teaching English abroad are available both online and onsite. Monkey Abroad has a great article with comparisons for online and onsite classes. Some things to keep in mind are price, flexibility, and satisfaction. For example, online classes are cheaper (from $250 to $500) but there’s no guarantee you’ll get a job through the website. Onsite [4-week] classes are far more expensive (between $1000 and $2000, not including travel and food expenses), but there is usually a guarantee that you will have a job when you complete the class.Finding the best TEFL Certificate provider for you is a lot to think about, but the International TEFL Academy has broken the process down into 5 tips.

9. Sort out your home life.

There are some things you can put on hold, but there are other things you’ll have to deal with before you leave.

Here is a checklist of things I had to take care of before I left to travel:

  • Graduate college
  • Defer student loans
  • Pay outstanding bills
  • Buy out cell phone contract
  • Leave pets in care of family/friend
  • Toss/sell/store belongings
  • Finish/terminate apartment lease
  • Transfer apartment bills to roommate or future tenant
  • Throw fantastic “going away” party

10. Take the risk!!

Dive in, head first! Anything can happen, and many things will happen, but regretting the experience as a whole is so very unlikely.

Before you know it, you’ll be…


seeing things like this,
eating things like this,
and teaching kids like this.

Thank you so much for reading!

Until next time, I’m just Two Tents Down!!

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