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How to Go Camping (A Novice Guide!)

Jul 28, 2020

How to Go Camping

I don’t think I’ve ever received as many questions about a vacation as I did about our camping/glamping trip a couple weeks back! Back in the spring, we realized vacations were going to look a lot different this summer, and we decided on a whim to rent a sprinter van and plan a camping trip! Today I’m recapping the first leg of our trip–the two days spent camping in the van in Michigan! Let’s jump in! 

How to Go Camping (A Novice Guide!)

Step #1: Figure out what you want to camp in! 

Truth be told, camping has NEVER been at the top of my list when I think about various ways to have a good time. I can’t sleep if I’m hot, I need a comfortable mattress, I am a mosquito magnet, and I really hate the feeling of my feet and hands being dirty. ???? (I’m really not a high maintenance person otherwise, these are just MOST of my non-negotiables.) 

However, given the current times, we didn’t really have much of a choice, so I started to research RV and van rentals. I felt something that at least had a kitchen and access to running water would make things easier, and also, full disclosure–the allure of “camping” in a cute trendy van made the whole concept MUCH more fun and adventurous. ????

A little google search led me to a website called Outdoorsy, which is basically like Air BnB for RV’s! People list their RV’s for rent and Outdoorsy facilitates, which means you’re also covered with insurance, etc through Outdoorsy. I saw “The Vine Van” and immediately booked it! 

I think it’s safe to say the van was my favorite part of the trip.

It was SO much fun and turned me into a camping convert. Sydney and Maxx, the van’s owners, built it with Sydney’s dad, who is a carpenter, and they lived in it for months while traveling cross-country and working at different wineries. (How cool is that?)

They thought through every detail so it really does feel like the homiest space that has all the amenities you need! They make sure to do a full de-briefing with you so you know how everything works and also make sure you’re comfortable driving it. (It helped that Neal worked construction jobs in college and used to drive giant trucks that are much bigger than a sprinter van, haha!) However, I also gave it a spin and felt comfortable driving it. 

The one drawback is that it doesn’t have a bathroom, which I was VERY nervous about, however, we just made sure to find somewhere to camp with access to bathrooms and showers, which I was totally fine with. (Caveat: I spent my childhood in rural Oregon, so peeing in the woods is not foreign to me. ????) 

The biggest win for the van I think was the kitchen with a fridge/small freezer space/sink/running water. It made things much more doable and easy in terms of food preparation, clean-up, etc. 

If you don’t want to rent a van/camper, obviously you can just bring your own tent and supplies! I can’t really comment on that as I haven’t done that yet, but luckily there many helpful websites you can find that will lead you to the right place with a simple google search! 

OR, you can rent an existing tent/tiny house, etc, which you can easily find on HipCamp!

Which leads me to my next point…

How to Go Camping

Above: There is a slide-out table underneath the bed that is perfect for two! We stopped for lunch and picked up burgers at Redamak’s in New Buffalo (which I highly recommend–the cheeseburgers and cheese fries are a must!) and ate them at the table! It slides back in when not in use! 

How to Go Camping

Above: Our campsite! 

How to Go Camping

How to Go Camping

See everything I packed for my camping trip (including what I’m wearing here) in this post! 

Step #2: Find a campsite 

Use HipCamp to find awesome places to camp! 

Much like Outdoorsy is for RVs, HipCamp is like AirBnB but for campsites! We knew we did not want to camp in a large RV park with a bunch of people, and we wanted to be secluded in the woods/get out in nature. HipCamp lets you rent out camping spots from private owners who have lots of property. Many people have started making businesses out of this, so they have great amenities! No matter what you’re looking for, you can filter based on your criteria. 

Another thing I love about HipCamp is that it also shows you nearby public/state park camping sites and there are also many reviews on these as well. Definitely read the reviews as they have good insights and tips! 

More on where we camped below! 

How to Go Camping

Hanging out at our campsite 

How to Go Camping

The perfect hammock for lounging among the trees! 

How to Go Camping

Where we stayed in Michigan: 

Lynx Run Wilderness Retreat

I am SO happy that HipCamp lead us to Rob’s property, called Lynx Run! He’s an artist with an expansive beautiful property outside of Big Rapids, Michigan. The campsite we had (campsite #3) was very secluded but we were close enough to use the bathrooms/showers. He also has rooms available to rent (Air BnB style) and a total of three campsites, and a really cool converted barn that sleeps more people for rent (ideal for a family that didn’t want to camp but wanted to get off the grid!)

There is also a path around the property you can hike through the woods (it’ll take about an hour) and a creek on the property which was perfect to jump in and cool off! 

There are two onesie bathrooms for his camping guests to use–each has a toilet, sink, and a shower. They’re located up at the house but aren’t part of the house–so they’re accessible from outside, and about a 5 min walk from the campsite. 

I had also seen some cool pictures of the interior of Rob’s house on HipCamp–I was curious to see what it looked like and he was happy to give us a tour! He designed and built it himself and it is one of the coolest most interesting homes I’ve ever been in! (Photos below!) He has so much knowledge and history of the area, we loved getting to chat with him! He is SO nice and really went out of his way to make sure everyone had a great time! Definitely make sure you talk to him to get some great recommendations on what to do during your say! 

What our campsite included:

A picnic table, area to build a campfire, and a hammock. The bathrooms/showers are a short walk through a wooded path. It was very wooded and secluded but still close to the house/bathrooms! I was also worried about how buggy it would be, but with three bug torches and good bug spray (I rave all about it here!), we didn’t have any problems with bugs! 

Heads up: The driveway is VERY VERY LONG and bumpy and windy and unpaved. I don’t know if I’d recommend it if you have a big RV–it was really tight with the van! Also, Google Maps will take you to the wrong place, so make sure to follow the directions that he provides you, not Google’s! 

Best part of all:

There is VERY limited cell service, so you TRULY are forced to disconnect. I can’t tell you how magical this is. (However, if you do say, need to check your email once per day, you can use Rob’s wifi up at the house. Although I strongly encourage you not to do so. ????)

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How to Go Camping


Above: Campsite #3 at Lynx Run. (Bug torches came in handy!) 

How to Go Camping How to Go Camping How to Go Camping

The walk from our campsite to Rob’s house/bathrooms. The converted barn/cottage is pictured here, which is also available to rent via HipCamp!

How to Go Camping

The chicken coop 


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Above: Rob’s chickens 

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The creek that runs through the property (there’s a portion further back that is larger/wider and perfect for swimming!) 

summer camp tips

Above: Rob’s library–which I snapped about 800 photos of because it was so cool! 

antiques antiques

Rob’s whole house is filled with antiques–many sourced from his travels all over the world! 


Step #3: Camping Food Prep 

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I love cooking so CAMPING COOKING was definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip. I recommend doing a lot of food prep to make things easy once you’re camping.

While the van has a stove, we didn’t really use it much (although we did use it once to make rice to go along with the taco we made for dinner one night!) Most of the cooking we did directly on the campfire–it was really fun and yielded some VERY delicious meals! The campfire gives your food an amazing smokiness you can’t really achieve at home! 

A side note on campfire grates: I know we have a little camp grill pictured but we actually ended up ditching it and just throwing the food wrapped in foil directly in the fire and that worked a lot better–sooo that’s one less thing for you to buy? ????

Here are the meals I made and how I prepped them: 

Chicken + veggies in tin foil packets: 

Season/marinate chicken to your liking and wrap in tin foil when ready to cook. We used our favorite Chipotle marinade from Local Foods (it’s my favorite local grocer that delivers! You can get 15% off your first order through the rest of this month with code JESSKEYS15). My other favorite spices though are Spice House and Penzey’s spices! 

I recommend getting your chicken in the marinade and/or rub the day prior. Also, I pre-chopped the veggies at home so it made them easier to transport. (I used bell pepper, summer squash, and red onion) and season to your liking there as well.

When ready to cook, wrap chicken and veggies in separate tin foil pouches. (I recommend double wrapping to prevent any ashes, dirt, etc from the fire from getting in food!)

You can totally wrap the chicken and veggies together, but I like the ability to be able to remove the veggies before the chicken, since they don’t have the same cooking times.

Wait until your campfire burns down just to hot coals, and pop your packets right in the fire!

Tip: I recommend bringing a meat thermometer with you, removing and checking the temp until chicken is done and/or veggies are cooked through. Chicken should take about 30 mins to cook through but it will vary based on how hot your fire is. 

Chicken Tacos: 

I prepared some shredded chicken mixed with fajita veggies before we left and brought it in a glass container. (I use Frontera’s skillet sauces and they are SO GOOD. Highly recommend! I like to add a little brown sugar and more hot sauce for a hint of sweetness and a spicy kick.) Reheat chicken and veggie mixture over the fire in a foil packet. Also wrap tortillas of your choice in foil to warm and crisp over the fire. Serve with toppings of your choosing! 

Campfire corn on the cob with cajun butter: 

Remove corn from husks and wrap in tin foil with a couple pats of butter and a sprinkle of your favorite cajun seasoning (we love this one!). Throw in the campfire and cook until done. SO good and so easy! 

Breakfast tacos: 

These actually started out as breakfast burritos that I prepped ahead of time, but the tortillas got soggy, so I ended up heating up the burritos over the fire in tin-foil and then taking the filling out and putting it in new tortillas. ???? BUT, now I know how to make them going forward!

Here’s what you do: At home, pre-cook a couple batches of scrambled eggs with breakfast sausage, onion, and pepper. (I know the concept of reheated eggs sounds weird, but trust me. You won’t notice!) I made enough for breakfast for two days. 

When ready to cook, heat eggs in a foil packet over the fire (spray it with a little cooking spray to keep from sticking.) Top it with shredded cheese before sealing it up. Separately, wrap tortillas of your choice in a foil packet and also place over the fire. Cook until warmed through. Spoon the cheesy eggs in hot tortillas and serve immediately with your favorite hot sauce. 

Pasta salad: 

Pasta salad is a great make-ahead item that keeps really well in the fridge for days. For an easy pasta salad, steam veggies of your choice, and toss with cooked pasta, shredded parmesan, and your favorite Italian dressing! 

Add to your Michigan camping Itinerary: Meinart Park Beach 

Meinart Park Beach Meinart Park Beach

We didn’t really leave the property once we arrived, but when we left, we did drive about an hour to Meinart Park, at Rob’s recommendation! It’s a little beach outside of Muskegon, so we drove there to spend a couple of hours before making our way to South Haven to stay at The Fields for the second part of our trip. (That review is coming next, stay tuned!) It was one of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever seen and there were so many windsurfers, which was really cool to watch! If you’re near the area, it’s definitely worth a stop! Pack a picnic and plan to get there in time for lunch! 

All in all, I cannot recommend camping enough. It was SO much fun, even for this skeptic. It’s not the European adventure we expected to have this year, but it was equally as fun and special in a totally different way. Stay tuned for part two of our trip–a recap of our stay at The Fields–coming soon! 

Next up: Read my camping trip packing list! 

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