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Tips for Camping Safely

Labor day is approaching, and if you're looking for a low-key getaway, a weekend camping trip might just be the ticket you'll want to grab. The one question that seems to keep coming up from my readers, though, is this one: is camping alone safe?

My answer is, of course it's safe to camp alone. It is as safe as you make it.

We often have this perception that doing anything alone leads to disquieting reports that end up on the local news. As disturbing as those reports can be when they do surface, they need to be guideposts and reminders to us intrepid solo travelers that it is possible to be safe, no matter where you are. I'd lay odds that there are more tourists in big cities who get taken advantage of or put in dire straits than solo campers. So if you're curious about how to camp alone, there are links to my two other camping posts - (Why to Go and What to Pack - and also my semi-rant on all the cautionary tales that Eat Pray Love stirred up.

So, solo travelers, here are my tips for camping alone.

1. Go to Recreation.gov and find yourself a nice, reserved spot. This can range from a tent site to a cabin or lookout (non-electric, of course). Many cabins that were formerly used for forestry work are now available to be rented out, and the rates are pretty darn reasonable, starting at $15 a night for some and going up to $40 a night in the ones that I looked at, which is still cheaper than a hotel, and someone knows where you are and when to start looking for you if no one can find you.

2. Pack what you need, not what you want. I say this solely for the fact that, every time I've gone camping, I always run into one Joan Wilder, so named after Kathleen Turner's character in "Romancing the Stone" who lugged her wheeled bag through the mud (right before Jack took out a machete and chopped the heels off her shoes). Use camping as an opportunity to live minimally. Don't think you're going to get up there and eat only the berries you can gather; be prepared, but don't bring the fixins for bruschetta and boeuf bourguignon. Bread, water, lunch meat, granola. You'll be amazed at what your hands can prepare.

3. Be smart. Let the ranger know you're camping solo, but don't broadcast it. Hang a man's jacket over the back of a chair, like you're waiting for a second person to return during the day. Don't walk alone at night. Sleep in your car (or leave) if you don't feel entirely comfortable with where you are. Camp only in cabins that lock. If you're in a campground that has tent and trailer sites, camp near a family or amid a group of people; no one will guess you're not with them.

4. Take common sense safety measures. Buy a small can of pepper spray and keep it with you. If you're tent camping, bring the shovel in the tent with you. Take dogs if you have them (make sure that the campground you reserve allows them). Choose campgrounds that are close to small towns, not ones that are totally isolated and remote. And make sure everyone in your circle of regulars knows where you're going, when you're leaving, and what time you'll be back. Also leave those folks an email that has the license plate of your car and the make and model as well. Itineraries are very important to follow anytime you're traveling solo. That's a rule I don't break.

So go. And safe travels.

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