Home-sweet-tent: Luxury camping tips

Jul 9, 2008 at 3:00 p.m. ET

For a more relaxing and comfortable camping experience, you need not invest in a costly travel-trailer, pop-up camper or mobile home. A few inexpensive items that are easy to come by can make your tent a more enjoyable home away from home.

Couple Camping

Go beyond the usual cooking and camping fare

Tired of the traditional hotdogs and s'mores over a campfire? With the right tools and food selections, you can cook just about anything your heart desires -- from macaroni and cheese to a great T-bone steak. Just follow this quick, easy and inexpensive checklist:

Plan a luxury camping tripTo expand the types of food you're able to cook, bring along a few extra things:

  • Mini charcoal grill
  • Charcoal
  • Lighter fluid
  • Matches
  • An old pot or pan
  • Aluminum foil

Small charcoal grills can be purchased for as little as $10. (If you're up for spending a bit more, check out Weber's Smokey Joe silver grill, shown below. Its original styling is fun and retro, but it gets the job done as well as any other charcoal BBQ out there.)

With the grate that comes with the grill, make your steak -- or hamburgers, chicken, fish, baked potatoes and much more. In the morning, the same grate will make it easy for you to heat up a muffin or toast a bagel for breakfast.

Plan a luxury camping tripHaving a pot or pan in your inventory allows you to boil water for coffee, tea or hot chocolate, make soup, cook noodles and so forth. Don't used one of your prized pots or one from a set, as the BBQ flames may discolor its original shine and may also leave an ashy residue. Place the pot directly on top of the grill. Be sure to bring a spoon and potholders or an oven mitt to avoid burning yourself.

Though it is great for storing leftovers, aluminum foil can also help you cook smaller items, such as french fries, chicken nuggets or steamed veggies. You can even cover your grill top with it to reduce the amount of mess made when cooking meats and other meals directly on top of the grate.

Remember that all of your cravings can be satisfied with the right cooking tools and equipment. You just have to remember to bring it with you!

What else to pack in your mess kit

  • Skewers (or gather sticks once you reach your campsite)
  • Paper plates
  • Insulated mugs to keep hot drinks warm and cold ones chilled
  • Utensils
  • Grill tools, such as tongs, large fork, metal spatula, etc.
  • Paper towels
  • Trash bags

Maximize your living space

Here are some ways to stay safe and dry on your camping trip.

  • Put a tarp below your tent prior to pitching it to help prevent water on the ground from seeping into your living quarters.

  • Also, try to rig a tarp above your tent by suspending it from the trees with rope so that rainfall is diverted away from your tent. Those inflatable air mats you use for better sleeping will also keep you dry in case of a leak (unless it is right on top of you!).

  • Keep all opened food items sealed inside a cooler and hang your trash bags from a tree branch to avoid messy and/or scary encounters with wildlife.

Plan a luxury camping trip

Maximize sleeping accommodations

Either before you leave home or as soon as you arrive at your destination, purchase an inflatable air mat at the nearest superstore, convenience store or trading post for each person in your group. The 20 to 30 minutes it takes to blow them up (much less if you use a powered pump) will be well-spent as you will gain hours of peaceful sleep without noticing the bumpy roots, pinecones, stones and twigs beneath you.

As a bonus -- and because these air mats double as rafts (their true purpose) -- if some unexpected water seeps into your tent during the night, you remain dry!

Use as many blankets and sleeping bags as you like, and when the vacation is over, you will realize that a couple-dollars' investment was well worth it. Give another camper your mat before returning home, or roll it up and keep it with your camping gear for next time.

Make your tent a home

There's roughing it, and then there's roughing it in style. A few comforts from home can give your campsite a little extra ahhhhh.

Here are a few ideas to get you started: Plan a luxury camping trip

  • Pack a iPod/MP3 player or radio so you can enjoy some music.

  • If there's somewhere you can hang it, a hammock can turn a gap between a couple trees into a perfect cuddle and nap spot. (The added bonus is that up in the air, there are none of the problems associated with being on the ground -- lumps, bugs, etc.)

  • Put up indoor/outdoor lights or lanterns to help you and others quickly identify and locate your tent in the dark. A string of small, fun-shaped lanterns would work well -- especially when they stand out from those anyone else might use.

  • For a good night's sleep, bring one or more pillows from home. (They can also help make your car trip to the campground extra comfortable.)

  • Pack a telescope for star gazing -- or binoculars so you can survey the area around you.

  • A beach umbrella can be handy to have if you're not in a densely-wooded area -- you can stay out of the sun but still enjoy the view.

  • Try to sneak in a romantic culinary treat or two -- like a bottle of champagne, some fine chocolates or a thermos of espresso to share.

Don't forget to think up a few of your own creative additions to completely personalize and make the most of your camping getaway!