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What I did on summer vacation

August 17, 2000

What I did on summer vacation



Ah, budget vacations. August brings on the final furious flurry of summer outings and vacationing. Most of the families I know search for inexpensive ways to give their children lasting memories.

It's been my experience that budget vacations lead to the most interesting stories. All you need is enough gas money to make it to the nearest relative-still-on-speaking-terms' house, McDonald's coupon books and funds set aside for an occasional visit to the nearest outlets.

But this year the Barnharts added a new dimension to budget vacations - a camper. Yeah boy, a real, live, tow-it-behind, pop-it-up camper.

My husband and I are somewhat experienced tent campers. Experienced enough to know our camper had to have air-conditioning in it. Still, the idea of a camper seemed like a fun way to experience the fresh outdoors with some added comfort. It also seemed fiscally prudent, since we can justify the purchase with, you guessed it, a slew of budget vacations.

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In honor of our first budget summer excursion in a camper, I purchased a colorful, glow-in-the-dark muumuu for the morning walk to the bathhouse, two large sections of green plastic grass to simulate the real thing and those tacky tiki lights all camper owners must string throughout the campsite. The lights serve as signals to other campsites that we are "home" and we are "happy."

It took us weeks to prepare for this three-day back-to-nature budget retreat. We had to put sheets on the beds and get the little refrigerator chilled, pack the kids' bikes, flea dip the family dog and bring extra batteries for the tape player so we could listen to the Harry Potter series on tape. We essentially moved the contents of our entire four-bedroom home into something the size of a small bathroom folded in half.

With our folded-up, miniature house on wheels, we set off one Tuesday morning for a three-hour tow to Maryland's Eastern Shore in search of the well-secluded Tuckahoe State Park.

My cousin John is manager of this park and three others on the Shore. This is important because we thought while Tuckahoe State Park would provide us with just the right setting - a scenic park ground with electricity and running water - to pop up our new camper, John's nearby house could be a potential refuge when the entire campsite fell down around us.

As inviting as the park appears in the Maryland State Park brochure, someone forgot to include the part about the flesh-eating, swarming mosquitoes that invade each inhabited campsite between the hours of 7 a.m. and noon. I thought my husband was going to slap himself silly.

There was an upside to this situation for the rest of us. He's tall, so all the bugs attacked him as the highest point in the camp area, thereby saving the rest of us.

After the swarm moved on, we found it only takes a little rain to really dampen a camping vacation. Fortunately, we learned that in the first 10 minutes of a 10-hour rain shower. It began raining in the evening, continuing overnight to the early morning. The rain stopped, just in time for the mosquitoes to return. Hey, any bug ready for a second visit to the big guy hiding over there behind the picnic table?

A quick rethink of our budget vacation plan led us to fold up the pop-up and drive to Rehoboth Beach to find a hotel with an indoor swimming pool that accepts children, but not mosquitoes. Now all we needed to do was find a way to sneak our dog into the "No pets allowed" hotel room without being seen or heard. But, that's a lesson for another time on vacationing on a budget.

I can't wait to see the essays my children write in school on the topic "What did you do during your summer vacation?"




JoEllen Barnhart is assistant to the director for Frostburg State University's Hagerstown Center. She has three sons.

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