We recently came back from our first summer stay at a private campground not connected to an amusement park. In fact, it wasn’t really connected to anything at all.
I’ve lost track of our trips back to the Midwest since moving to the DC area in 2000. It must be close to 100. We’ve driven, flown or some combination of the two. When driving, we’ve typically picked a place somewhere in between here and there to stop for the night. For a family in a small RV, Ohio rest areas and state parks are good. Pennsylvania Wal-Marts are good.
We were headed to the annual family camping trip, home of a washers tournament and an abundance of pasta. We’re always looking for ways to mix it up. So I started the search for overnight RV camping.
The place had to be roughly a third to two thirds of the way from Montgomery County, Maryland to Muskegon, Michigan. Had to be a detour of no more than a few minutes for the rest of the journey the next day. And had to have some level of activity for a kid cooped up behind a seat belt for hours.
Thanks to the friendly folks behind the search engine at the Good Sam Club, I found Green Acres Lake Park Resort in Lake Milton, Ohio. It’s somewhere between Akron and Youngstown. And that’s when I had to do just a little more digging through the website.
A few pictures of multicultural families, check. No overt religious orientation or evangelical terminology, check. (No problem that this is part of the fabric for a lot of private campgrounds, but it’s just not how we roll.) And it looked like a fun place. I called on the next business day and made a reservation with the friendly owner. We prepaid our $40.
Fast forward a few weeks to trip time.
I have somewhat of a minimalist travel fantasy, and I’ve had it for years. Pack as little as possible as quickly as possible. Then simply get in the car and drive. Instead, what tends to happen is this: trip prep falls to the last minute because of school and work. We have a million tote bags crammed onto the floor of whatever vehicle we’re using after struggling to get the door closed. And I’m sitting in the driver’s seat, tapping my fingers on the steering wheel as I wait for the inevitable last bathroom break, missing item or dog arrangement that’s keeping us from the road.
On the day of our departure for Green Acres, the dryer finally stopped spinning an hour and a half after we said we were going to leave. We had to tell the dog sitter not to come yet because we weren’t ready for him. And you’d better believe there were tote bags on the floor of the RV. But I didn’t care.
The three of us had gotten what passes for a decent night’s sleep these days. It was Wednesday, after a pretty hectic Monday and Tuesday of finishing up work and home projects, a pediatric checkup and capping it all off with an amazing U2 concert the night before. We were tired. We wanted to leave a clean house with clean laundry and dishes so nobody would have to worry about those when we came back. And I had picked Green Acres, in part, because it was only 4-½ hours from our house.
So we got in the van around lunchtime and finally headed out. We had good travel weather, made a few obligatory stops for gas and stretching, and hit a total of three stores in Lake Milton before ambling into the campground around 6 p.m. (Pro tip: If you’re ever in need of soymilk in Lake Milton, Sparkle Markets has you covered.)
We found our spot, unshaded but close to the bathroom, pulled in and hooked up. I think it was all of 30 seconds after opening the door that a boy from a neighboring campsite ran up to say hello and hang out. A power cord, a tablecloth and a couple of folding chairs were all we had to set up.
Lindy and I sat down to enjoy some fresh air and a beverage while XY took off on her scooter. Nice thing about staying at a small-ish campground: you can send your 8-year-old to ride around in circles on a scooter without worrying too much about cars or Stranger Danger. She rather quickly fell in with a group of kids of different ages. They all flocked to the inflatable jumping pillow.
It was at least 9 p.m. before the sun started to set, much later than back home. XY was too excited about scooting and running around to think much about dinner or bedtime, and that’s fine for a vacation day. Lindy made up the dinette bed and we settled in around 10. It was a cool enough night to leave the windows open and not use the air conditioning.
We had a good night’s rest, and Lindy’s description of the shower made me decide to wait until we got to Michigan. So we hit the road on the early side after saying goodbye to our neighbors.
You always have the option of staying at a hotel when you’re on the road. We’re about to do just that in a couple weeks when we head back to the Midwest for a race I’m about to run. But Green Acres was a third to a half of the cost of a hotel room, with no need to haul our stuff upstairs and down hallways for a single night’s stay. There’s more of a sense of community too. Since XY is the only kid in our house, it’s nice to know she can find others who want to play when we’re traveling.
We’ve also never stayed in a hotel with an jumping pillow. And I doubt we ever will.
Also published on Medium.