I have traveled both with plans and without. As a campground host I am tempted to lose patience with the people who knock on my camper door in the middle of the night to tell me, “It looks like you’re full.”

Midday Matinee is our people watching, people doing and people being feature. Join the Woodland Creatures for an afternoon break.

The next comment from the late night visitors is usually, “What should I do?” Here is my answer. Useful information to file away if you are a camper without reservations. The National Forests are public lands. You can camp anywhere as long as you are off the road. You can have a fire providing no burning bans are in effect. It is free and legal. Lots of people camp not in campgrounds. There is some comfort in having other campers, vault toilets and perhaps showers and water a short walk away. If you didn’t plan ahead you still have options.

In the late 1990s my family went to the Grand Canyon. Our Spanish sister from Barcelona was on her first visit to the US. Most of Sonia’s English came from watching movies. She had never camped or slept in a tent. After the first night in a tent, Sonia decamped to the rented Suburban in her sleeping bag. Her comment, “Too many beans. Bad air. I sleep in the big car. Okay?” It was perfectly understandable and it worked.

On the way back to the Phoenix airport we looked for a place to stay near Sonoma. We were unaware that a big concert had filled up campgrounds everywhere. We pulled into what liked like a tent city and set up our tent, for those of us still sleeping in the tent. At 6 a.m. an officer knocked on the tent. I came out and he seemed surprised to see a middle aged woman. I told him about our quest to find a campground and how, at 1 a.m., this looked good.

In a very compassionate gesture he told me to pack up quickly and get out of there because they were planning a drug raid on the other ‘campers.’ We quickly just stuffed sleeping kids and gear into the Suburban and got out of there.

It was my youngest son’s 13th birthday. He had Happy Birthday sung to him at the restaurant, on the flight home, and again when we got back home. Sonia asked if all this singing of the birthday song was normal. “No,” I said, “he was just lucky.”

Lucky as were we camping without reservations. Sometimes it works out well.

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Credit: Adobe Stock Images. Standard License.