The best vacation on a student budget


Courtesy/James Lacefield

A picturesque view of the Shanandoah Valley in Virginia, just one of the many natural wonders that can be found while camping

James Lacefield, Opinion Editor

Taking a vacation can be the best way to get a breath of fresh air, experience new places, make new memories, and relieve stress after a long semester, but they can also be quite fast-paced, far from home, and pricey. The traditional vacation spots like bustling cities and crowded beaches are simply unaffordable for many students, and in an age where pandemics and crime seem to be descending on these hubs as fast as tourists, they may be unappealing as well. The best alternative to these high-end, high-cost, high-stress vacations is camping, and I argue the alternative just might be better than the original.

Local spots like the White Mountains offer some of the most incredible retreats from the modern world. The peace and tranquility of the wilderness erase the stress of work or classes and replaces it with a deep appreciation for God’s beautiful creation. It is one thing to drive through such wondrous places on the Kancamagus highway, but it is an entirely different experience to get out of the car, set up a tent, and actually live, for a time amongst the scenery.

Activities in camp offer a chance to bond with your companions, learn new skills, and simply relax in the relative silence of the woods (though I assure you, the sounds of birds, the breeze, and myriad other critters will quickly make you forget the noise and bustle of your daily life). Something as simple as a campfire offers seemingly limitless opportunities for entertainment and relaxation. First, of course, you have to perfect your skill at starting a fire, and learn to keep it going without burning up your weekend’s supply of firewood in the first few hours of your trip. The fire offers a comforting warmth as the sun sets on a day’s activities, as well as sufficient heat to cook a sustaining meal for yourself. The light it provides is sufficient for reading a good book after dark, or for playing a game of cards with your friends if you are up for more social activity. The flames themselves can be a rather exceptional sight to behold as they die down to glowing coals and eventually turn to ash.

  Of course, there are more activities to do away from camp as well, ranging from rewarding hikes to a scenic mountaintop, wading in a crisp refreshing mountain stream, and yes, the typical tourist traps are always nearby if you cannot stand to remove yourself from civilization for too long. A good long walk in a sturdy pair of boots has always been enough to ease any of my own struggles, and I am sure it would do the same for you. Plus, once you have suffered through the tedious uphill sections of a trail and made it to the summit of a mountain, your mind cleared by the walk through dense woodlands, there is sure to be a breathtaking view at the top (but don’t bother posting it to your story right away since there probably won’t be any signal anyway, which is the whole point after all). A quick splash into a stream or lake after a hike is always a great way to cool down in the summer months, and comes with the bonus of some excellent views of their own, as these bodies of water have cut away the rock over years and years, revealing many beautiful formations that you don’t even have to be a geologist to appreciate.

We are lucky to be situated in New England, as there isn’t really anything that is too far of a drive to get to, and the same holds true for the camping experience. If you find yourself in the White Mountains, Conway or Lincoln are great options to escape all those bears and mosquitos, and both offer excellent amenities for shopping, dining, and entertainment year-round. This, however, is not unique to New England, as roadside attractions, outlets, and terrific local eateries can be found around popular camping areas across the nation.

And the best part is camping is cheap! A four-day weekend can run as low as a hundred dollars for a reserved campsite, and the essentials can be purchased on a shoestring budget as long as you hit the sales right at the sporting goods stores. In my mind, that’s a far better deal than blowing several hundred bucks in a loud, dirty, bustling metropolis.

Cool, sunlit brooks such as this often crisscross hiking trails in the White Mountains (Courtesy/James Lacefield)