Last month, my boyfriend and I drove up the coast from Los Angeles to Big Sur in a Jucy campervan. We were excited to leave the city and have a relaxing weekend. However, as we got closer, it was looking anything but quiet. The PCH was crammed with cars, the popular parks were crawling with tourists, and all first-come, first-served camping sites were taken.
But instead of changing direction and going to a less-populated area, we decided to stay put and figure out how to find some alone time among the crowds. Here’s what we learned.
1. Be flexible.
“I’m not worried about it” quickly became our mantra. Everything’s sold out? There’s a gazillion people everywhere? We don’t have reservations? Cool. “I’m not worried about it.” We realized if we were going to find some quiet in a mobbed campground, we had to be willing to not have all the answers, to ask questions, take risks, and embrace the spirit of adventure.
Finding solitude on our trip was as much a psychological task of “unplugging” as it was a physical task. Instead of struggling to keep connected digitally, we made the decision to turn off our devices. It was the best choice ever.
3. Sleep in your vehicle.
It didn’t take long to realize the benefits of camping in an all-inclusive vehicle. We could just sleep in our ride, which had a stove, fridge, two full-size beds, a table, and various other comforts. If campgrounds were full, it didn’t take much effort to find somewhere to park and get some shuteye.
4. Ask around for tips.
“You have not because you ask not” is one of my favorite mottos. Locals and park rangers can apprise you of lesser-known spots to get lost in. Don’t be shy.
5. Get comfortable with few services, or none.
Dispersed camping is a term used for free camping anywhere on undeveloped BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land outside a designated campground. You’ll be without a restroom, nowhere near treated water, and fined for creating a fire. Luckily, Christian and I didn’t mind adhering to that last rule, especially while traveling in a Jucy.
When we realized all Big Sur parks were sold out, we tried our hand at dispersed camping along Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. If you’re looking for privacy on a sold-out weekend, dispersed camping is a great option.
6. Find the alternatives to the most popular areas.
Pfeiffer Beach is the first beach that comes to mind when people think of Big Sur. On a teeming weekend like the one we traveled on, the line into the park is miles long, and the coast is overflowing with people. Beautiful though it is, the limited privacy is a tradeoff.
Instead of visiting Pfeiffer, Christian and I decided to take a local’s advice and spend the afternoon at Andrew Molera State Park, where we found a nearly private coast, secluded hiking, and gorgeous views.
7. Change your time zone.
In addition to visiting less popular beaches, get creative with your scheduling. Tourists and families besiege the beaches during peak daytime hours. The evening hours are when you’ll find more peace. You won’t get a tan, and it might be a little chillier, but you’ll escape the crowds and make some pretty epic memories.
8. Avoid the busiest trails.
There are plenty of popular hikes in Big Sur. The only problem is, on a summer-vacation weekend you’ll spend more time dodging other people than enjoying the trail. If privacy is a goal while camping, pick up a good topographical map, get off the beaten path, and explore alternative hikes.
9. Cook your own meals.
On a sold-out camping weekend, the last place you should visit is a restaurant or grocery store. We planned our meals ahead of time for our Big Sur adventure. We purchased food beforehand, cooked it onsite on our Jucy stove, and enjoyed several meals without feeling rushed or removed from the seclusion of our surroundings.
Editor’s note: The campervan for Christi’s trip was provided by Jucy Rentals.