Saint Louis, Missouri
STL is our home away from home. We have camped here, but before that we also lived here. Now that we have a family, we love going back to Saint Louis to experience the area again with our family. When you visit Saint Louis, you should certainly check out the Arch, see the Cardinals in action, tour the Budweiser Brewery, and visit the Saint Louis Zoo. These are staple attractions that everyone should see. We wanted to share places that we enjoy maybe more than the staples, and think you will too.
City Museum is part museum, part playground, park amusement park, and wholly unique. It’s grown in size and popularity since we first started visiting, but City Musuem still gets frequent requests from our family. You’ll know you arrived when you see a bus teetering from the roof above a massive playset built out of a fire truck, two planes, and scrap metal, which form slides, passageways, and climbing tubes. Inside you will climb, slide, and wander through caves, museum exhibits, a circus, the world’s largest pencil, and a 10 story shoe factory chute that’s been converted into a slide.
Climb So Ill
In our real lives, we both work a lot with the public. As a result, we appreciate good customer service. The team at Climb So Ill is staffed with real good people. They put safety first. But they also want you to enjoy your experience on their indoor climbing and bouldering walls. We had never climbed, but the kids were interested, so we went to check it out on a Saturday with the kids. We liked it so much that we signed up for a beginner climbing class on Tuesday for Jessica and I to learn how to belay, and went back with the kids on Saturday. Three visits in eight days, driving 100 miles each way, to experience something I don’t really enjoy – heights. If you climb, or have never climbed, you can really enjoy the people and the experience of Climb So Ill.
The Magic House
It really is a magical place for the kids. Mitchell loves going here. Similar to a science center, there is a lot of hands on learning that can take place at the Magic House. Experimenting with big bubbles, a construction zone, the children’s village, and a play garden are some of the main exhibits. The Magic House is in Kirkwood, which is a great area just west of Saint Louis.
This was the Busch family weekend estate back when it took half a day to travel 10 miles from downtown. Today, it’s a farm where you are first given a shuttle ride though a deer park and at the end of the shuttle ride, you get to see camels, elephants, and eagles up close. For the parents that behave well, two samples of cold beer await you before you take a quick shuttle ride back to the start. Before you leave, check out the stables to view a Budweiser Clydesdale up close. Admission is free but you must pay to park.
The Soulard location of Mission Taco is located next to Soulard Market, and near Climb So Ill, which would bundle into a nice way to spend four or five hours in Saint Louis. Mission Taco serves specialty tacos and features a taco of the month. You order the tacos you want, not a predetermined plate. We typically get salsa or guac and skip the side plates. You’ll want to try a Baja fish taco, a brisket taco, and probably the taco of the month – and I would encourage you to do so.
To get a feel for the culture of city, you’ll want to check out this open air market. The Soulard Market is a massive farmers market. Many of the vendors have been attending for years and this is a great place to buy bulk spices and shop a huge selection of affordable produce.
If you are more interested in local, organic, or sustainable produce, head to the Tower Grove Farmers Market tgmarket.org/.
Rooster is part of a string of restaurants run by the Bailey Restaurants Group. In all of their restaurants, they tout the service of high quality foods. Rooster is known for their crepes and brunch. This is our go to stop for breakfast or for ‘brinner’. They have a full menu, but we stick to the breakfast foods when we visit.
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston Travel Guide
We had a beautiful week in March to explore Charleston. Camping in the Pop Up was perfect for early South Carolina spring weather, except for the pollen that coated everything in a fine green powder all week. Here are the attractions that we would recommend to any travelers to the Charleston-area.
Mount Pleasant/Charleston KOA
This KOA Holiday is very nice. It has two playgrounds, a fishing and boating lake, a nature trail, and a community room. The tent sites are huge and the RV sites are typical for a KOA. Maybe the biggest downside for this KOA was the location. It was a beautiful location, but didn’t seem very close to the attractions we wanted to see. As a result, we did a lot of driving during the week.
Wild Blue Ropes
This is a ropes course just outside of Charleston, on the way to Folly Beach. They have courses for most skill levels including a course for small children and three additional levels of difficulty on the main course. The staff is amazing. They do a great job showing ‘you the ropes’ before you get started and are around the course the whole time to offer encouragement. Mitchell was done before the rest of the family, so he hung out with a couple of the team members at the start of the course. They advertise 72 obstacles you can face on the course, which kept us entertained for over three hours. If you are brave, strap into the auto belay and jump 35 feet from the top of the course. Our group – ranging from six to over sixty years old all enjoyed the course and put it high on our list for our next Charleston trip.
Charles Towne Landing
We debated touring a plantation. We decided against it and instead visited Charles Towne Landing. You’ll see a small zoo with animals’ native to the area, climb aboard a ship, the Adventure, and view beautiful landscapes. Including the main trail and side trails, there are several miles you can cover on the property. We brought bikes and were pleased we did.
Marrington Plantation Mountain Bike Trail
The full loop of this bike trail is marked as 13.2 miles, plus many miles of additional secondary trails. We rode about seven miles, covering about half of the main trail prior to catching a road back to the parking lot. Most of the loop is a mix of swampy marshland and pine forest. The terrain of the main trail is not too difficult to bike, but it is a bit bumpy due to the pine roots present. You’ll want to make sure you bicycle can handle the terrain. Helmets are required on the trail. We found this ride to be a lot of fun and were able to spot wildlife including a couple young alligators.
Sesame Burgers and Beer
Here it is, the first of our two burger joints that we loved in Charleston. We love visiting the East Coast for the seafood and visiting the South for comfort food. But at Sesame, the burgers are great and worth a visit – or two. We ate at the Mount Pleasant location – twice in the same day. This is a first for us, we never eat at the same place twice, and absolutely not on the same day. The menu is simple: good quality burgers, sandwiches, and salads. The service is quick and good. The beer menu is substantial, featuring a lot of local crafts, including a local cider, which has become something we enjoy. Try Sesame, and see if you are drawn back again too.
Beach parking in the area is different. You can basically park in the yard of almost any house as long as you don’t block the road or driveway. This worked well. But for a quick beach trip late in the afternoon, we discovered the IOP Park. This is a paid parking lot that closes promptly at 6pm. But the access to facilities and easy parking make it worth a few dollars. The beach facilities included restrooms, showers, changing areas, and a nice playground. The beach here was nice. It marked the divide between condos and rentals and the private residences of the island. Compared to Folly Beach, IOP is the quiet, family beach.
Poe’s is the second burger joint I mentioned. To be fair, they do have a big menu, but you will struggle to ignore the burger offerings; and their burgers are top notch! The toppings are creative and playful. Jessica loved the Annabel Lee burger that was topped with a crab cake. The interior is fun, plastered with Edgar Allan Poe pictures and works. The bathrooms have readings of Poe’s work playing, which was more than enough to encourage us to read “Eldorado” and “Annabel Lee” to the kids while we waited.
Aside from this list, we did the staples of any trip to the area: the Historic District, City Market, Color District, King Street, Waterfront Park, Fort Sumter, Patriots Point, beaches at IOP, Sullivan’s Island, and Folly Beach, the Angel Oak. We had a failed attempt at getting onto Kiwaw Island; if you want to see the most expensive zip code in South Carolina, you’ll need to show up to the access gate with a good reason why they should let you proceed.
We think Charleston was a great trip and worthy of a return visit once we get our Cricket Trailer!
Why We Camp
Part of understanding why we decided to begin Cricket Camping might make more sense if by understanding why we camp.
We love to travel. Even when we were newly married with no resources to afford to do so, we always found a way to travel. We’ve since been to a handful of more exotic locations, but always go back to the classic road trip. As we started our family, we found that road trip adventures with the kids can be an enjoyable experience for everyone.
Our ongoing road block was finding an affordable place to stay.
We started in hotels. For parents of young kids, hotels are miserable. Once the kids go to bed, you can either go to sleep or sit quietly in the dark. In a classy move, we discovered the bathroom as a place to sit back and enjoy a glass of wine without disturbing the sleeping kids. First thing in the morning the kids are up extra early. There you have a choice: park them in front of the TV or let them wake up the entire hotel. Our compromise was getting out of the hotel as quickly and quietly as possible in the morning. Not your dream vacation? We agree.
The solution we found to escape hotels was VBRO or AirBNB rental homes. These are great options! We’ve been able to stay in great houses on the beach, in the city, and even a breathtaking cabin on a lake in Maine. This is often a more expensive option than hotels, which became a limiting factor for us. We were at a great property on at beach along the Emerald Coast of Florida last June. As we were packing up we realized that we had not taken time to fully enjoy the property. It had two decks and a lot of great space. But we spent all of our time at the beach, biking, paddle boarding, or just exploring, and never took time to really appreciate the high dollar property.
As we began discussing a 1500 mile road trip to the Grand Canyon, we started discussing what was most important to us when we travel. We enjoy exploring new areas, revisiting prior favorite stops, and finding great new restaurants. Although it’s great to stay at an amazing property, it wasn’t our highest priority. This led to revisiting the idea of camping, with a goal of landing somewhere beyond a tent but without upgrading to a massive truck.
As the natural evolution of many campers would confirm, our search landed us with a pop up camper in the drive way. This was a Livin Lite Quicksilver 10.0: two huge beds, a dinette and kitchen area, more storage than we had gear… all in an 1100 pound bundle. We loved this camper. It was comfortable even during 14 degree nights at the Grand Canyon. It was the perfect base camp for exploring Charleston SC and a quick getaway to St Louis and Memphis.
Here comes the ‘but’.
It was perfect except it took time pack, set up, take down, and unpack. It was challenging in the cold, the rain, and the heat. Our travel time is limited by work obligations, so these things become factors. Again, due to time constraints, we can’t always camp when the weather is perfect. We wanted a camper that was easy to pack and unpack, to set up and take down, that we could do a quick one night stop while traveling, even if it’s snowing or raining, one that we don’t have to end our travels a day early to set it up and clean it out.
This is why we are excited to begin Cricket Camping.
Waiting for Cricket
We did it.
After reading every article, viewing every photo, listening to every podcast, and seemingly endless conversations weighing out the pros and cons: we did it. We made the decision to purchase a Cricket Trailer! We may not be a traditional RV family. We want an RV that will be our base camp for travel. We use our RV to sleep, cook some of our meals, and relax near in the evening. Otherwise we our out exploring all day. We want an RV that is easy to store, easy to pack, easy to set up, and easy to tow. We have previously loved about 90% of the experience pop up camping, and we hope the Cricket decision will be even more enjoyable. So… we did it, we decided to purchase a 2015 Cricket Standard Trailer, and optioned two kid’s berths.
Now we wait. It will take two weeks for the second berth to be ordered and installed, and for our Cricket to be prepped for pick up. Two weeks of deciding what of our camping gear will get the nod to share the very limited space of our Cricket with us. Two weeks of hoping that this will be as perfect for our family as we imagine. Two weeks of planning that memorable – and hopefully not traumatizing – first trip. Two weeks of trying to explain to our friends and family what a Cricket Trailer is: “it’s not a pop up; well it is, but…”, “it’s not really a traditional RV”, “so it’s blue and orange”, “Crickets are a lot smaller than the pop up we had”, “it’s just cool, I’ll show you soon”.
Shopping for a Cricket isn’t easy. We live in southern Illinois, home to amazing outdoor adventures and exploration including Garden of the God’s Camel Rock, which was minted into a US quarter this year. Unfortunately, the closest Cricket for sale was 100 miles away. To see a decent selection, we had to drive 256 miles. After all of our research, we were confident – or at least we were fascinated – by the idea of owning our own Cricket. But we thought it would first be a good idea to see if the four of us would fit inside the 70 square feet of a Cricket Trailer at the same time. This meant a road trip to see our new friends Pat, who specializes in small camper sales, and Paul, the finance guy, at Mt Comfort RV in Greenfield, Indiana. If you never heard of these guys, you probably paid too much for your last RV!
Comparing model years of a Cricket is no simple task. Okay it’s not as tough as wandering through an RV show full of Travel Trailers, Fifth Wheels, Motor Homes, and Class C’s, and trying to find the perfect model. But there were changes from 2015 to 2016 that did complicate our decision. In 2015, there was the Cricket Standard and the Cricket Sport. In 2016, the models were updated to the Cricket Gear, Cricket Camp, and Cricket Trek. The Gear is bare bones: it basically a cargo trailer. The Camp is well-equipped, but not quite as well as the prior year’s Standard. The Trek is loaded, but slightly less loaded than the Sport. We couldn’t find a Sport and the Gear lacked beds, so we were making progress toward deciding on the perfect model by ruling these two out. After comparing a Trek to the Standard and the Camp – which was locked with lost keys – we decided to go with the Standard.
A common question we asked ourselves was “why a Cricket”? It’s expensive: we could have gotten massive Travel Trailer for the same price. It’s tiny: imagine your family living in a small walk-in closet. It’s not plush: a cassette toilet resides in the kitchen. However, it seems perfect. Set up time will take a couple minutes. We can park it in our garage, although my car will get booted to the driveway. We can pack for our trip with it fully set up inside the garage. The kids get really cool berths: suspended bunks above our bed/dinette area. We can stash our paddle boards inside the Cricket when we travel… hopefully. We can strap the bikes to the Thule roof rack and our hiking gear can be hidden under the bed or bungeed about anywhere in the Cricket – except maybe my son’s shoes, those are not welcome in our limited air space.
As we shopped, researched, and discussed buying a Cricket, we struggled to find much feedback on Cricket Camping from a family of four. We want to share our feedback in our ongoing review of Cricket Camping with our family. You’ll hear from the whole family as we continue our journeys across America the Beautiful. Join us as we begin our adventure Cricket Camping.
So here we are: full of dreams and expectations for our Cricket. So many National Parks to explorer. So many beaches, mountains, cities, and forests we want to experience. So many prior destinations that we want to re-visit in our Cricket. So much to see and do; let’s go CricketCamping.com.
Shane and Jessica
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