Lights in your campsite – are they light pollution?
One hot topic that comes up in many camping discussions lately centers around campground courtesy. There can be many aspects to what is considered courteous to each person, and I hope to explore many of those related topics over a series of these blogs, because they seem to be concerning enough to so many people that they really deserve their own posts for each type of courtesy topics.
So today lets consider what I’ve seen as a super sensitive subject lately – the use of lighting in each person’s campsite. This post is not to debate that one or the other is right or wrong or better than the other, but rather just to bring to light (no pun intended) why it seems to bring out strong feelings with many people.
There are people who truly relish getting away from their connections to everyday stress. Those connections can be something different for each person. I’ve known people who absolutely love camping in a tent as true unplugged “roughing it”. I’ve known people who wouldn’t accept anything less than “glamping” with many creature comforts but usually still like to cook outdoors…and I even know of people who once owned a camper but now enjoy hotel stays as their least stressful option because the beds are made for them and they simply enjoy eating out rather than having to prepare anything. The point is, there is no one-size-fits-all for anything when it comes to RV life, and I’m sure we all know people besides ourselves that fit almost anywhere between the extremes of those previous examples.
So there are some who want absolute quiet with only the sounds of nature, there are some who want complete darkness except of the stars to light their nighttime campsite, and there are even special no light pollution camping areas with them in mind. And most of us remember when oil lanterns and gas lanterns were common like in the picture above with only a Coleman type lantern and campfire for light before LED’s became inexpensive, as well as their inherent additional safety, although there are times it’s still a bit of fun nostalgia to use these items again if the LED lanterns don’t simulate that effect like in the above picture close enough.
But in recent years, LED’s have become more popular for other lighting effects. Their many advantages include using a quarter of the usual power, such as when on battery, less heat on hot nights, and possibly even attract less insects. There are of course many color options. I can remember when plastic colored awning lanterns powered usually be Christmas or nightlight style bulbs were considered a fun party atmosphere addition to many campsites. None of these were extremely bright, but they did make a satisfying enough amount of light, that together with the single patio light on the side of most campers and a lantern on the picnic table, that a family game or adult card game between neighbors was not a rare occurrence.
Recently another trend as the lighting technology has advanced has become popular with some. LED light strips along the bottom and/or underside of many campers – sometimes in a steady color – blue seems to be the most popular – and sometimes flashing or changing colors at a slow or rapid pace. Some have blue or a rather intense white on their awnings, lighting some patio spaces with a similar intensity to rival many home kitchens, and there are some RV units that incorporate intense colors such as blue LED’s on their fronts. There are many other options and combinations that are gaining popularity, and still others that have been used over the years (remember the plug adapter to leave your trailer lights on – sometimes with the flashers going (that one was usually for an emergency adapter for roadside emergencies, so it did have another useful purpose).
There can be many practical uses for some of these lights, including a bit of a homing beacon for children returning to the campsite, lighting to walk pets, and of course patio time in the evening with or without a campfire. One special use I was aware of over the years was for an assisted living patient who was mobility challenged, but still loved to go camping in a tent, and their caregivers graciously would bring them along to enjoy the camping experience…so rope lights and a few Christmas lights were used to make sure they were able to navigate their way through the campsite so they could go to and from the public restrooms at night because flashlights weren’t the best option in their specific case.
So without fail, in many campgrounds today, personal preferences often come into play, which of course leads to common courtesy issues. The die-hard stargazers and the total nature unplugged lovers want as minimal light as possible except of campfires. Some of the party hardy folks enjoy many light options, sometimes all night long until the sun comes up. Luckily the majority of people fall somewhere in the middle, where they enjoy, or at least can tolerate, a well lit patio area and maybe even a bit of a party atmosphere until quiet time, and then most turn off the majority, if not all their lights, when they retire for the night. Sometimes the length and even lumens intensity of this is even weekend and holiday related, where there is sometimes more tolerance for longer lighting hours.
Much to some people’s dismay, there really is not a perfect right or wrong answer to what is considered discourteous. It kind of depends on the location, any rules, and other factors. But I have noticed a bit of a disturbing trend towards increasing intolerance towards each persons personal preference, and that seems to be getting worse as the technological options increase.
No matter what, if you stand on a certain this issue, the best recommendation I can make is to be kind and understanding in whatever situation you find yourself in. Communication can often be another wonderful tool if you can strike up a conversation about this with your neighbors, but there are times when tolerance might be abetter option too – it really just depends. If you like stargazing and it’s not possible at your campsite, is it possible to temporarily walk to another spot to enjoy the stars for a short while? If you personally prefer bright lights on the other hand, try to remember that there is such a thing as light pollution for many people and I assume very few of even the brightest light fans would want the equivalent of search or flood lights to be aimed at them for long periods of time. The real secret is compromise…maybe limit the amount of lights if your neighbors campsite is in close proximity and limit the operational time if possible. In some campgrounds the lighting rules are similar or the same as quiet times, but also try to understand that there can be exceptions, such as the assisted living example where they still needed some light all night, or the campsite that is using lighting for arriving children or guests but will hopefully be turning off or lowering their light intensity or number of lights when they go to bed. And there’s also many people who now live in their RV’s who may need that quiet time to prepare for work the next day. There are some inherent risks to full timing in a campground, which most are understandable of, but comes back to that communication and compromise thing again.
What makes camping so special is that it is adaptable to many preferences and situations. There might be times when it’s all about what you like, but most times what works best is when it’s about what’s best for all and not just one person or group.
My sincere wish is that we can all continue to enjoy this RV lifestyle – together! Safe travels!!