Vacations are a great way to bond a family together and let everyone unwind from the stressors of everyday life, but nowadays vacationing is becoming a stressor of its own. With hotels becoming increasingly expensive and tourist destinations being as costly as they are, why not find a getaway that avoids these costs? Camping on a smart budget is a good way to do this. You don’t need to spend a ton of money to have a great camping experience and we’ll even show you just what you need to do to save money and still have a great time. Here are our tips for camping on a budget.
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Where to Go When Camping on a Budget
The cheapest camping adventure is one where you don’t have to pay to use the land. Not everybody has the luxury of owning some secluded land where you can pitch a tent, lit a fire, and roast some marshmallows, but if you do then by all means take advantage of it. This is especially good too when camping with youngsters who are camping for their first time because they’ll appreciate the familiar surroundings. In other words, it’s a win-win situation.
If you don’t have big backyard out in the country or know a friend with a similar plot of land then you are probably going to have to check for nearby campgrounds. Maybe you know a place nearby that offers free or cheap camping (just make sure it’s legal), while rare this is still a possibility and would be a great start to cutting costs for your trip.
If you can’t find a free site then your best bet is at a state or national park, state or national forest, or similar recreational camping ground. These plots of land commonly have areas set aside for camping and include ranger services and a sense of community, plus they only cost around $15 or $20 per night, which is a lot better of a deal than any hotel can offer. They also usually include a premade fire pit and a picnic table and some sites even offer electricity. There are generally a variety of other amenities included that are greatly useful for those who can’t afford to camp with an RV or camping trailer. These include a bathroom, showers and a place to put your trash.
The key when picking a campsite on a budget is to look for one that is close to home and isn’t overly popular. The closer your destination is, the less you have to spend on gas and other travel fees like snacks and (potentially) tolls. The more popular campgrounds will often charge a higher rate and they’ll probably be overcrowded anyway so they aren’t really worth it.
Saving on Your Supplies
When going camping you should always make a list of the things you need. If you’re trying to camp on a tight budget this list will be extra helpful because it can help you monitor how much you spend on supplies and help you to narrow down your costs to the things you actually need. For example, pre made roasting skewers for s’mores and hot dogs are great, but you can just as easily find some sticks in the woods that will get the job done and not cost you a cent.
Things that you will absolutely need include:
- A Proper Tent – Make sure your tent is large enough to fit your whole group, people like their space so it may be wise to buy a tent slightly larger than the group you intend to camp with. For example, a family of 4 would probably be more comfortable in a 5- or 6-person tent. Try here for some good tent options.
- Sleeping bags – Sleeping bags are a must if you’re going to be sleeping in a tent. Spending the night in a tent without them will feel like sleeping on whatever surface you pitch the tent on. Sleeping bags are a not only a good way to stay warm during the night but they can act as a buffer between you in the ground. They are usually pretty inexpensive; just make sure not to go too cheap and end up buying something that’s uncomfortable to lie in. Sleeping pads are also recommended for added comfort.
- This is where a lot of camping budgets go off the rails a little. Sure you’ve got to have your s’more supplies and a bottle of wine would be a swell thing to have while you’re kicking back under the stars, but think about what you really need and make sure to not overspend on your consumables. After all, you’re going to use up whatever you buy in a couple of nights so there is no reason to spend a small fortune, just get the necessities. A few snacks, some hot dogs (and hamburgers if have a way to cook them) or other easy dinner foods that you can cook with limited supplies, and some water. Make sure you have enough for the trip but don’t buy much more than you’ll need, you might not even use it all. If you find out that you have a little extra to spend after you’ve gotten all of your supplies then you can think about other snacks and beverages. Frying up some bacon in the morning is sometimes a good way to boost morale and get everyone started on the right foot.
- A cooler – This should go without saying but you’ll also need ice. If you’re going to be bringing any sort of food that can spoil then a cooler is pretty much a must have. You can find a nice camping cooler at Walmart or similar retailers.
Camping chairs and tables are useful but remember that most campsites provide a picnic table. Albeit, they aren’t always that comfortable so you may need to choose if spending the extra bit of money is worth the more comfortable seating.
If you have any good camping friends, not only you can ask for their advice on what supplies you definitely need, but you might even be able to borrow some of their gear for the trip. Just make sure to take good care of their supplies, show your appreciation for their help, and don’t make using their gear a consistent habit; nobody likes being mooched off of.
For a certain and rounded out list of items you’ll need no matter what for your camping trip, try this link. Many of these items may not apply to you but it wouldn’t hurt to run through the list just to jog your memory and help you to not miss anything.
There’s a good chance that you’ll have to buy firewood from the campsite as many locations now have regulations on bringing wood in from outside the area as a means of pest control. However, you might notice folks selling wood nearby for less than what the campground will charge you. If you can find one of these outposts then consider buying a bit of wood there instead to save a bit of money. Don’t spend money on kindling because you can easily find some good sticks and dead brush lying around your campsite so long as it hasn’t rained in the past few days and the area is dry.
If this is a family trip then make sure to come prepared with inexpensive items to keep the kids entertained. Card games, simple yard games, sports balls, and other hard to lose items are all good ideas. Don’t bring board games with a lot of small pieces because that’s how things get lost — which in turn becomes a waste of money. Also check research the area ahead of time for bike trails and approved swimming holes, your children probably already have bikes or at the very least swim suits and these thrilling ideas are good ways to pass the time and bond with your kids. Just be safe!
To recap, the biggest money saver you can have when it comes to camping supplies is a pre constructed list of all the things you need. This will help you prepare while also keeping an eye on how much you spend. Buy the necessities and only go brand name when you have to.
No matter what the circumstances are you always have to obey the rules and regulations of the area that you are camping in. Be safe and courteous to those who may be camping around you and pick up after yourself. You can get in trouble and even be fined by the park service or other authorities if you break rules and laws, violate the area, or cause other kinds of trouble. It’s pretty clear that getting fined is not a good way to save money.
Also, make sure you come prepared and buy all of your supplies ahead of time so that you don’t have shop at the closest convenient store for anything you might have forgotten.
Find out if your local campgrounds have reduced rates for different parts of the year. As the temperatures get colder they may charge less to rent out a site.
Just because you are on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time. Live it up and make the most of it; some of the best memories are made at camp. Now is your opportunity to unwind and let it all go for a while. The best part is, you don’t even have to spend that much money. Have a great trip.