With the amount of gadgets, tools, and gear you need for camping, the costs can really add up. However, camping on a budget is very possible.
In fact, camping is the perfect option if you want an inexpensive weekend getaway with friends or family. Your trip is what you make it- if you stick to the bare necessities, you’ll find yourself wondering why you thought you needed all that fancy equipment in the first place.
Camping is a great way to save money on a family vacation and visit popular tourist destinations in America without going into debt.
1. Rent or Borrow Your Equipment
You don’t have to budget camping gear into your finances if you can’t afford it.
If you have a family member or friend who has a stash of camping gear, ask to borrow some of their items. Chances are, they’ll be more than happy to share with you.
Even if you have to collect a few different things from a few different people, this will seriously help you out.
You can also check for camping equipment rentals near you. If you don’t camp often, this is another affordable option.
Always make sure you return everything back in the condition they gave it to you!
2. Camp Near Home
Choosing a campsite that isn’t too far from you can save you money on fuel costs. Sometimes these campsites are cheaper because you’re not going too far out into a more touristy area.
Additionally, staying close to home also means less travel time, which allows you to maximize your camping time and get the most for your money. This also means less road trip snacks, pit stops, and toll charges.
If you can, try to camp during the week instead of on weekends. Some campsites have better rates during the week because they’re less busy, and if you’re sticking close to home it’ll be easy to get out there on a weeknight.
3. Try These Dollar Store Camping Hacks
You don’t need to go and buy brand new, fancy camping gadgets when you can find perfectly good items at the dollar store.
4. Get Your Dishes and Cookware Second Hand
You’re going to need items like dishes, pots and pans, and other cookware. But you don’t need to go out and buy brand new, top-of-the-line items for a family camping trip.
If you take a look at a second hand store, like Goodwill or Value Village, you can find some used cookware for a lot cheaper than brand new.
You can also check out garage sales, or websites like Kijiji and Craigslist where people are selling their old items for cheaper prices.
5. Cook Over the Fire Instead of Buying a Camp Stove
Camp stoves are great, but when you’re camping on the cheap you can get around having to buy one. You don’t need that fancy camp stove or burner- in fact, cooking over the fire is what camping is all about!
Try out some of the campfire skewer recipes on your next trip.
No one is expecting you to cook a 5-star meal for your camping trip. Try some aluminum foil dinners over the fire or keeping it simple and roasting hot dogs on a stick.
6. Check Online for Coupons, Deals, and Better Costs
Before you go out and buy anything, check for a better price online. You can often find discount camping gear that you wouldn’t find in Wal-Mart or Target- or for better prices.
There are also some discount camping gear websites that you can check out, like campmor.com or The Clymb. However, you have to be quick with these websites, because the deals are so good they don’t last very long.
Shopping for camping gear online is also an easier option if you’ve got children and don’t want to deal with the chaos of bringing them to the store. It’s easier for you to pack, and better for your wallet.
Don’t forget to look for free shipping as well.
7. Freeze Jugs of Water Instead of Buying Bags of Ice
Freezing jugs of water ahead of time and then packing them in your cooler not only helps you cut back on costs from buying ice, but it’ll keep your water colder for longer.
This is also a great way to make sure you pack enough water for the family, as you’ll want to stay hydrated on those long summer days in the sun.
8. Keep the Grocery List Simple
Depending on how long you’re going camping for, plan out your meals ahead of time with items you can mix and match. For example, chicken goes with just about anything.
Keep the menu simple and use basic items like hot dogs, burgers, and beans.
One of the most common issues people have when camping is over packing on food and snacks. This is a waste of money. Figure out a detailed plan of exactly what, and when, you’ll be eating and only get what you need.
9. Buy What You Can Ahead of Time
Sometimes, depending on your destination of choice, you’ll spend more money buying your groceries or camping items when you get there. You also want to avoid buying from convenience stores because those prices are always higher than grocery store prices.
If you’re heading to a big camping town, chances are the local stores have higher prices than your hometown. They do this in a lot of touristy, beach towns because they know people have no choice but to pay those high prices.
10. Make a Camping Box and Fill it Throughout the Year
This one requires a little bit of planning ahead. Make a designated “camping box” to fill throughout the year whenever you see something go on sale.
Whenever you’re at the grocery store or another department store, you can pick up non-perishable food items or camping accessories at cheaper prices to save for later. Check out your local flyers to scan for camping items.
This also goes for any time you go to a fast food restaurant. Grab some extra packets of condiments to keep for later. If you’re staying in a hotel, or someone you know is, grab the hotel soaps for travel sized toiletries.
Filling the box over time instead of all at once can help you avoid paying a ton of money right before you go. This way, your budget doesn’t take a big hit during camping season.
11. Keep Your Cooler in the Shade
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to leave your cooler in the sun and forget about it. However, anyone who’s done this by accident before knows how fast that ice will melt.
Keep your cooler in a shady spot to help maximise the length of time your ice will last. This will help keep the cost down from having to buy more bags of ice more often.
12. Camp With a Group
If you split a campsite with another family, or gather a group of friends to go camping, you can cut the cost in half. You can split on all of your groceries, the cost of the campsite, and equipment.
Make sure you pay attention to the campground’s rules for how many tents and vehicles can be on one campsite. If you load it up too much, you could risk having to pay extra for another site or for any extra vehicles.
13. Use a Tarp to Cover Your Wood
If you don’t cover your firewood and it rains, you’re looking at a ruined pile of wood. You won’t be able to use it for a while, and this can be an issue, especially if you’re only staying for a few nights.
To avoid having to go and buy a new bundle of firewood because yours got wet, avoid it getting wet in the first place. Keep it under a tarp.
If you don’t have a tarp, put it under your picnic table so it at least won’t be as wet as it would be out in the open.
14. Bring Old Blankets Instead of Buying Sleeping Bags
Sleeping bags are a traditional piece of camping gear, but they aren’t your only option. In fact, a good sleeping bag can really put a dent in your camping budget, especially if you don’t go very often.
Old blankets you don’t mind getting dirty work just as well for keeping warm and cozy in your tent at night.
Using your kids’ old blankets is also a great way to keep them comfortable if it’s their first time camping, or if they’re a little unsure of being in nature.
15. Find Free Activities to do
Instead of piling the kids in the car and driving to the nearest waterpark, check out the local area for great free activities. Check out some really cool nature trails, free museums, or beaches.
Bring a picnic lunch and you’re all set for some free fun in the sun.
Many kid-friendly campsites have on-site activities that are enough to tire the kiddos out by the time you settle down for s’mores. Even if there aren’t organized activities, there is almost always a pool or a playground to visit.
16. Make Your Own Fire Starters
There are plenty of ways you can make a DIY fire starter. You can use dryer lint, pencil shavings, or even cotton pads dipped in wax.
This will help you cut back on wasting wood or burning other supplies that shouldn’t be in your campfire in the first place.