Say what you want, but camping costs far less than staying in a hotel, buying meals/eating out, and then spending tons of money on entertainment while on vacation.
Seriously, you’re out in the middle of nowhere with built in activities like hiking, biking, swimming, fishing and more. Plus, you’re miles from the closest restaraunt or Walmart, forcing you to plan your meals in advance and cook them, rather than buying already made food. What’s more, with the average campsite cost being only $20, when you split that campsite with another family, it is so much cheaper than staying at a hotel!
But if you’re not careful, the costs can get out of hand. Buying new equipment is expensive, as is losing food because it wasn’t properly stored. Here are 9 Ingenious ways to save money camping with your family and friends:
Share, share everything!
Did you know that more than 1 family can camp on the same campsite? Last time we went camping we had a camper and 2 tents all on the same campsite, running off the same electricity and water, and sharing the picnic table, fire pit, and grill. We did pay a little bit more for the camper campsite with unlimited water and electricity, but it still worked out to $12/family/night for 4 nights of camping.
Also consider sharing food, coolers, lawn chairs, and even tents! I know our tent has far more room than we need, and we’ve often shared it with another family.
Check Your Location
Staying closer to home, or in a low-cost campsite will cost you less in campsite fees, gas, and even save you some stress when you’re packing.
Reserve America is the most comprehensive database of campsites and by just typing in your zipcode you can see campsites sorted by their proximity to your home, as well as pricing, and you can even make reservations. The website or app can also help you compare different campsite amenities and costs for the same dates to be sure you’re getting the best deal.
You can also camp for free at several different places, found through FreeCampground.com, although they may be more remote than your typical campsite.
Finally, consider camping in a National Forest for free if you don’t need picnic tables, bathrooms etc. You have to follow the guidelines, but you can backpack and camp for free at any National Forest!
Go Potluck Style
If you’re camping as a group, it is a great idea to plan meals ahead of time and then assign meals to different families/individuals. It’s really not that much harder to cook 6 pork steak than it is to cook 2, or buy enough potato salad for 8 rather than 3. By doing this you all pack less food items per family, leaving less to chance, and saves everyone stress! After all, wouldn’t it be nice to only have to cook over the campfire for one or two meals and then enjoy someone else’s cooking for the rest of the meals?
Pro Tip: Offer to do the dishes on nights you don’t cook 🙂
A few days before you leave for your camping trip, and after you’ve planned out all of your meals and shopped accordingly, of course, do the prep work for meals and then freeze everything you possibly can. Not only will they stay cool longer, they’ll act like secondary ice blocks and keep the food that you weren’t able to freeze colder, longer. It’s a win-win, really.
Use An Ice Block
I’ve actually only tried this trick once, as ice blocks are more difficult to come by than you would think! But, if you can hunt one down, ice blocks stay cool longer than regular ice cubes. You will have to pack your cooler a little differently, though 🙂
Food can easily get lost in the bottom of a cooler, so I suggest separating your food into a couple of different coolers. Put your drinks in one, since that cooler will be opened fairly often. In another, put fresh foods so that you can keep an eye and make sure none go bad. Also, this will make sure none of your produce gets smashed. Finally, place all of the other foods in a third cooler: foods that won’t get smashed, that don’t need to be used except for during mealtimes.
And of course, pack all non-perishables in a sealing tote 🙂
Buy in Bulk
Dehydrated or shelf-stable items that can be found in the bulk food section, or at your locals Sam’s Club are not only more cost effective, they’re perfect for camping.
Look at Used Gear First
You local Goodwill, other thrift store, Craigslist, or online yard sale can actually have really good quality camping gear for a fraction of the price of buying new. You will need to keep an eye out for quality brands, and know exactly what you’re looking for. You can also borrow gear from friends. We’ve actually borrowed camping equipment from my in-laws, and it was from when they went camping in the 70’s – but honestly, that stuff worked just as well as the new.
Some examples of used equipment you can safely buy:
- Cooking Equipment
Save on a National Parks Pass
Finally, if you camp frequently at some of our amazing National Parks (and you should!), consider purchasing an Annual National Parks Pass. The pass is regularly $80, but there are a few ways that you can get either a free or discounted pass.
Camping is considered to be one of the most frugal family activities around. But when you take a really hard look at it, you start to realize that all of the equipment and food and really adds up! But with a few simple tweaks to your method for shopping, prepping, and guying gear, camping can get back to the thrifty vacation that its supposed to be.
Til Next Time,