How to Save Money Camping
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How to Save Money Camping? Camping on a tight budget is hardly a new idea, but it’s one that more people are considering since the economy went south. Even if you haven’t been downsized or otherwise directly touched by the economic downturn, you’re still living in a world where saving money is actually in style again. When your family sits down to talk about trimming the budget, it may seem that the family vacation should be the first thing to go, but don’t be too hasty.
While it’s certainly true that this may not be the year for Paris (or even Disney World), your family can still travel together and have a lot of fun without spending exorbitant amounts of money. You just have to be willing to trade the hotel room and heated pool for something a little more rustic.
First, make an honest assessment of whether your family can adapt to camping. You’ll probably be amazed by how quickly young children learn to love the great outdoors, so that’s no great cause for concern. Of course, you also have to accept the fact that the kids are going to play in the dirt, swordfight with sticks, dig up earthworms, wade in creeks, and otherwise have a great time. Not every parent can handle that.
Speaking of parents, if yours have become part of your family unit due to age or illness, you’ll want to consider whether they can realistically handle sleeping in a tent for several nights running. Likewise, tween and teen girls who require an array of beauty products that cover an entire bathroom countertop aren’t likely to be happy campers.
How to Save Money Camping
If you decide your family has the necessary sense of adventure, you’re going to need some gear. This is where many people throw up their hands and decide that camping is just as expensive as staying in hotels. Well, it can be, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips to help you get started without emptying your wallet:
1. Save Money Camping: Use What You Already Own
There’s no need to spend a fortune on specialized “outdoor” clothing or cooking equipment, for example. Every member of your family probably has at least a couple of pairs of jeans, a sturdy pair of sneakers, and some tee-shirts. Once you walk out the door wearing them, they’re “outdoor” clothing.
As for cooking equipment, you probably own some pots and pans, too. Yes, cooking over a campfire or camp stove will blacken them, but there’s an easy remedy for that: Smear dishwashing liquid on the outside of the pan before cooking, and the soot will wash right off when your meal is done! Just steer clear of anything with a handle that might melt, and you’re in business.
I LOVE this article on thrifty camping supplies: Dollar Tree Camping Supplies Complete A to Z List
2. Recognize That Top-Of-The-Line Gear Probably Isn’t Necessary For Your Purposes
You’re not heading out to climb Mount Everest, so why invest in a tent that would withstand a gale at 15,000 feet? It’s been my experience that in a bad enough storm, no tent is leakproof, so head to Walmart and find one that will keep mosquitoes and moderate rain off your family, and call it done.
For gear that you do want to be as high-quality as possible (such as your sleeping bags if nights will be cold), visit your local thrift stores. To them, a sleeping bag is a sleeping bag, and you can sometimes find one that originally cost $400 right next to one that originally cost $40…for the same price! Using discount stores and thrift stores, assemble the basics–tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads/mattresses–with as little cash as possible.
3. Save Money Camping: Learn Some Skills
Even if you can afford expensive gear, it’s no substitute for knowing what you’re doing. Learn to build a campfire. This is a good article to read: Campfires 101: Everything You Need to Know from Fire Starters on Up.
Collecting firewood will keep the kids busy (if this is allowed where you’re camping), toasting marshmallows will provide entertainment in the evenings, and if you’re willing to suffer through a little trial and error, you can learn to cook great meals over it.
Learn to tie some basic knots. Those little plastic clips that are meant to hold your tent’s guy lines taut will break at inopportune times, and you’ll want to rig a clothesline that will actually keep wet towels off the ground.
Learn a little bit about birds or wildflowers or constellations so that you’ll have something to look for (and point out to the kids) in the great outdoors.
4. Plan Ahead So That You Can Reserve A Campsite In A Federal Or State Park
While some privately-owned campgrounds are affordable, they generally tend to be more expensive than their public counterparts. If you plan your trip far enough in advance, you can get a site right on the beach or the lakeshore or the mountainside or wherever else appeals to you. When reserving a site, inquire about the distance to the nearest bathhouse.
Some people want to be close by (for obvious reasons), but others prefer to camp some distance away so that other campers won’t be traipsing past their site day and night. It’s your family, so you decide.
5. Camp Where There’s Something To Do
Research the park you’ve chosen ahead of time. Can you rent a canoe? Swim in the lake? Hike the trails? Tour a Civil War battlefield? If you stay in the park once you get there, you won’t spend a fortune on gas driving between attractions. There is one exception to this rule: Before you leave home, research places near the campground that offer inexpensive indoor entertainment in case of torrential rain. Local museums, cave tours, wildlife rehab centers, and even bowling alleys or skating rinks are good choices. The idea with this is to get everyone out of the leaky tent before tempers flare!
Camping trips are a great place to introduce your kids to some of the best games ever dreamed up. Though video games are great, there is something about simple games that can be played anywhere that are great for starting conversations, stimulating the mind, and having fun.
Here are some suggestions for camping games for your next trip:
- Mancala is a great camping game. An ancient and frustratingly simple game of capturing stones can be purchased in a secure box for about five bucks. Mancala is easy to learn and can be played in low light situations.
- Checkers is a game that has remained popular over the years as it is simple and challenging. For camping, magnetic or other secure checkerboards are recommended.
- Chess is another game that can be a camping game but perhaps is best for adults. Chess requires concentration and attention and might not be ideal for little ones that want to (and should) the outdoor experience.
- Dominoes are another standard camping game. If the kids (or adults!) get bored with the game, they can compete with them by creating various toppling patterns.
- A scavenger hunt is a great camping game too. You can hide items to scavenge for or simply look for things in nature.
- A deck of cards can provide for a number of camping games. From war to poker, cards can provide a lot of entertainment for kids and adults.
- Yahtzee is another game that works well as a camping game. Though the standard game will work, the Travel Yahtzee editions are especially nice for camping trips.
- Camping trips are a natural place for ‘old-fashioned’ games. Two great camping games are jacks and marbles. While game pieces for both can be quickly lost, they are inexpensive to replace. These games are great for multi-generational camping trips and can help to foster communication between grandparents and grandchildren.
- Bocce is another game that can be played while camping. Bocce is usually played on a level court, but there is no reason that it has to be; in fact, tennis balls and other balls can be used to play Bocce. Playing in the woods around trees and other obstacles can make this normally precise game a lot of fun. Keep the object ball close enough for the kids to compete; the uneven and obstacle-laden course will make luck almost as important as skill.
Really, any game that you can think of can be a camping game. Try to bring along some of the group’s favorites and try some new games to try as well.
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Give camping a try this spring. Even inexpensive gear does require an initial outlay of cash, but remember that your gear should be usable for years to come if you care for it well. Once you have the gear, your only expense will be your campsite, which will cost a fraction of what a hotel room would.
In addition to the monetary benefits, you’ll be learning new skills, spending time with your family, and teaching your kids that fun doesn’t have to be expensive. Happy camping!