In 2010, the National Park Service reported that there were more than 281,303,789 recreational visits to its parks throughout the year. If you’re going to add your family to this year’s total, or if you’re planning to camp at state parks in your area, you may want some good ways to save money on your camping vacation.
While camping can be a fun and inexpensive way to travel, if you aren’t careful, costs can spiral out of control. So, before you head out in the RV or pack your tents for this summer’s vacation, use these tips to keep your spending low.
Buy Used or Borrow
Whether you’ve been camping as a family for years or are taking your very first camping trip, chances are you need at least some gear. If this is your first camping vacation, it may be the best option to borrow camping gear whenever possible. That way, you won’t spend lots of money on gear that you end up not using. Until you’ve been camping a few times, you may not know which gear works best for your family, so borrowing from a friend or family member gives you a chance to feel things out before you make a purchase.
If you are set on buying some camping equipment, however, consider buying used gear. Websites like eBay and Craigslist are both excellent places to get used camping gear, and you can often get it at 50% or more off what it would have cost new. Lots of times, this gear is in nearly new condition, as well, since the current owner bought it and used it for just one or two annual camping trips!
Whether you buy or borrow gear, make sure you get some that is appropriate for the weather in which you’ll be camping. For example, if you’ll be in a windy area, you’ll need a more aerodynamic dome tent that isn’t as likely to get caught by the wind. If it will be cold, you’ll want extra gear like a sleeping bag liner to keep you warm in your tent.
Research Different Campgrounds
Before you go camping, do some research about the different campgrounds around your area. Some are likely to be more expensive than others, and many state parks also have different levels of accommodation. RV camping is more expensive than tent camping, but even when you’re tent camping, there may be some areas of the campground (usually closer to bathroom facilities with showers and real plumbing) that are more expensive than others.
You might also consider checking the popularity of different campgrounds. The more popular campgrounds in your area are likely to be not only more expensive but also quite crowded. Choosing a less-crowded campground might get you a more peaceful and less expensive camping experience.
Check out this post for 13 more things to consider when choosing a campground.
Plan Your Menu
Planning your menu for your camping trip is absolutely essential if you want to save money. There’s nothing more likely to run up the cost of your camping vacation than having to run to the general store at the state campground for more peanut butter because you didn’t bring enough food. To avoid paying $10 for a jar of Jif, make a careful menu plan for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for each day.
The best option here is to make at least one or two meals a day very easy to prepare, such as sandwiches for lunch or cereal for breakfast. Otherwise, you’ll spend your entire camping vacation cooking, eating and cleaning up food! So a proper meal plan that accounts for this will save you time, giving your more time to do other things on your trip.
Also, though, a menu plan allows you to grocery shop on the cheap. Consider buying snack bars, bottled drinks and other items you’ll go through quickly in bulk, so you can save some money there. And use coupons for a few weeks before your trip to buy the items you need as cheaply as possible.
Check the Gas Spending
This summer, gas prices will definitely be high, though maybe not as high as everyone originally thought. Whether you’re loading the family sedan down with your tent and other camping gear or driving an RV, though, keeping your gas spending in check will be important. There are a few things you can do to spend less on gas while camping this year. Here are some options:
- Camp closer to home. This is the most obvious. If you want to spend less money on gas, then don’t drive as much!
- Plan activities that don’t involve driving from the campground. While combining a camping vacation with a sightseeing vacation can be fun, you should plan to spend at least two or three days of a week-long camping vacation just on the campground. Hike, bike, swim or whatever, but don’t get in the car. If you are going to sightsee, pack all that driving into a couple of days to minimize the amount of time you’re driving.
- Check out the best gas credit cards. Good gas credit cards can help you save right at the pump or give you money back after your purchase, saving you money either way.
- Don’t overload the car for long trips. If you’re planning a camping vacation where you’ll be driving quite far, pack the car lighter. Buy your food, for example, when you get closer to your destination. A lighter car is a more fuel-efficient car, after all.
Saving money on a camping vacation isn’t difficult, and it’s really a lot like saving money in everyday life. By planning your food and gas spending well and by not spending more than you have to for gear and accommodations, you can have a very affordable, fun family camping vacation at a campground!