Gone Camping: How to Plan a Camping Trip on a Budget

Gone Camping: How to Plan a Camping Trip on a Budget

A few days spent hiking trails and sleeping beneath the starry sky can do a lot to reawaken a weary soul. Even just one night in a tent, spent amongst the sounds of wind and cicada chirps, can provide a much-needed chance to reset and detach yourself from everyday obligations. And if that’s not enough enticement, it’s hard to forget that camping trips are also one of the most affordable ways to get away and take a vacation. Here are a few tips for keeping costs down if you’re already planning on spending some time in the great outdoors this summer:

Find a Cheap (or Free) Campsite

National Parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone are breathtaking, but they’re also congested with vacationers during peak camping season. Think about the type of natural life you’d like to surround yourself with, and spend a few hours researching other spots where you can camp on a budget. Chances are good you’ll find a place that suits your needs and costs little or nothing. All across the country, there are free or cheap campgrounds–State Parks and National Forests (different from National Parks!) tend to have very low nightly fees, and land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) can be camped on for up to two weeks at no cost. Make your life easier by using a website like Campendium.com or Freecampsites.net to find a cheap, wholesome spot to pitch a tent.

Bring Ingredients & Prepare Your Own Meals

Canned beans, string cheese, tortillas and a cheap, propane-fueled camp stove can go a long way towards keeping both your belly and wallet full as long as you’re out of town. It’s a good idea to gather enough food for every (or almost every) meal before entering the park–chances are that the on-site camp store will have what you need, but the lack of nearby competition means the store’s prices will be inflated by 20-50%. Planning your own meals and eating out only for special occasions will help make your trip extremely affordable.

Don’t Skimp Out on Equipment

If you’re planning to go camping on the regular, you should buy equipment you’re confident will last. The cheapest tent or sleeping bag in the outdoor store could be liable to tear easily, so spending the extra 20 to 30 bucks for a more durable option is almost certain to save you money down the line. If the equipment you’re considering comes with a lifetime warranty, you should be confident you’re making the right choice. Here’s a quick list of tips on what to look for when buying basic camping equipment:

  • When hunting for a camping tent, it’s a good idea to purchase a tent in which you’ll sleep comfortably. That “sleeps 2” number you see on the packaging is almost always going to be a tight squeeze for two people, and definitely won’t offer any extra room for stuff you might want to bring inside, like your backpack or a dog. So here’s a word of wisdom: buy a tent that can sleep two more people than the number of campers you intend to shelter. If you and your partner are planning a romantic getaway and want some room to get cozy, buy a four-person tent, or if your nature-loving family of four would prefer not to sleep on top of one another, think about buying a tent that sleeps six. You’ll be grateful you spent the extra 40 or 50 bucks for the luxury of a good night’s sleep.
  • If you’re planning to bring perishable food or drinks, be sure to buy a cooler that’s large enough to hold everything you need. The money you spend now on a large cooler will find its way back into your wallet with every camping trip, since you’ll be able to eat out less without worrying about your produce going bad.

Get a Group Together

A $25/night campsite is already dirt cheap, but it’s even cheaper when split between five people. Instead of going on your own or with one friend, see if you can gather together a group that values the outdoors and could use a few nights out of town. Since campsites usually offer more than enough space for two or three tents, you should have more than enough space to still feel like you’re getting away. Best of all, you can drive down costs even more by carpooling to the campground.

Maybe you need a camping stove or a sleeping bag certified for below-freezing temperatures, but you don’t see yourself needing it more than once. If someone you know has what you need for your upcoming trip, ask if you could borrow their equipment for a few days. Renting equipment adds up quickly, and should be avoided whenever possible.

With a little bit of research and planning, finding an affordable spot to set up camp and gear that suits your needs should be a straightforward task. And here’s the best news of all: as you gather more camping equipment, the base cost of each trip will go down considerably. So instead of staying at home and dealing with FOMO this weekend, make an investment on good camping gear and begin making a habit of enjoying the great outdoors. You might need to pay a pretty penny for the first trip or two, but the camping life is a great way to live adventurously and save money for years to come.

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