While hotels can be convenient, they’re also pricey. Vacationing in the great outdoors might be outside your comfort zone, but it’s a budget-friendly option that frees up your cash for other things. Plus, research finds camping can increase your exposure to sunlight, reset your body’s internal clock and may even help improve your kids’ self-esteem and leadership abilities.
Camping is already cheap, but I have a couple tips to make it even more inexpensive.
Head to a state or national park
The cheapest camp sites can be found on state and national land. Most states have rustic, semi-modern and modern sites as well as cabins available for rent. Pricing depends on the location and amenities provided.
For example, these are the going rates in Michigan:
·Rustic campsites (vault toilets, no electricity or running water): $12-$14 per night
·Semi-modern campsites (electrical hook-ups OR modern toilets/showers): $16-$18 per night
·Modern campsites: $16-$26 per night
·Premium modern campsites (high demand areas): $28-$29 per night
·Full hook-up campsites for RVs: $33 per night
There may also be registration and park entrance fees. Cabins will be more but still a bargain compared to a hotel.
The absolute cheapest campsites can often be found in National Forests where many sites are totally free. However, be aware, they are totally rustic too ““ as in, you may be digging your own latrine.
Think twice about pricey memberships
The internet is filled with horror stories of individuals who purchased expensive memberships to campground associations and then found them to be a disappointing money pit.
These clubs can work like time shares and cost thousands upfront plus hefty annual fees. They are often marketed to RV campers, but you can also find membership clubs for tent campers.
Before signing up for one, thoroughly do your research, watch out for hidden fees and surcharges and get everything in writing.
Do sign up for a loyalty program
While most membership programs get a thumbs down in my book, a loyalty program can be a good deal if you go camping often enough.
The best known program among private campgrounds is probably the KOA Value Kard Rewards. It costs $27 to join, but then you get 10 percent off regularly priced campsites. You also earn points toward rewards and are entitled to discounts off purchases with KOA partner businesses.
You’re most likely to find a loyalty program though privately owned campgrounds, but even some states have gotten in on the action. For example, Georgia State Parks gives the 10thnight free to members of its GeoCamp Loyalty Program.
Pack your own food
Going out to eat each day will quickly negate any savings you get from camping.
However, eating at a campsite is totally different from your normal mealtime experience.You can do an internet search for “sample camping menu” to find lots of sites offering menus and shopping lists to make planning easy.
In a nutshell, you want to pack any raw meats in a separate cooler and freeze them before the trip so they will travel safely. Leave fragile food at home and consider packing a portable grill for breakfast or other times when you don’t want to build a fire.
Rent or borrow your gear
Finally, don’t run out and buy all new gear if you are dipping your toe into the camping experience. It would be a waste of money if you decide sleeping and living in the great outdoors isn’t for your family.
Instead, check with your state’s natural resources department. Some offer first time camper programs that give you everything you need to camp for one low price. Sometimes the park will even kick in a ranger who will help set up the tent, build a fire and perfect your s’more making technique.
If your state doesn’t have such a program, ask family and friends if they have gear you can borrow. Otherwise, some rental businesses will have camping supplies as part of their inventory.