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Do you wish you could travel, but don’t have the money for flights, hotel stays or fancy dinners out? While you may not be able to travel to Hawaii, there are ways you can still travel, get out and experience something new – and not break the bank. What is that? Frugal camping!
Okay, so the very definition of camping is frugal travel, right? Not necessarily. If you’re not familiar with camping, you might think of camping as expensive, time-consuming – and smelly and/or bug-ridden. Camping is none of those things! Okay, maybe the bugs sometimes. But in general, you can camp for little to no money. Don’t let those people in their fancy RVs fool you – camping is something almost anyone can do.
I’m a huge fan of camping (or more aptly camping with our dog) – I grew up camping and thought it was super fun. Little did I know then, but my parents did it because they didn’t want to spend a ton of money on fancy vacations. A fancy vacation was when we upgraded to an old Westfalia van and popped the top for me to sleep in the loft. Aw yeah, livin’ the life! #vanlife before it was sexy, am I right?
You don’t even need a sexy van to live the life of a frugal camper, though. I’ve rounded up some of the best frugal camping advice from personal finance experts around the country. Check out their advice (and visit their sites if you like what they say!) for frugal camping inspiration and smart, money-saving strategies.
Looking for more camping tips? Here are more resources for you:
- How to Eat Well While Camping
- Why Camping is The Best Way to Travel Cheaply
- How to Entertain Yourself While Camping
- 4 Fun, Frugal Places to Go Camping in Arizona
Frugal Camping: Finding a Cheap Place to Camp
Angela from the blog Tread Lightly, Retire Early says, “Dispersed camping – there are dispersed campgrounds as well as just large areas of public land that are completely free to camp in (usually have a 7-14 limit before you have to move on). These places have no services, so you have to pack in/pack out all supplies, but they are also usually pretty deserted, which is a plus when it comes to camping in my opinion.“
Mrs. Adventure Rich from the blog Adventure Rich says, “If you are willing to be a bit more rustic or “primitive”, camping can be quite the frugal adventure! My family would find primitive campgrounds growing up which typically meant pit johns and hand-pumped water… but it also meant quieter campgrounds, more room and many more lessons in being resourceful! Some of my favorite memories include figuring out how to “make it work” while camping with my family without many amenities.”
Peter from the blog Seller at Heart says, “A) Wilderness camp so you don’t have to pay for a campsite. B) Don’t rely on those gimmicky overpriced freeze-dried camping meals. Things like oatmeal, potatoes, nuts/seeds, protein bars are cheaper and get you a better price per calorie.”
Steve from the blog Think Save Retire says, “Don’t stay at a campground; boondock instead (BLM land is a good source of free camping with a typical 14-day limit).”
Rachel from the blog Adventures in Mobile Homes says, “If you’ve worked for the military, many state and national parks give discounts. Military members and their spouses are eligible for a free annual pass to national parks here.”
Professor S from the blog Bull in Captivity says, “If you are using a camper or RV, WalMart allows you to park in their parking lot overnight. This is usually quieter than a truck stop and allows for inexpensive purchases of food and gear.”
Listen to Katie! The serious campers start booking on January 1 or as soon as reservations open to get the best spots:
Katie from the blog Retiring to the Road says, “Utilize online reservations when you can! State parks usually offer very cheap campsites but the best ones can fill up quickly when the weather gets nice. If you can book your site early, then you’re guaranteed a good location!”
Frugal Camping: Food!
Laura from the blog Savvy Family Finance says, “We are a family of 4, so prepping as much food as we can in advance not only saves time but money (and cleanup!) at the campsite. Containers of frozen soup also help keep the cooler, well, cool, without having to buy ice as often.”
This tip from Mike sounds pretty ominous, so you should probably listen to him…
Mike from the blog MikedUp Blog says, “I once hiked the circumference of a Costa Rican peninsula with a close friend. No hotels, restaurants, or civilization (e.g. no safety net). So we did the following by default, but I recommend you consider it for any camping trip. We carried all the food/water we thought we’d need, and the cooking equipment needed to prepare the food. Then, once the food was all gone (~3 days remaining in the trip) – we used our preparation and homework to live off of the land. Lesson – do your homework and know where you can get some quick calories in a pinch. Sometimes the rice runs out…”
Chris from the blog Mindful Explorer says, “To cut down on packaging when backpacking and avoid extra dishes, you can boil water and eat instant oatmeal right out of the small packages. The packages are waterproof so you can eat right out of them with no worries of leaks.”
Michael from the blog Michael Dinich says, “Make your own dehydrated food. Instead of paying top dollar for premade food, buy, build or borrow a dehydrator and make your own dehydrated soups and stews. It’s simple and fun- just take your favorite recipes and dehydrate the ingredients prior to camp. When you are out in the woods, just add water and heat for a tasty stew. Additional tip- talk to the produce manager at your local grocer to get big savings on misshapen veggies they may not put out for sale.”
Yaz from the blog The Wallet Moth says, “Cook your own food! Lots of people turn up at the campsite and head straight to the pub for a big meal out. While this can be fun, it’s also expensive! My #1 tip is to stop in at the supermarket before you get to your campsite and buy a disposable BBQ and some food and have your own al fresco meals! There’s nothing better than sitting around a BBQ on your camp chairs watching the sunset.”
Frugal Camping: Cheap Gear
Actuary on FIRE from the blog Actuary on FIRE says, “Walmart has a lot of great camping gear at a very good value.”
Misty from the blog Simple Organized Lifestyle says, “Invest in a rechargeable lantern instead of multiple flashlights that use a lot of batteries!”
Eric from the blog High Five Dad says, “Rather than buying a ton of flashlights and batteries which can be expensive (especially the batteries when your 4-year-old leaves them on all night), we purchase dollar store glow sticks (the multipack) and then put them in a water bottle with water. This makes a great cheap lantern that the kids love and works well.”
Physician on FIRE from the blog Physician on FIRE says, “Buy quality goods. One good tent that lasts 20 years is better than cheap, leaky tents that are replaced every few years. The same can be said for sleeping mats and bags, camp stoves, etc.”
Mrs. Kiwi from the blog Kiwi and Keweenaw says, “Before heading to the sporting goods store to get all the best equipment, check the used market! Lots of people take up camping for only a short period of time and then want to clear up clutter in their garage. You can get almost new stuff for a fraction of the cost! We bought our tent and cookstove for $10 total at a garage sale.”
Frugal Camping: What About Water? Never Forget Water!
Water is so important, it deserves its own shout out:
Shawn from the blog The Smart FI says, “Ice is expensive. I like to freeze a case of 12 oz water bottles a couple of days before packing. I use these in the cooler for ice. In a couple of days you have cold water to drink as well. Double duty water bottles. Also using a rotomolded cooler like a Yeti or Rtic really helps cut down on ice purchases, but those coolers are expensive.”
Andrew from Family Money Plan suggests working from a list when camping. “A big part in camping frugally is to make sure you have everything you need before you leave so you aren’t buying things at the last minute. That’s why we have a family camping checklist that we use for every time we go camping.”
Frugal Camping: Summing it All Up
In the end, Bethany sums it up really well: travel light, be flexible, and bring friends (or family!)
Bethany from the blog His and Her FI says, “Travel as light as possible. If you can live minimally, you can camp that way too. Camp like you are backpacking (which we also LOVE to do) and have it all fit in one bag per person. Some tips for this include:
- https://familymoneyplan.com/family-camping-checklist/Getting a water filter and making sure water is close (don’t buy bottled water- it’s bad for the environment anyway).
- Freeze-dried food- buy in bulk at Winco and make sure all it needs is hot water. We have had the BEST chili from freeze-dried. You are there for nature more than the food anyways!
- Forage your own firewood- hauling that is a pain. Make sure it is legal in the park/camp first!
- Lastly, travel light, but pack in the friends. Group trips are always cheaper and more fun!”
Do you have any camping tips not listed here? Let me know in the comments!