Comfortable Camping

by Angelia Crawford

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Road trips are not yet nostalgic Americana. My family of four will take a 3000-mile trip this year, with fuel costs comprising half of our vacation budget. Thoughtful choices and careful planning will save on lodging, food and fees, allowing us to stretch the rest of our budget without skimping on fun. Camping is a great way to save big on lodging and food costs. If the idea of primitive conditions, bugs, and wildlife sends shudders down your spine, don't lose heart. Camping comes in varieties to fit anyone's budget and comfort level.

  1. Start out easy. If you have never been camping, find a spot with the most amenities. Camping parks are ideal. My family has stayed at an array of public and privately owned campsites, all which provide spots for RVs, campers and tents. This year, we chose a national chain that requires a certain level of service at each camp, including bathhouses, swimming and laundry facilities. Their website helped us locate campsites at each destination and points in between. Campsite hosts often provide extras. One serves pancakes each morning and a BBQ each evening. Another provides live musical entertainment. Pick one that suits your interests and enjoy.
  2. Choose your shelter. Many people begin their camping years in a tent, move up to a pop-up or overhead camper, and end up with a fifth wheel or full-blown motor coach RV. Tenting is by far the cheapest route, with camping fees ranging from $10 to $35 per night, generally. Fees for larger pull-in sites cost more, and you can choose primitive sites or ones with electricity, water and sewer. Either option is less expensive than a hotel. Camping parks may also offer cabins from basic to plush. We usually tent camp, but this year, we chose the convenience and comfort of a cabin. Each will sport a full-sized bed and a bunk bed; we provide the linens. Heat and electricity are included. The cabins are a bit more expensive; we will average $60 per night, but they are still a bargain compared to hotels in tourist areas during peak season.
  3. Plan your food. If my family ate fast food every meal, we would spend about $20 per meal. If we choose a restaurant that offers more tasty options, we would spend about $40 per meal. Instead, camp cooking offers a budget-friendly, family-fun, nutritional option. You can cook on the open fire or bring a portable gas grill or camp stove. Once again, start out simply with recipes you have already tried at home. You can expand your recipe repertoire as your experience increases. Look online for recipes; I found a plethora at One-pot or foil cooking keeps the cooking gear to a minimum and clean up easy.
  4. If electricity is available, invest in an iceless cooler. For about $80, you can get a good-sized cooler that has an AC/DC adapter. We will plug ours into our vehicle on the road and then transfer it to the outlet in our cabin. I will hard-freeze items like raw meat before the trip and then cook them early to avoid spoilage.

    Make a menu to insure you have all you need. Convenience stores at campsites are expensive. If a grocery store is available, consider it for purchasing milk and fresh fruit. I estimate we will spend less than $20 per day; most meals will be purchased beforehand. I also plan to pre-make my sandwiches, sans the dressing, to save on space. Another idea is to eat leftovers from last night's dinner at lunch. Chicken nuggets warmed in foil over the campfire will make a great lunch the next day; just pack small containers of dipping sauces and you are good to go.

  5. You'll need gear. Camping takes more planning and gear than staying at a hotel. Not only do you need to pack clothing, but also bedding and cooking gear. Online sources like provide basic lists to work from; customize as needed. Most things will be around the house or at discount stores like Wal-Mart. Garage sales provide inexpensive, good-quality gear as well. Borrowing from camping friends and family also works.
  6. Account for fees. We chose national parks because of their reasonable fees. This will be a no-frills vacation, but the wildlife, scenery and hiking experiences will keep us satisfied. If you have your heart set on a particular activity that costs a bit, just plan ahead.

Camping is a viable option for almost any vacation destination, even hot spots like Disney World. The frugality of camping will enable you to pull up to the pump and pay those high prices with the confidence that you and your family will enjoy the vacation of a lifetime without breaking your budget.

Angelia Crawford is a stay-at-home mom and writer who loves to plan memorable family vacations for less.

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