5 survival strategies for camping on a budget

  • May. 8, 2018 7:30 p.m.

Exploring nature and sleeping under the stars can be viewed as an economical vacation. But buying gear and booking campsites or renting an RV can add up.

With some cost-saving strategies, camping can fit a variety of budgets, whether you’re planning a car or RV camping trip or backpacking. Try these tips to enjoy the outdoors free of technology, traffic and a big tab.

1. SEARCH FOR FREE CAMPSITES

Don’t unplug just yet — before you leave, put your phone to good use by finding a campsite on sites like Campendium.com or FreeCampsites.net.

Many campgrounds charge a nightly fee, but you’ll also find free camping options, says Brian Easterling, co-founder and president of Campendium, a campsite review app and website.

Campendium provides information on over 27,000 campsites (free and paid), including national and state parks and RV parks. Listings include user reviews, fees, photos, cell coverage and other details. Some sites have no nightly rate but may require a paid pass to gain access.

Word to the wise: Free campsites don’t always include the amenities of paid campgrounds, says Kristin Addis, CEO of Be My Travel Muse, a travel blog. If you choose a free site, locate a place close by where you can clean up; Addis says she’s paid for a shower at campgrounds near free sites for less than the campgrounds’ overnight fee.

2. CHECK THE WEATHER

Look up the forecast for your destination, including nightly lows, says Addis, who’s camped on every continent except Antarctica and has learned the value of an insulated sleeping bag.

“The most important thing is staying warm and comfortable in your tent,” Addis says. “So maybe the tent doesn’t need to be super fancy or expensive, but I would maybe spend a bit more on your sleeping bag so you’re not freezing.”

“The sleeping mat is important, too, that it’s insulated and keeps you enough off the ground (so) that you’re not getting bruised by rocks or roots,” she says.

Investing in good gear from the outset — even if it’s expensive — could save you money in the long run, rather than buying something that’s not quite right and having to replace it later.

3. TRAVEL WITH LESS

Travel light, says Tom Lionvale, a backpacking instructor and adjunct faculty member at College of the Sequoias in California. You don’t want too much to carry; 20 pounds not including food and water is a good guideline for backpacking, he says. Even if you’re not backpacking, camping with less means purchasing less gear.

For equipment deals, check out online sales. REI.com features REI Garage, where you’ll find discounted clothing and gear. Backcountry.com showcases markdowns at its discount division Steep and Cheap.

And don’t forget about seasonal sales. For example, REI has an Anniversary Sale each May. You’ll also traditionally find lower prices on outdoor gear in October, the tail end of peak camping season. Another cost-saving option: Consider renting gear from an outdoor equipment store, particularly if you’re new to the experience.

“Borrow your equipment or rent your equipment because maybe you won’t like it after the first trip and then you’re stuck with all of that,” Lionvale says.

4. FIND A PLACE TO REST

Whether you’re camping by car or RV, plan the route you’ll take and the stops you’ll make to and from your destination.

If you’re travelling by RV, Easterling recommends looking for dump stations for waste disposal ahead of time. If you’ll need to get some sleep along the journey, search online for free overnight RV parking, such as at rest areas and truck stops. Be sure to check local rules, since policies on if and how long you can park can vary.

“If you’re going on a road trip from San Francisco and you want to get to the Grand Canyon, and you want to do it cheaply, utilize rest areas and utilize free campsites for just your quick overnighters as you’re trying to make those miles with your family,” Easterling says.

5. MAKE YOUR OWN RULES

There are many ways to camp, so plan a trip that fits your budget . Skip the things you don’t need — like the latest camera if your smartphone will do.

“Anything goes,” Lionvale says. “I’ve seen men and women with World War I army surplus doing a good job and having a good time, and I’ve seen men and women with ultralight equipment having a miserable time.”

___

This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.

RELATED LINKS:

NerdWallet: Budgeting: How to Create a Budget

https://nerd.me/how-to-build-budget

Courtney Jespersen, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Whispering Pines raises $40,000 for STARS

The golf and country resort held its fifth annual STARS Charity Golf Tournament this past weekend

Man dies in vehicle rollover west of Red Deer

Rocky Mountain House RCMP investigate

UPDATED: Lee seeks UCP nomination in Red Deer

Eyes Red Deer-North constituency

Updated Red Deer smoke free bylaw to ban smoking cannabis in public

Smoke Free Bylaw returns to Red Deer city council Sept. 4

Red Deer city council considers new business licence bylaw

All businesses operating in the City of Red Deer will require a… Continue reading

Updated Red Deer smoke free bylaw to ban smoking cannabis in public

Smoke Free Bylaw returns to Red Deer city council Sept. 4

Case of truck driver charged in Humboldt Broncos crash adjourned until October

MELFORT, Sask. — The case of a Calgary truck driver charged in… Continue reading

Animal crackers break out of their cages

After more than a century behind bars, the beasts on boxes of… Continue reading

Alligator kills woman trying to protect her dog at resort

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — A woman who often walked her dog… Continue reading

Patients redirected as water leak shuts down Edmonton hospital’s emergency room

EDMONTON — Ambulances are being redirected to other hospitals after a water… Continue reading

Parks Canada moves second bison bull that wandered out of Banff National Park

BANFF — Parks Canada says a second bison bull that wandered out… Continue reading

Lottery for parent sponsorship to be replaced, more applications to be accepted

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government is scrapping an unpopular lottery system for… Continue reading

Air Canada-led consortium signs deal to buy Aeroplan program from Aimia

TORONTO — A consortium led by Air Canada has reached a deal… Continue reading

Scheer going to India to ‘repair’ relationship after ‘disastrous’ Trudeau trip

OTTAWA — Six months after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy prowess… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month