With stargazing, sunrises and dinners around the fire, camping can be an ideal getaway, particularly for families who want a cheap family vacation that fits into their budget.
According to Forbes, the average family spends $1,145, or $4,580 on a vacation. But, when you take hotel rooms out of the equation, you can start to really cut those costs. These days, the average price of a hotel room runs around $127. But, at a U.S. National Park, it can cost as little as $10 to pitch a tent for an overnight stay.
Here are five ways to make your summer camping trip budget-friendly
1. Don’t splurge on high-priced gear
If you don’t have camping gear, you’ll probably need to invest in at least the basics, but you don’t need to spend money as if you’re prepping for a hike up Everest. A tent with room for a family of four can be had for as little as $30- $50. Sleeping bags start around $16. You can often save even more by scouting out gently used camping gear.
If you have friends or family who are avid campers, talk to them about what gear you may need and whether you can borrow any -- especially if this is your family’s first camp trip. You wouldn’t want to buy things that you’ll never use again if it turns out you’re not camping fans.
2. Make it an almost staycation
Instead of traveling a long distance to a campsite and spending a lot of money on gas, consider parks and campgrounds nearby.
The U.S. National Park Service offers plenty of options, depending on where you live. A state park may be even closer to home. And there are plenty of private campgrounds across the country. Go Camping America, Free Campsites, Camp Native, KOA and Reserve America make it easy to search for campgrounds online.
3. Bring your own food
If you’re headed to a remote area with few shopping options, it will be less expensive to pack up your own food at home where you’re able to bargain shop. Don’t get fancy -- especially if this is your first family camping trip. Hot dogs and s’mores over the campfire, after all, are two of the pleasures of camping. HappyMoneySaver.com shares 10 cheap and easy camping meals.
4. Come prepared
Before you go, make a checklist of everything you’ll need -- from bug spray to sunscreen to lawn chairs -- so you’re not left buying $20 cans of bug spray at the gas station down the road.
If you’re camping with kids, find out what activities, if any, are planned at the campground while you’re there. Some have pools, outdoor movies, playgrounds, guided hikes and other activities. Ask what’s included in your campsite fee and what, if anything, may require an additional charge.
5. Consider investing in a pass
For $80 a year, an American the Beautiful Pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees, and day use fees at national parks across the country. The pass is free for U.S. military. It’s just $10 for a lifetime pass for seniors age 62 and up. You’ll still need to pay for a campsite, but the pass can save you money on other fees.
There’s also Value Kard Rewards from KOA, the world’s largest system of privately owned campgrounds. Membership is $30 per year for a new rewards member. Members get 10 percent off each time they camp at KOA and also earn points for camping rewards.
Before you invest in a pass, just do the math to determine whether the costs of these savings programs make sense based on how often you plan to camp.
For those of us busy with work and family, even just a few days away can make all of the difference. If you are looking to plan a cheap family vacation, a camping trip is a fun -- and inexpensive -- way to make memories this summer.
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