Our love for the outdoors and the fun we have together is why our family loves camping. But the main reason we continue to camp is because of our budget limitations. Camping allows us to "vacation" more frequently and do more activities than a typical family vacation. Sure, we'd love to take the kids to Disneyland, but it would be a short trip and the only vacation for the whole year. With the same budget we can go on at least 5 camping trips throughout the summer and experience so much more. We have been able to do this because we have figured out some obvious and not so obvious ways for saving money. Today we're going to talk about how to save when PLANNING your next camping trip.
First, grab a paper calendar, some markers and everyone's schedule. Sit down and plan your whole summer. Write down everything! Doctor and dentist appointments, weddings, VBS, sports practice, day camps, odd work schedules (especially around the 4th of July), pay days, school start dates and anything else that comes to mind as your first priority. Why? Because over booking can get expensive. About 6 years ago we planned a camping trip the same week we needed to be IN an out-of-state wedding. How? I still don't know. It cost us $65 to cancel when we realized at the last minute. We paid $65 for nothing. And even though a camping trip right before a family reunion sounds do-able, in the end it's probably not a great idea. Be smart.
- Start early - The earlier you start planning your camping trips the more options you will have and with options comes savings!
- Research - Look online, browse campground directories, search TripAdvisor, social media, and even Google Maps can help you find a great campground.
- Use your head - Though the $10 campsite sounds great on paper, in reality it's a poor choice when it's right next to a busy interstate and you won't be getting any sleep. Avoid cancellation fees and the hassle of finding another campground at the last minute.
- Think Tents - A tent site is always the cheapest site in the campground.
- Shop around for your campground - The nightly fees for tent sites, RV sites, and cabins can vary greatly by just a few miles. If you're not dead set on a specific destination or if you're willing to drive a little bit, think outside the box and do some research. Look into national and state park camping, private campgrounds, and national chains like KOA or Jellystone.
- Age matters - Every campground charges different prices for different ages. At one campground all kids under 18 are free, while at another they charge for anyone over 2. Sometimes $10 per kid, per night! Those fees add up when you're staying multiple nights. Take extra fees into account when looking at base price on a site.
- Resort Fees - Campgrounds with above and beyond amenities are charging resort fees on top of site fees. These resort fees are mandatory even if you don't ever use a thing. It can be great cheap entertainment for the kids or ruin a budget for those who don't want it.
- Travel on weekdays - Especially in the summer you find that campgrounds are cheaper Monday-Thursday.
- Holidays - Memorial Day, Father's Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day can all affect pricing.
- Regions change everything - We know from experience that the Midwest is way cheaper than out West.
- Go in the off-season - Rates change dramatically between high-season, off-season and shoulder seasons.
- Know what's going on - Big events in the area will change how much you pay. Prime example - Sturgis. Repeat after me: don't go to South Dakota at the beginning of August! Events like rodeos, concerts, state and county fairs and rallies will affect your prices too. Even those precious little Boy Scouts can change things.
- Take advantage of reward programs - Memberships like Good Sam, VKR, Passport America and many others offer quite a bit of savings. We have a VKR card that offers savings on each night, cash rewards and a free weekend of camping.
- Group camping - go camping with friends and family and see if you can negotiate cheaper rates for multiple campsites.
- Boondocking - off-the-grid camping is always the cheapest route.
- Take shorter trips more often - shorter trips are easier on the wallet and push you to discover more of what's near your home. Imagine planning a camping trip every other weekend throughout the summer - that's 7 trips! Seven chances for making new memories with your kids. Fourteen nights of campfires and s'mores. Can we say parents of the year?
- Check activity costs ahead of time - Will you be visiting 3 state parks this trip? It's probably smarter to buy a park pass. Or see if your larger tourist destinations offer those discount all-in-one admission cards.
- Use the internet - Once we've decided on an activity I always go online and see if there are discounts for buying tickets online or coupons we can print and use when we get there.
- Send away for travel guides - State prepared travel guides often showcase multiple activities. You may find a different chuckwagon dinner $10 cheaper than the other one you almost booked. Deals on camping, restaurants, and other destinations will always be plentiful.
- Be flexible - Don't try to fit everything in. Enjoy 1-2 big activities instead of trying to fit in 5 in a single day.
- Borrow - you don't have much money to purchase camping equipment? I'm sure you have a friend you can borrow a few things from. Just ask! Thinking about an RV purchase? Ask your friend if you can borrow their RV when they're not using it. That's a lot cheaper than a $25,000 mistake.
- Shop at home - Look around the house for double use items for camping- I prefer sheets and a quilt to a sleeping bag. I use a well loved cloth purse for my shower tote. Our old throw rugs have new life in our tent. I dig out long lost toys from the back of the closet and bring them in a backpack for playtime at the campground. Mismatched kitchen items are perfect for the campground kitchen.
- Double the fun camping trips - We do this! We love going to see my grandparents, but they don't have a guest room. Luckily, they live close to a nice KOA. We stay in an air conditioned comfy cabin for $56 a night. A hotel in the area is well over $120 a night. Two birds, one stone.
- Simplify - Contrary to popular belief you don't need 47 gadgets and shortcuts to make camping easier. Sometimes you just need is simplify to make it easier. Stick to the basics and you'll save the most money, no doubt.
- Negotiate, Barter, or Bargain - If you have the resources, give it a try!
- Most importantly BUDGET - Budget, budget, budget! If you only have an extra $300 for a camping trip, don't blow your budget with poor planning. Stick to it and you never know, it might only cost you $275?! Really, a $275 multi-day camping trip is possible, we've done it more than once.
No matter what, there is always a way to have fun as a family and do it without spending a ton of money! Find what works for your family and you'll have camping gold!! Come back tomorrow when we talk about money saving tips once you've set off on that well planned camping trip.
Also, if anyone could invent an Expedia for camping that would be great! Thanks!