Yesterday, we shared some of our favorite ideas for saving money when planning your next camping trip. Today, we're going to continue on the same theme and explore money saving tips once you and your family have embarked on that trip! Just like yesterday, these are all ideas that we take into consideration for our family and we hope you can find what works for you.
- Plan your meals ahead of time - Preparing a picnic before you leave camp every morning can save you and the kids from becoming hangry and choosing food that is fast and easy - because we all know it is more expensive and not as healthy. Having dinner plans back at camp keeps us on track with our activities throughout the day and helps the kids focus on what's most important. S'mores after dinner!
- Stick to your meal plan! - You already bought it- why waste it or haul it home?
- Bring your food from home - We have always found that we spend more money when we purchase groceries at our destination. Whether the reason is higher prices (usually) or we're already in vacation mode and buy more, it is easier to blow the budget. Shopping at home will also help prevent forgotten items - last minute syrup runs to the store always end up with donuts in the cart too! Maybe that is just us?
- Plan simpler and cheaper meals - Sure those garlic and spinach alfredo stuffed chicken breasts sound amazing, but a turkey sandwich is probably cheaper and faster. So are burgers, hot dogs, and walking tacos.
- Know your family - All 5 of us could eat out every single meal, every single day, if allowed to. So we make smarter plans for eating out once a day or once every other day while traveling. If we choose to eat out, we pick lunch at a restaurant, because lunches are generally cheaper. We think it's fun eating pizza at the campsite, so we find a carryout pizza place in the local town for dinner one night. If we eat our campmade meals all day we'll treat the kids to milkshakes somewhere that afternoon.
- Ditch the gas station stops - Nothing says "that'll be $26.92, please swipe for debit" faster than a family in a gas station convenience store. Don't go in! Pay at the pump and run!
- Pre-pack snacks and drinks - Make or purchase snacks and drinks at more reasonable prices before you leave home and bring them with you in the car. These cookies are a must have on every road trip we take!
- Potluck - Going camping with a group of people? Arrange a couple of potluck nights before you go! Theme nights are always fun!
- Stick to water for drinking - It's boring, but definitely keeps you on budget.
- Before you leave home - Double check your checklist! Do you have EVERYTHING you need? Forgetting one big (or small) camping item and can be a costly replacement. We seriously forgot a sleeping bag one time! That was so frustrating.
- Get the car checked - Also before you leave, have your vehicle fully inspected and get an oil change. You don't need car repairs racking up over something preventative.
- Use the rest stops - Instead of going to a gas station to use the bathrooms or for stretching, utilize the rest stops - this always saves us time and money. On the road, we eat our picnics at the rest stops and let the boys run around for a bit.
- Discover the welcome centers - We have found that the larger tourist and welcome centers almost always have something free for the kids. And boy do kids love free stuff!! For example, Nebraska offers coloring books for free. Cookies, coffee, maps, advice - you name it and it's usually free!
- Pass on the souvenirs - For me, I despise clutter and t-shirts - so when I see something I love, I just take a picture of it. Yes, it sounds dumb, but I have fun with it. Truly remember - collect memories, not things! Pictures of your kids will be way more awesome than that presidential bobble head in 5 years. Trust me.
- Don't buy souvenirs for other people - I had a boss that always brought me back a small souvenir from her travels, it was nice, but unnecessary and those items eventually made their way to Goodwill. If you HAVE to pick something up for someone else, find the clearance section or stick with some postcards. This is the reason they sell $5 t-shirts people!
- Budget the kids - Our boys love the magic plastic card that buys stuff! We do not love buying toy dinosaurs every where we stop. So we give them each a set amount of their own cash. Usually $10. They have wallets for their money (that we hold on to) and they understand when it's gone, it's gone. Now that's not to say I haven't been involved in a few meltdowns over a keychain from time to time, but generally, they get it. And they learn to make better impulse choices early on!
- Over pack (a little) - I have a bad habit of being under the weather on camping trips - upset stomachs, headaches, sore muscles, hay fever, you name it. That's when I end up at a store buying something I know I have in the medicine cabinet at home. I was finally able to break the cycle by planning ahead and bringing a small supply of OTC medicine with me. It's a pain, but it pays off. The same goes with clothing - it's going to be 90 degrees all week? Great! Still bring a pair of pants! It doesn't take that much more space and I bet you'll find a need.
- Use cash - Go to the ATM and withdraw cash before your trip. Spend only the cash (except on gas - see #6 under Food) and you will cut back on spending subconsciously. Cash is visual, credit and debit cards aren't. If you're worried about having too much cash, split it up with your spouse or make a few ATM stops along the way.
- Plan your activities before you leave - Planning on less costly activities will help you from being sucked into more expensive plans. It also helps get the family excited for the adventures you have planned. If you desire spontaneity, then set aside one day to be spontaneous and leave the rest for pre-planned events.
- Request 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. Or even more ideas for free or almost free sightseeing that you didn't know about.
- Look for free museums - Often times little museums will be donation only, make that donation and enjoy some local flavor.
- Ask the kids for input - They might surprise you and be more interested in an activity that you never thought of. Our boys love to scooter around the campground and local parks.
- Discover the fun in small local events - In Glenwood Springs, CO in mid-June they have Strawberry Days. There's a parade, awesome food, a craft show, live music and best of all - free ice cream and strawberries! In Story City, IA in early-June they celebrate Scandinavian Days. They also have a parade, eating contests, rides, a craft show and their antique carousel is worth the stop alone! We have done both these events while camping and had so much fun!! Summer is a wonderful time to find a small town celebration to enjoy and keep the costs at a minimum.
- Limit the activities - Take your time and explore 1 or 2 places in depth instead of trying to fit everything into one trip or one day.
- Change your thinking! - Go on a hike instead of an expensive museum. Do a scavenger hunt instead of the mini golf. Find a local playground instead of the water park. Explore the farmer's market instead of shopping in town. Go build sandcastles on the shore instead of renting a wave runner. Show your kids how to make the perfect PB&J instead of the easiest way to order fast food.
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!!