With warm weather and clear skies, heading out for a camping trip is one of America's most popular excursions. Not only is a camping trip a great way to enjoy the great outdoors, but it's more affordable than staying in a hotel. Yet, despite its relatively low cost, expenses can add up, especially if camping equipment needs to be purchased. Here are some of the best money-saving tips while camping.
Plan the Trip in Advance
Campers can save money even before leaving for the trip simply by making reservations at a low-cost campsite. State and national parks tend to be cheaper than privately owned campgrounds. But rates can vary widely from state to state. For example, camping fees in California state parks can range from as little as $5 per night for a "Hike and Bike" special to over $400 for a group during the peak season. Of course, this means campers can save even more by booking a campsite during the offseason and avoiding holidays. Also, creating a checklist in advance helps campers remember essential items such personal items, electronics and kitchen accessories that will add up in expenses if purchased away from home.
Stay Close to Home
The cost of traveling to a site is among the biggest expenses, with the price for a gallon of gas at about $3.70. Thus, the best possible way to save on travel expenses is to stay close to home. Other ways to save on travel expenses include packing lightly, bringing only what's needed and driving efficiently, such as observing the speed limit, avoiding excessive idling and, if practical, using cruise control.
Buy Used Camping Equipment
If camping equipment isn't already on hand, campers can save money by purchasing used equipment from stores like Goodwill or online sites such as eBay and Craigslist. Equipment like sleeping bags can currently be purchased on eBay for under $20, tents under $30 and prices might even be cheaper by shopping at Goodwill, the Salvation Army or other thrift shops. It also helps to consider whether it's practical to bring along a portable stove operating on kerosene or butane instead of bringing firewood to enjoy an eco-friendly open fire that still releases toxic pollutants. A more environmentally friendly option is to purchase artificial firewood, although costs could add up quickly. Items like plates, cups, pots and pans and utensils from the kitchen should also be brought along instead of paper plates and cups that end up in the trash.
Bring Your Own Food
Bringing your own food, regardless of the length of stay, will obviously be more cost effective than eating out. Typical items like sandwiches and chili can be prepared in advance, while other food items like pancake mix, marshmallows, hot dogs and snacks like trail mix are all popular choices for a fun-filled camping trip. Another great option is to purchase dehydrated foods such as soup mix, dried fruit and vegetables and powdered dairy products that only require adding water.
Although enough water should be brought along for the trip, campers should try to avoid purchasing cases of bottle water. Instead, a large cooler(s) should be brought along, in addition to reusable water bottles. Not only is this more environmentally friendly, but it's far more cost effective. Bottled water might seem more convenient but the plastic bottles add a tremendous amount of waste and averages over $1 a gallon versus about 15-35 cents for purified water purchased outside of grocery stores. If water is available at the campsite, water purification tablets can be purchased for about $5 per 50 tablets, enough to purify 25 gallons.
Related: Tips For Your Next Road Trip
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.
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