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It amazes me how quickly the cost of camping can add up!

For those of you who enjoy camping, let's share tips on things we can do to keep the cost down.
 

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One thing I do is to avoid ever needing to buy anything in the store at the campgrounds or state park because it can be sooooooo expensive there.

I make a list before I go and check it more than once.
 

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I shop for our camping supplies at yard sales -- pots/pans, sleeping bags, plastic plates, etc. Even got an 8 person tent for $10 because someone bought it, used it once and decided camping wasn't for them.

A cooler with frozen food and ice will keep foods safe for several days if you limit opening the cooler too many times. Keep drinks in a separate cooler so you aren't opening the food cooler so often.

Freeze water in large blocks (we use 2 liter soda bottles) -- as it melts we use it for drinking water.
 

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If your camping with electric use a 30 cup coffee pot to heat water for dishes or what ever.. We always took enough things with us so we didn't have to buy things there. Cooking in foil packs and cast over the fire is great. Ice frozen in soda bottles or mike jugs keeps longer. Put meat in coolers frozen and they will keep for days. I cut up vegetable ahead of time too and took in bags.
 

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Don't shop for 'special' foods for camping. It seems like 'special' usually means 'expensive' and also bad for your health. Instead, shop in your pantry and freezer because that stuff is likely bought on sale so will save over buying that special camp food.

Remember water is a perfectly good beverage, and carbonated and/or caffeinated beverages do not hydrate you like plain water does. Buy steel water bottles and put them in a sturdy cloth carry bag of some kind. Refill as necessary to avoid buying bottled water and also save space, along with generating less trash you'll have to deal with.

Buy the accessories needed to hook your propane grill, camp stove, and campfire up to the larger tank(s) on your camper. Much cheaper than buying the one-pound throw-away LP bottles.

Brat, we used a coffee urn for heating water, too, even though we had a water heater in our last camper. We don't use it anymore, which costs us more, but we don't have space for the urn anymore and we have a DSI water heater now that's just too easy to light.

I should be embarrassed to say this, because if we're traveling and not camping, we don't follow this advice, but don't use disposable dishes. Use something washable instead.

I second the secondhand idea. We have loads of camping gear we bought new, but also loads of stuff we got secondhand that helped pay for the new stuff we couldn't find secondhand.

Tow low if you're towing. We could have bought a full-height trailer with more amenities when we got our current camper. But we travel in the Dakotas a lot where we're likely to encounter headwinds out of the west. We lose about 3-4 mpg in that situation just because of the high profile on our truck (but gain that back if we're lucky enough to get a good tailwind on the way home). Towing a full-height trailer would make the situation even worse, plus we've seen way too many high profile rigs out there getting dangerously squirrelly in those high winds. Not for us. We realized we wanted to tow a hotel room with kitchenette, not a house, so we bought a hardside pop up that folds to a nice low profile. Safer and cheaper and less wear and tear on our truck, too, because it's not working so hard to pull a high trailer that's being pushed backwards in a minimum 60 mph wind. Our little fold-down is lower than the truck so drafts nicely in the truck's slipstream, where we lose only one mpg towing it.

Camp in the off season if you can, so you don't need to make reservations and pay reservation fees, and sometimes you can also pay less for a campsite. You can often save on admission tickets to attractions during the off season, plus campgrounds aren't as busy which makes for a more pleasant stay.

Camp without power if you can, and save the extra fees. At the least, be prepared to camp without power so if you can't get a site with power, you can still stop if you need to.

Keep tires properly inflated and engine tuned to maximize fuel.

Plan your itinerary to avoid backtracking and spending more on fuel as you travel around, and so you don't miss anything you wanted to see, and also so you don't run out of time or feel stressed about having to hurry. All state and federal parks have websites with great info to use for trip planning.

Figure out the best deal for your particular trip and see if you can save by buying an annual pass instead of day passes. If we're staying a week in state parks, often it's cheaper to buy an annual pass. If we are visiting national parks and expect to visit more of them within the next year, again it may be cheaper to buy the annual pass.

Carry a credit card. In general they have better fraud protection than some debit cards, and they provide a reserve you may need in an emergency. In case of car trouble somewhere out in the back of beyond, we would not want to be unable to pay a large repair bill and/or tow charge if there was no other choice and we had only brought along enough cash to cover the trip but no unexpected expenses. Our credit card also gives us cash back so we make money just by using it.

We also shop secondhand stores and sometimes garage sales for souvenirs. Last year out in Rapid City, SD, we got brand new Mt. Rushmore tees and a cap for $4 each at GW. They had the store tags on them reading about $20 each.

The most important thing: Don't stress about the money while you're on vacation. You've planned ahead for the expenses involved, so just sit back, light a nice fire, toast some marshmallows, relax, and enjoy the experience. :)

 

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Calling around looking for wood pallets this morning made me remember this tip. Firewood can be expensive at a campground, and in many states it's now illegal to move firewood due to the emerald ash borer and other pets hitching rides on transported firewood. Pallets can be disassembled and used as firewood instead. Pallet wood can be cheaper than buying firewood at the campground, packs together well, and is not subject to firewood transportation regulations. Some places give pallets away free.

Scraps of dimension lumber can also be burned for firewood. Check with the site manager on construction sites to see if it's okay to salvage their scraps, and make sure you don't burn anything that's treated, has fasteners, or has a finish such as paint or varnish. Not all wood is good for campfire cooking, but it's fine for the ambiance a campfire creates.
 

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If you can, do a trial run of recipes you plan to cook while camping before you actually have to cook it while camping. This way you'll have an idea of how long it takes to cook over a campfire, what ingredients you'll be using, and know what you're doing. There's nothing worse than trying to make dinner after spending all day outdoors and end up with barely edible food after waiting around longer than you expect. Or ending up going eating at a local restaurant because dinner burned.
 

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Oh, yeah, that's good advice! I learned that one the hard way, more than once.

I used plastic cat litter pails in various sizes to do a lot of the organizing in our camper. They were free, fit the spaces better, provide sturdy portable storage, and have handles that makes moving them easy. One of our cargo bays use pails almost exclusively to hold hoses, power cords, and other items having to do with fresh and gray water and power. In the past everything was just thrown into that space and it was a major ordeal every time we needed something out of there. Now, we can grab just what we need, and things are packed into that bay in a certain way so if we're doing a quick overnight, nothing has to be removed except the one item we need, the gray water tank. When we hook up to fresh water, we can just carry one particular pail to the hook-ups and everything we need is in it, including the key to the fresh water inlet on the trailer, no searching, no unpacking, no frustration or wasted time. Who needs that on vacation?

I set up this storage system, also made of cat litter pails, under the back bed in the camper. Here's the pail system that held sweatshirts, dog items, dishes that go back into the house, snack foods, etc.

It's worked out well, but this year I'm switching to a K-9 Cube and three bags from a Modular Hauler system, both from Mountainsmith, and a Cabela's shower bag, all of which I got free. I'm leaving one pail in to hold our house dishes so they get brought back into the house when we get home, because we always have some Tupperware and other storage that gets brought along from the house. I did actually buy those pails, .25 each at a garage sale. I think I bought seven of them, because they were a size we didn't have and I knew they'd come in handy somewhere, and they did.

I also set up a cat litter pail system between the seats in the truck.

There are five pails between the seats that act as a seat extender, making more space for our two dogs to ride, and provide storage for souvenirs we buy, rain gear, dog treats, tourism info, and other items. There's a cushion over the three middle pails so it's more comfy for the dogs to lay down, and the lids on the two end pails have lips around the covers that nicely hold the dogs' water bowls and food bowls and help keep them from sliding around.

The barrier that keeps the dogs in the rear seat is a grate we got at a rummage sale for about .75 and is held in place with bungees we had on hand.

The first aid kit which is no longer stored there was put together in a bag normally used for cosmetic and shower items and was purchased inexpensively from Goodwill.

I made the seat cover myself from upholstery fabrics bought off the close-out table at JA. Eventually I'll get the front seats covered, too. I also made the cushion myself using the same fabric and foam rubber purchased at a garage sale. The seat cover on the seat back has loops made into it that hold our umbrellas, purchased at garage sales, where they're convenient when we need them while traveling.

I once did some sewing for someone and received some 1/4" thick moosehide in payment. I made five or six leather leashes, one shown in the picture. The moosehide is strong, washable, and so soft that anyone who touches those leashes wants them. :) They've gotten a lot of use over the past 25 years and are still in great shape. All for a cost of nothing.

I needed a folding strainer for the camper but the cheapest one I could find was about $14. Too much for something that wouldn't get used more than a few days per year. I had just bought folding Tupperware bowls, NIP, cheap at a garage sale, to replace the no-name brand folding bowls I had bought years before that were in the camper. I had paid fifty cents for three of them, also NIP, but the lids would not stay on them and I hated them and never used them. I had them in the box to donate when I realized I could simply drill holes in the bottom of one and make my own strainer for free, so I did. I love that now and use it all the time. I donated the other two and don't miss those at all.
 

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I shop for our camping supplies at yard sales -- pots/pans, sleeping bags, plastic plates, etc. Even got an 8 person tent for $10 because someone bought it, used it once and decided camping wasn't for them.

A cooler with frozen food and ice will keep foods safe for several days if you limit opening the cooler too many times. Keep drinks in a separate cooler so you aren't opening the food cooler so often.

Freeze water in large blocks (we use 2 liter soda bottles) -- as it melts we use it for drinking water.
True. Though yard sales became quite rare in my area that's still a thing. Moreover, you can search for sites like this and read reviews about hiking clothes and portable cookware. Later with this knowledge, you may plan your backpacking list accordingly. Then you may check eBay and Craigslist for a better bargain as I do.
 

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We recently replaced our old camping gear with new ones and now I'm very excited about our new extra large backpacks for camping. These are really very big backpacks, but they distribute the weight right across your back and you really get tired much more slowly. I know one site where you can find them for good price. I think this is a great deal because I saved about 15% of the cost of this item elsewhere. I checked the material and it turned out exactly as we ordered. I'm really very pleased with the purchase.
 
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