Lakeside campground at Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario. 10 tips to help you keep your wallet happy as you enjoy the great outdoors on a great budget

When people discuss budget friendly travel, the subject of camping always comes up as an affordable option. Whether you want to have an amazing adventure at a legendary location like the Grand Canyon or just a simple weekend escape sipping lemonade by the lake, camping is more accessible and appealing than ever before.

Women are Welcome!

Camping is increasingly female friendly. Women are becoming park staff, rangers, and superintendents in greater numbers. Upgraded facilities result in better lighting and washrooms, and camp stores are likely to stock retail items popular with women – from tampons and Midol to lattes and body wash. It’s no longer an unusual sight to see a gang of girlfriends on a group camping trip, or even a solo female bike camper.

Budget Beware!

While camping can be a very frugal activity, take it from me when I say: it’s as easy to blow your budget camping as on any other trip! The temptation of a bigger campsite, better gear, and nicer wine are always there to lead a prudent traveler astray.

The tent is set up in Prince Edward Island
The tent is set up in Prince Edward Island

Here are 10 tips to save money and stay on track when you are camping.

1)    Book a basic campsite

The sites at a campground are usually given a rating of “basic”, “good” and “premium” based on their privacy, the size, and the view. I’ve always found the “basic” sites to be every bit as pretty and suitable as any other and they can be $8-$15 less expensive.

2)    Fill that campsite

Most sites are allowed to host 3 tents. Call up your friends and have them come along! Splitting the costs three ways is one of the easiest ways to save.

3)    Watch those cars

Carpooling is great for the environment and your gas budget, but it also saves you money at the campsite. While most sites allow for 3 tents, usually only 1 or 2 cars are permitted. You can pay for an extra spot, but you can also be crafty and carpool.

4)    Borrow some camping equipment

Camping equipment can be very expensive and it is also a very personal choice. “Try before you buy” will save you money this season and help you make an informed decision before you invest for the next.

5)    Make a meal plan

Even if that meal plan is just “chips”, it’s good to have a game plan before heading to the grocery store. Even after 15 camping trips over the past few years, I still bring too much food!!!

6)    Make a booze plan

There’s nothing like an ice cold beer after setting up the tent, a glass of red wine with your evening meal, or a spiked hot chocolate while watching the campfire. Camping often lends itself to inspiration for alcoholic drinks, which can chew away at your budget. Some creative ways around this include making sangria and punch, or assigning everyone in the group one ingredient to assemble killer cocktails.

Vanessa and Chester getting ready to cook at their campsite in New Brunswick
Vanessa and Chester getting ready to cook at their campsite in New Brunswick

7)    Forgot something at home?

That’s what the camp store is for! Trust me; they will have everything you can possibly need – all at an inflated markup. Buy your extra marshmallows, batteries, and sunscreen in the last town before the campground. (Curiously, however, camp stores that serve hot breakfasts usually do so for a very reasonable price.)

8)    Show up early

While check-in is officially early afternoon, most campgrounds allow you to arrive early and enjoy the common elements for no extra charge.

9)    Get the most of your stay

While there’s nothing wrong with lounging to your heart’s content, campgrounds also have extensive programs and activities for all ages and interests.

10) Remember the little expenses

Like any other trip, you will still have some standard expenses to attend to, such as pet and house care and road trip snacks. Unique camping expenses include wood, kindling, propane cylinders, and bug spray. Don’t forget to budget for the little things!

With a Little Planning…

I’ve had well executed camping trips where I’ve spent as little as $50 for a weekend stay. I’ve also had experiences where a day’s worth of food has cost over $100 and a 4 day weekend has crept up to nearly $1000!! Camping has tremendous potential to be a very budget friendly experience but it doesn’t come by that naturally. Like any other trip, it takes some practice, some planning, and some discipline to make it happen.