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A “Glamper’s” Guide to Budget Camping


Guest post from Kristin of The Touring Camper

Our family loves to go camping — or perhaps I should say “glamping” given we camp in a travel trailer?

Either way, having a camper has enabled our family to save money on more expensive destination vacation experiences by staying at inexpensive campgrounds rather than condos, lodges, or hotels. However, the cost of gas is high these days, so we are always trying to find ways to save money.

Here are a few tips we have learned along the miles:

1. Look for Government Campgrounds First

When picking a campground, first check out state or government-affiliated parks (like the Army Corp of Engineers). Typically these parks will have a cheaper rate per-night of camping. KOAs and private campgrounds usually offer more amenities, like pools, cable, and wi-fi, which bump up the nightly rate.

2. Plan Your Activities Ahead of Time

To save money on touring the area we implement three strategies:

Use the Visitor’s Center

During our 2014 trip to Charleston, SC, we stopped at the visitor’s center to sign our kids up for a free passport program. As we visited local sites that were connected with the program (many were free) the kids collected stamps in their passports and earned rewards.

Buy an “All-Access” Pass

If you plan to visit several area attractions, sometimes you can get a discount by buying a pass that gives access to several linked attractions. During our 2013 trip to Johnstown, PA, we purchased one pass at a discounted rate that gave us access to historic sites as well as a children’s museum.

Purchase Memberships for Locations you Visit Regularly

Consider purchasing a science center, museum, or zoo membership that has reciprocity with locations you plan to visit. This past year, we had a Carnegie museum membership in Pittsburgh that also gained us free access to COSI during a Columbus camping trip.

3. Pack Carefully

Once you plan your activities (see #2 above), take the time to carefully pack what you’ll need for those various activities to avoid last-minute shopping stops at expensive camp stores.

However, even with careful planning, you may still need to head to the store for a necessity. So before you leave on your trip, know where budget-friendly dollar stores, Walmarts, or Aldis are located!

4. Consider Becoming a Good Sam Member

This program is similar to AAA, but geared for campers. The membership comes with roadside assistance but also offers fuel discounts at Flying Js.

Another option is to sign up for your preferred gas station’s fuel discount program.

5. BYOB (and Meals!)

Save money by bringing your own beverages… and your own meals.

Although it takes extra planning, we avoid expensive restaurant meals by having breakfasts and dinners at the campsite and packing lunches while we are out exploring.

To make the vacation as enjoyable as possible, we pick easy meals that can be reheated, quickly assembled over a campfire, or cooked in a crock pot while we are out touring. Additionally, when we camp with family or friends we generally take turns making dinner meals, which gives everyone at least one night off from cooking.

What are your best tips to camp (or “glamp”) on a budget?

Kristin and her husband Jarrett share additional camping tips and ideas over at The Touring Camper, where they are searching for adventure on and off the beaten path while reviewing places to camp and highlighting awesome places to visit.

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  • We went camping a lot as a family when I was young! My parents always made sure that our campground had something active for us to do: a playground, swimming pool, or hiking trails. Some of the places that we visited (museums, historical sites, etc.) were low-energy/ quiet places. It was good for us to have somewhere to get our energy out in the evenings!

  • Davonne says:

    Good tips! We love to camp. One way we keep it really frugal is by sleeping in a tent and just using the group bathhouses.

    And since my husband is a business owner, we try to stay at privately owned places. It’s usually only $5-$10 more a night for us, we often get more amenities and better service, and we love supporting the area’s local business!

  • Rebecca says:

    With our family of six, camping has been pretty much the only way we can afford to take family vacations. As long as there’s a place to swim nearby, our kids are so happy!

    • Jennifer says:

      What most people dont know is you can get 5 people into a motel room, but not 6, you must get a suite or 2 rooms.
      Another great thing about camping verses motel, if you are traveling-the kids are just sitting and need to run off energy. campgrounds are great for that.

  • Deana says:

    We are foster/adopt parents and so we can camp in state parks for free as long as our kiddos are with us.

    • Deana, That’s a really great tip! Do you know if the free camping for foster/adopt parents and children is just in your state or across the nation? We are planning to adopt and this would be great information to keep in mind for the future. Thank you!

      • Deana says:

        I don’t know if it’s a nationwide thing or just in my state (Oregon). We found out as we were finalizing when a packet of forms was sent to us. One of them was to fill out for a pass to use and camp in any state parks. Also, our adoption was through the foster care system and not a private one. If you adopt privately or through an agency I don’t know if you get the same allowances we got. If there is some way to email each other I could tell you more about our experience. Or if Chrystal wants a guest post on how to adopt for free. 🙂

      • Deana says:

        I’m not sure if it’s nationwide or just our state which is Oregon. The other thing is, our adoption was through the foster care system and not through an adoption agency. Agency or private adoptions may not have the same perks as state adoptions do.

        I just did a swagbuck search and found that Oregon and Washington offer free or reduced admission to state parks. You might look up your state to see if they have the same program.

        Good luck. I wish we could exchange emails or something to talk more about this.

        A good book (sorry Chrystal….adoption is a strong passion of mine) is Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos.

  • Megan says:

    I’m from Johnstown, PA. So fun she mentioned it! We do have some neat attractions considering it’s a fairly small area.

  • Tiffany says:

    I want to ask a question. My husband and I have been debating getting a used rv for this very reason. We are 100% debt free and could pay cash for an rv. However, the cost of buying an rv plus the fee to keep it somewhere every month doesn’t add up. By the time we do that plus maintain the rv, we could rent one several times a year for much cheaper. At what point do you decide to buy versus rent one for vacations???

    • Jessica says:

      We just went through this! We ended up doing a pop up which is not as nice as an RV, but still nice. We realized we will go more often if we own the camper. A good friend owns too and it it is how they decided to invest in quality time as a family. Our kids are SO excited.

      • I agree with Jessica that often having the camper means you are more likely to get out camping more frequently. Part of that is because with a camper you can leave much of your camping gear packed and ready to go, so there isn’t as much work trying to gather up all the stuff you would need to put into a rental. (We stocked our camper with kitchen supplies that were either hand-me-downs or from yard sales.) But I also completely understand the dilemma about having to pay a fee to store a camper. At our previous home we could fit a pop up in our driveway, but anything bigger would have had to be stored off-site. A pop-up is often a really good route to go–more affordable, easier to store, and a great way to test how much you will use a camper.

  • kariane says:

    We camp for free on National Forest land that is not campsites. There are zero amenities, and you have to hike in, but it’s less crowded, it’s beautiful, and it’s free.

  • Danielle says:

    Our family has been debating buying a used pop-up or camper, I’d love to see a post about the pros/cons of purchasing one.

    • Danielle, That’s a great post idea. I’ll add it to our list of blog topics so we can explore that one in more depth. In the meantime, we have found the biggest con to having a travel trailer is having a place to store it. We fortunately moved a year before we bought our camper, and the yard area at our current house has space to park it (and we aren’t in a housing development, which will sometimes have rules against parking campers and boats in a driveway/yard). The wonderful thing about a pop-up camper is that you can park it in a garage–which is what we did with our former pop up campers. Pop-ups are also much more affordable, as well as lighter so you don’t need a huge vehicle/truck to pull them. The downside is that they involve more set-up work, and over time, there is wear and tear to the canvas and such. But we had two pop ups before the travel trailer and they worked well for our family (especially since I’m not a tent camper. :))

  • Kim says:

    These are great tips. I don’t really enjoy “camping,” but I am okay with “glamping.” 🙂

  • Dawn says:

    I agree with bringing your own food to save money. I pre-cook some things like bacon so I don’t have to deal with grease and pre-prep as much as I can, so that I can enjoy camping and not feel like I am constantly cooking. I have also started adding new meal options (like fish tacos), so that camping feels really special. We of course still do the favorites like burgers, walking tacos, and pancakes, etc.

  • Beth says:

    I love your blog!! We live pretty close to Loudonville, OH now, and I went to college near Salt Fork State Park so you have hit several camp grounds that I’m familiar with. I haven’t had much motivation to camp, but you’ve sort of inspired me to re-think it–especially with a picture of how clean the bathroom is at Mohican Adventures! I’m definitely bookmarking your page.

  • Jean says:

    State, county, & even city campgrounds are a lot cheaper than private! And private ones have a limit of people for their base price & charge more per person. If you have anyone visit you they have to pay sometimes as much as $5-8 per person. Check cities where you are going for city campgrounds – some travel brochures don’t list those. We owned 3 pop-ups before we bought a 5th wheel & now are on our 2nd one. Miss the convenience of moving the pop-up by hand on the site to get it where you want it! We make bigger breakfasts – Sandwiches are our “go-to” for lunch & cook over the fire for supper – pudgy pies, camper’s stew, or roast hot dogs or brats – we always have raw veggies on hand as a mainstay! We love camping or glamping in our 5th wheel!

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