Join my email list and get FREE ACCESS to the MSM Freebie Library, including my top printables & eBooks.

How to Plan a Frugal Camping Trip

Guest post from Jackie of Mom on a Mission

Our family loves the great outdoors! Three years ago we bought a pop-up camper through Craigslist to make lasting family memories. My husband bought it off season and got it way below book value.

A year later we began to look for a camper with a bathroom, knowing we were having a little one on the way. Our friend found a used hybrid Jay Feather during the winter — we got a great price and begin to look for ways to save at the campground before the Spring.

Here are just a few of the ways we came up with:

Use membership discounts.

Good Sam RV Club and Passport America both offer discounts through a reasonable membership fee. Passport offers a whopping 50% off nationwide participating campgrounds. KOA offers discounts on special weekends. We camp at KOA when they run buy one get one free nights.

Some campgrounds offer free nights. For instance, Adventure Bound in Gatlinburg, TN offers all military, police, fire, nurses, EMT and teachers free camping for two nights on a designated weekend of the year. KOA offers buy one night, get one free on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day weekends.

Google “free camping”, “discount camping” and “complimentary camping” to see if there are any local campground deals in your area.

Dovetail your camping with local attractions.

We bought season passes at Dollywood in Tennessee this year so we will coincide our camping trips with our trips to Dollywood and Spash Country, use our Passport America discount, and save money on food by eating in our camper.

We live in a gorgeous area where there are plenty of hiking trails, natural water falls, slides, fishing, kayaking, and natural beauty. Different areas offer museums, parks, playgrounds, and more.

Research your camping area and look for discounts to those places as well. Groupon and Living Social sometimes offer half price tickets to different attractions.

Pack your freezer food and plan a menu.

You would think in the great outdoors, you could easily scrounge up something tasty. This is true when you only have one meal to plan, but most mommas would agree a healthy weekend requires some planning ahead to avoid last-minute purchases from the overpriced camp store.

This momma plans a camping menu just like our home menu — complete with breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner. I like to write it down and make as much as possible ahead of time. Salads, snacks, and fresh veggies can easily be stored in ziptop bags to fit inside a compact camper fridge or cooler.

I use a plastic shoe box to store items such as marinated chicken and homemade flatbreads for grilled pizza and/or gyros.

I like to make a healthy homemade trail mix with nuts as a protein snack. I often make freezer breakfast burritos or breakfast bagel bites for easier clean up in the camper. A fresh fruit basket on the table is a perfect way to implement grab-and-go for the kids.

Just like Crystal, I’m an avid freezer cook and I pack a cooler of freezer goodies right before we head out.

Many times camping can be just as costly as a motel visit. However, when you take these money saving ideas into consideration, you may find camping a frugal, family fun adventure like we do!

Jackie Brown is a Mom on a Mission, freezer cooking for her family while serving the poor and needy in her community. 

Subscribe for free email updates from Money Saving Mom® and get my Guide to Freezer Cooking for free!


  • Ashley says:

    We don’t have a Jay Feather, but we do have another brand of hybrid camper and we absolutely love it! Just got back from a camping trip this weekend. I planned our menu ahead and made the food budget fit into our regular grocery budget so that I didn’t end up spending an extra $50 like we used to when I would shop just for a camping trip. 🙂

  • Jodi says:

    We are blessed to live in SW Colorado where there is lots of outdoors (forrest service land, BLM, etc) where we don’t have to camp in a campground at all. We just pick an area and drive up the mountain until we find a good spot, pop up the camper and “kick rocks” for the weekend. It saves a LOT of $$ to not pay for the convinience of a campgroup. Plus you REALLy get the full experience of camping in the great outdoors when there isn’t someone camped 15 feet away from you. I also have started planing a menu and utilizing freezer food and pre-prepped stuff as much as possible. Our grocery bill for the summer went WAY down. (We camp at least one weekend a month in the summer.)

  • We have a Jayco Jay Feather as well and love it! Although I don’t count it as “real” camping if you don’t sleep on the ground….I much prefer the fake camping in the trailer!

  • I haven’t been camping in years and I can’t wait to go again! Thanks for these awesome tips. The thing that’s been keeping us back the most is the initial cost for things such as tents and sleeping bags. Once we save up for that though then we’ll be ready to rock!

    • candy says:

      Check with the State’s Department of Natural Resources! Here in Minnesota you can pay $40/night and they will provide all the equipment you need to camp and a guide! Also, you can rent equipment from REI for minimal costs.

    • Danie says:

      Borrow! We are campers and people have borrowed our stuff a lot over the years. This way you know whether or not you are a camping family before you invest

  • Coby says:

    We are huge campers and do most of these things as well. Menu planning is a must. I found a great way that we save money while camping is to not purchase water bottles. We have a 5 gallon igloo water cooler that we use to fill reusable water bottles. We just fill it up before we leave home. We live and camp where it is HOT and go through lots of water!!!

  • Valerie G says:

    Another thing to remember is that most states & counties have campgrounds as well. They are typically 1/2 the cost of a private campground. In our state, the state parks fill up fast and are on a reservation system, but if you have the flexibility to camp mid-week or to know your schedule enough in advance, you can save quite a bit of money. Our state parks also have free learning programs/adventures for kids that you can ask about when you check-in. County parks are just as nice and many offer the electric/water amenities that you need for a camper. This is a great way to re-invest in your own community/state too!

  • Courtney says:

    We received a free Good Sam RV club membership as members of Flying J/Pilot’s frequent fueler program. It is free to sign up for the frequent fueler program!

  • Jen says:

    We have a hybrid camper too and LOVE it!!! We tend to just do cereal or eggs for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and then our freezer meals for dinner (especially the ones that go good on the grill, since it means less clean up for me). This saves time and money since I don’t have to take a special trip to the store just because we are gone for the weekend.

    I just can’t get over some of the prices the campgrounds around us charge. We do like going to the ones with pools/water play areas for the kids but they are over $50 a night. I will definitely have to try to see if any have discount options!

  • Andrea says:

    In general, campgrounds are more expensive on the East Coast. If you like to really get away, try camping in National Forests.

  • Patti says:

    Our family highly recommends camping and/or buying a camper. It is the best thing we have ever done!! Besides the fun of the outdoors, you have your own “home” so you can stock it with your own things. I feel it is cheaper and cleaner than a motel room. Most of our stuff came from our house or yard sales which keeps costs down. We just grab our suitcase and go. I do plan our meals and make sure we can take as much as possible out of our own stockpile/freezer. We have also used a local state park for our son’s 12th birthday party. We did a “Survivor” theme with the games, food, etc. Our town has a mountain bike race there so the boys all brought their bicycles and entered the race which provided free tshirts, water bottles, etc. All for $20 for the night!!! It was a blast. I am now planning my husband’s 60th birthday party there and everyone is looking forward to coming out to the cookout to see what camping is all about! It is always fun to start the season close to home in case we forget anything!!

  • Sara says:

    We always tent camp. I know some may miss the luxuries of a mattress in an RV, but my family has always had just as much fun, if not more, in a tent. Several campgrounds in our area have a limit on the number of people–not tents–at one site, so we will share a site with another small family and basically go for half price. We found a tent at Aldi for $30. The next Christmas we were given a Coleman tent. I was a little leery of using the Aldi one after getting a name brand one, but it is actually our preferred tent, is sturdier, and zips better. We saved the Coleman one for friends to borrow.
    Once you get a tent, you will be surprised what few items you really need to tent camp. You don’t have to have expensive sleeping bags–just use blankets you already have (unless you plan on going in cold weather). If you have older pots or pans, you can cook right over the fire or use foil right on the grill. We plan our food ahead of time and buy everything on sale w/ coupons or just pack from our stockpile. You probably already have flashlights, bug spray, sunscreen, lawn chairs, etc.
    Most state campgrounds have hiking trails, lakes/rivers, or other free activities once you are there. Honestly, my 2 boys are pretty happy just playing in the woods with sticks and dirt. We rarely spend extra money on activities.

    • Fun MOmma says:

      I was nodding through your post. You sound just like us, except for one thing. We just bought a large Coleman tent (to sleep 8–we are now 6:) ); I saw a tent for 4 at Aldi today for $25. Now I know I can at least recommend it to my sister!

      By the way, if anyone does need a big tent, we got the Coleman on amazon–just ordered it Saturday as our tax refund splurge–for $120, on sale.

  • Great ideas! My family used to go camping when I was younger and we made some great memories. Even if you don’t think you’re the “outdoorsy” type, give it a try once!

  • Elizabeth says:

    I agree that the state campgrounds can be a great deal. We tent camp and it is only 25.oo per night. It doesn’t have a pool or playground but we prefer it that way- we hike and take our bikes- the kids love it .We also bring our canoe. Also no electricity so it is quiet- cannot stand to go camping and have tv’s playing near us.
    I always pack our food, although we do have one or two meals out that we budget for. We love making foil packets with potatoes, fish or chicken and fresh veggies- a drizzle of oil and each person picks their spices. I freeze the protien before we go to help it last longer in the cooler. We cook them right over the campfire so no dishes!! I usually make a chili or a stew for the night we arrive so we can quickly heat it up while we are setting up camp.

  • Jenni says:

    I really liked the idea of using a plastic shoe box to store meats. We use the KOA’s a lot. We have two boys, and all the extras KOA’s offer are worth the tiny higher price over state parks. Plus, we have a KOA Kamper Kard that gives us 10% off, and earns points. After doing a long road trip camping trip, we usually earn enough points for a free night. My big camping tip is double check you have all your food. The last two times camping I forgot our hotdogs. Ugh! 🙂

  • Amy says:

    We love to go out in our travel trailer and we do most of these tips. We have a Good Sam membership that we use and I always calculate how many meals we need before we go plus some snacks. I recently got a Groupon deal for the Royal Gorge Bridge so we planned a trip there. I just started freezer cooking (thanks Crystal) and we will definitely be “shopping” the freezer before we go.

  • Betsy says:

    We have a “vintage” pop-up that we camp in. Some of our state parks have lakes with beach areas that my kids enjoy, and there are always at least playgrounds to entertain them when they are tired of rocks. I find meal planning vital. I do make a few splurges–instant oatmeal, some capri-suns, and if we go into town, we’ll buy a box of ice cream sandwiches. But, our treats are small, and we camp pretty frugally.

  • jen says:

    what perfect timing this is! we bought an rv in 2010 and while we enjoy camping we tend to make it harder than it is and we don’t go enough! i plan to go more this summer!! i am checking out free campgrounds in our area right now. we have a local state park that we love less than 20 miles from home. it may end up being cheaper to just camp there than to travel for a free/cheaper price.

  • Sarah in Alaska says:

    My best tip is to have a meal prepared for when you return. Who wants to put together a meal after driving home, unloading the car and cleaning your gear?

  • Sarah says:

    2 years ago we went to Crater Lake it was beautiful. The kids wanted Smores the camp store wanted $12.00 for one box of graham crackers. I had all of the other ingredients. Our camp neighbor had graham crackers so we had smores together never again! I will make certain I have all ingredients for smores at all camp sites! Smores from that camp store for a family of even four would have ran almost $30.00!

  • Barbara says:

    We bought our pop-up at the end of last year. We graduated from tent camping. I alway find it very expensive to go to a location and purchase food from the grocery store for the weekend. I will now be planning meals and taking food from home. We always will camp at state parks – the cost tends to be low and the facilities are well maintained.

  • Amy says:

    We love camping, too. Now Good Sam has teamed up with Camping World, so you get both discount cards for the price of one. Camping World is expensive and not my first choice for buying things, but they can be good when you just have to have a certain product that’s not sold anywhere else.

    We do a lot of freezer cooking, too. We have food allergies, so we always take all of our own food since you never know if the local grocery stores will have the brands we need. We do have to go buy fresh produce on longer trips, of course. We have a tradition of having homemade granola, bananas, and yogurt for breakfast each morning. Usually we have sandwiches for lunch and something from the freezer for dinner. I take a bread machine if we’re going to be gone too long for the homemade bread to last. I put all of the ingredients except the yeast and water in Ziploc bags, so I only have to measure out two ingredients to start the bread.

  • GeekyMom says:

    Yurt/Cabin camping can also be an inexpensive and fun alternative to tent camping for vacation. Many state parks have them now and they are great for bad weather camping, because they generally have heat and lights and don’t leak. All the cooking is still outdoors, but you can get some that have bathrooms (Shower, Toilet, Sink) and small kitchen area (Fridge, Sink, Cupboards.) The rent is more than a tent space, but is very reasonable.

  • Louise says:

    OK, I guess I’ll have to as this (surprised nobody else did). What is in the pot in the picture? (And how do you make it?)

    • Sara says:

      When you scroll over it says “campingapplecrisp” so I am guessing that is what the recipe is…a well vetted “cook over the fire” outdoor cookbook that we use is the Scout’s Outdoor Cookbook–it is especially easy for kids. You probably need to invest in a dutch oven, though 🙂

  • Katie L says:

    We love to camp for the fun of it and to save $$ on road trips. We love state parks, and now we can check them out online (for amenities like hot showers, lake swimming, etc. and for reviews) AND reserve sites online. We tent camp and have a camp stove. Our favorite camp meals are chicken fajitas (cooked in foil- we eat these the first night before anything can spoil), grilled pita pizzas, and keilbasa & saurkraut. We do eggs or pancakes from a mix for breakfast. Marshmellows are a must. We try to freeze what we can ahead of time so everything stays cold in the cooler longer.

    Camping is our FAVORITE way to spend time together as a family.

  • Carrie says:

    There is nothing I enjoy more than camping with my family. I rarely see anything written about camping discounts, so it was so nice to read this, especially since we are from East TN and these places mentioned were less than 2 hours from our home. We just sold our camper and are looking to a newer, bigger model. This really inspired me to look harder. I miss camping already.

  • Joe Morgan says:

    My wife and I take our 3 kids camping every year for the family vacation.. we tent camp and it’s the cheapest vacation around. At around $14 per night for the campsite, we have extra money to spend on food and day trips! It’s also great to give the kids time to be kids without the modern trappings of computers and cell phones…

  • Val says:

    We are lucky enough to get all state campgrounds free in Washington State (husband is disabled vet) and also got a $200 a year membership to private campgrounds that have a pool and other accommodations. How we save money is I basically empty my entire fridge and pantry every time we go camping and pack any frozen meats we have. We have a full size RV and I fill it with all the food we need. We like to load movies and tv shows we recorded from our DVR and watch them while we camp. I bring my coloring book and pencils. Gas & propane is usually the biggest expense so it still costs us $80-150 for 3 day trip depending on how far we go and how much extra drinks and food I need to buy.

  • Savananah Smith says:

    We just returned from a week camping in New Mexico. We were in a pop up camper, so we had no fridge. I did a meal plan and prepped what I could ahead of time. I froze taco meat and cooked chicken in an ice chest with frozen hamburger meat and lots of ice. Over the week, we added ice as needed, but it was a great way to have nutritious meals ready in a flash….tacos, spaghetti, chicken stew, and hobo dinners are just a few of the meals I made using a propane stove and the prepared or thawed meats. We used another ice chest for the condiments and drinks that we didn’t want mixed in with the meat. Very easy and affordable and fun way to camp!

Money Saving Mom® Comment Policy

We love comments from readers, so chime in with your thoughts below! We do our best to keep this blog upbeat and encouraging, so please keep your comments cordial and kind. Read more information on our comment policy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *