Save Money with a Staycation: Go Camping

We’re on the cusp of summer—the daylight lingers into night, the kids are out of school or home from college, and as the temperature climbs life becomes a little more relaxed. It’s time to get away for a little R&R!

As the economy continues to recover most Americans are on a tight budget, and vacations are definitely an unnecessary expense. The costs of airfare, hotel, car rental and eating out—not to mention entertainment—add up quickly, even if you use “budget” travel sites to book your trip. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay home. You can save money with a staycation: go camping.

Maybe you haven’t camped since you were a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, or maybe you’ve never spent a night sleeping under the stars. Perhaps you think you’re “too old” or that it’s too much work or too much of a hassle in general. Maybe it’s just not your thing.

Think again. When it comes to saving money, camping vacations are one of the best deals around. Choose a local spot and you’ll save money on gas, in addition to food and lodging. If you have dogs, you can bring them along, saving the high cost of boarding. And you don’t have to be a Grizzly Adams type to have a successful and enjoyable camping experience. Here are some guidelines:

Find a local spot. If you’re not familiar with the campgrounds in your area, check out reserveamerica.com. This site lets you search by city or state and includes state and national parks, recreation and wilderness areas and privately run campgrounds. Nightly campground fees typically range from $10-$25. Staying close to home will save on gas money.

Pack only what you need. If you don’t own a tent or sleeping bags, you can rent these from most sporting goods stores at a very low price (average $30 a week for a tent, $20 for a sleeping bag). You’ll also need pots and pans for cooking, eating utensils and bug spray. Normally a camping stove is not required, since the majority of campgrounds have fire pits with an attached grill for cooking.

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Cook your own food. Food always tastes better when cooked over a campfire. Many campgrounds are close to town; it can be tempting to drive to a restaurant. But cooking your own food—and not just s’mores—over the campfire is a singularly satisfying and tasty experience. Anything you can cook on a grill at home can be cooked over a campfire, and you’ll save a significant amount of money by not spending at restaurants.

If you choose a private campground, you’ll usually have access to amenities like a swimming pool, mini golf or game room. At state and national forest campgrounds, you can spend your time hiking or biking through miles of forest trails. Many national parks offer guided hikes and campfire talks, as well as seminars on subjects like animal tracking or plant identification.

If you’re itching to get away but can’t afford to spend a lot in order to do so, consider a camping staycation. Not only will you save money, you’ll have the opportunity to reconnect with nature—one of the most relaxing ways to spend some time off.

Photo: nate2b