Camping is one of the most popular outdoor recreational activities, not only because of the money-saving benefits, but because people enjoy spending time in nature connecting with loved ones. A 2015 study by the KOA found “Campers are likely to say that camping improves family relationships – in fact, 41 percent “completely agree” with this.”
I second the findings in this study. Though camping has saved our family money on vacations and weekend getaways over the past 22 years, the economic benefits pale in comparison to the one-on-one time spent with our family, enjoying all of the beautiful things nature has to offer.
When it comes to camping, my family has done it all, from tent camping across several states, renting camping cabins, borrowing my grandparents pop-up camper, to buying our own trailer. And really, depending on what method you choose, savings is variable across all camping methods.
We realize the cost of our trailer probably cancels out much of the savings we realize on our trips and we could camp cheaper (and have in the past). But, I admit, we’re spoiled. Our trailer has become our second “home” and one of those intentional spending choices we’ve made over the years. The time spent camping with our kids created lasting memories and focused family time. (Plus, as Steve from ThinkSaveRetire mentions in this post, we love campground living – people in campgrounds are so friendly and happy, providing a peaceful, neighborly atmosphere.)
How much does camping cost? The answer is as varied as the methods. In this post, I am not covering the cost of a tent, trailer, or RV in the equation, as the initial investment in your equipment can vary anywhere from $100 to $100,000+. Really, the cost of camping can be anything you want it to be. Here we are looking at the actual money spent on campsites, food, and other associated camping costs.
Our costs for a camping trip
We recently took a week-long vacation to Grand Lake, Colorado, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park. Distance traveled totaled 1500 miles plus another 300 miles while we were at our destination. We stayed 2 nights in state parks with electrical hookups, and the remaining 6 nights in a (very nice) RV park in Grand Lake with full hookups (electric, sewer and water), for an average of $51.83/night. Here is our cost breakdown:
How do we save money?
We pack our own lunches, snacks, water and coffee along on road trips to save money over buying at gas stations and fast food restaurants. Since we have a small refrigerator in our camper, we can take almost an entire week’s worth of food from home along with us, saving us a ton (though we did spend $46 to go out to eat one evening). We do purchase gallons of drinking water, since we’re more comfortable drinking it over campground water.
Another nice perk is we can take our dog along, allowing us to save on the cost of a kennel (though, honestly, we have family that typically keep her).
Entertainment is typically simple and cost effective as well. We hike, look for wildlife, sit around the fire, read, and play games. On our longer trips we occasionally splurge for an activity (on this trip, we rented an ATV to drive through the National Forest).
How could we save more?
We have tent camped in the past and it is definitely more economical than towing a trailer. Costs of tent sites are lower and the gas savings is exponential. Let’s look at the same trip with a tent camping scenario for comparison sake.
Assumptions: Car gets an average 25 miles/gallon for gas, gas costs $2.20/gallon, we camp at non-electric campsites, buy more food (since we can’t pack as much), plus ice for the cooler for a total of 8 nights:
As you can see, we would save a great deal on the campsites and gas if we were to tent camp, but the estimated food costs are a bit higher due to buying food, ice and drinks along the way since we would only have a cooler for food storage (but consider you would be buying food at home too, so this cost is negligible).
Renting a camping cabin saves on buying a tent. Costs for utilizing a camping cabin would be similar with the exception of the cabin rental (prices can range from $40 on up to $100 per night).
(I considered comparing the cost of camping with staying at a hotel, but there are just too many variables to make a good comparison. With camping, you have the initial investment in the equipment, and hotels vary significantly in amenities and costs.)
Camping for frugal traveling
Camping can definitely save money, but you really need to consider your start up costs before diving right in, as camping equipment can be expensive. We recognize the money we spent on the trailer in the beginning offsets much of the savings we realize on our trips. But we love the camping lifestyle – the quality time with our family away from electronics (for the most part), enjoying all nature has to offer, and the friendly people we meet along the way. To us, all of these things make it worth it.
If you are considering camping for your next vacation, do your research before you go out and start buying equipment. I advise renting, borrowing or trying a camping cabin prior to spending on your own equipment to make sure it’s a good fit for you and your family.
Do you go camping? Do you tent camp or have an RV? How much do you usually spend?
Campmor – all of your camping equipment needs at a great price (we ordered most of our tent camping supplies from them)
Bass Pro Shop – we like to go there for fishing and camping equipment. Staff are very knowledgeable and helpful, plus we can take our dog to our local store!
Love the Outdoors – excellent checklists, cooking and fishing tips, and activity suggestions
Camping.com – everything from finding a campground, shopping for equipment, recipes and activities
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