How do I accomplish camping on a budget?

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Answered by: Caitlin, An Expert in the Travel - How to Save on Road Trips Category
Perhaps you are in dire straits and need a relaxing weekend away. Perhaps you have a spouse or partner that abhors the idea of spending money to sleep outside. Or perhaps you simply want to not only feel fresh after a camping trip, but also financially stable. Regardless of your situation, the news is good: camping on a budget is possible, probable, and pretty easy.

The first step in saving on your camping trip is identifying those areas called the "Must Haves." For example, you've "must have" gas in your car. You also "must have" something to eat and somewhere to stay. When you have finished your list of "must haves", you can begin finding the minimal expense each of those requires.

Discovering current and local gas prices will be the quickest and easiest of your "must haves". Multiple web sites are devoted to this sort of information, and a quick jot in a search engine will reveal what you need. Don't forget, when searching this, to incorporate the prices of your traveling destination. If you are traveling a greater distance than just a couple of hours, you may find that gas prices fluctuate considerably. For longer trips, it may be advantageous to fully calculate the cost of gas. To do so, you will need to know your vehicle's average mileage per gallon of gas as well as how much the gas tank can hold. Multiply the mileage per gallon by the size of the tank, and that will show you how long you can travel before filling up again. For example, if my vehicle gets 20 miles per gallon, and has a 10 gallon tank, I can travel nearly 200 miles before filling up. Now you can find how often you will need to fill up your gas tank.

To save on gas, there are multiple grocery store chains that offer reward points for shopping within their store. You can use these points to then save at the gas pump. The risk here is finding that specific store while you are on the road. If you'd rather play it safe, many gas chains offer a similar program for using their pumps. Just make sure to participate in a chain that will be along your route, as some chains are local or regional.

Now that you are saving cents per gallon on your gas, it is time to cut corners with your food. For a short camping trip of just a couple nights, food can be as simple as rice and beans, peanut butter and jelly, and oatmeal. But for longer trips, especially those that will be a distance from any sort of grocery store, it is essential to plan ahead and pack smart. Just as in household management, planning your meals ahead of time saves a lot of time and money. Again, a quick search on the internet will reveal hundreds of camping-approved recipes, pleasing anyone from vegan, to gluten-free, to meat maniac. Be mindful when you plan, however, that some recipes will be more expensive than others.

The best way to save is buying in bulk. Getting ingredients that can be molded into multiple recipes and meals is an excellent way of saving money. I always recommend rice and beans, as it is light weight, filling, warm, and easy to modify. Can't handle the plain taste? Garlic salt and salsa can alter your rice and bean depression in an instant. Oats are another easy, lightweight, warm, and filling option for breakfast, and a dash of sugar, or some sprinkling of dried fruit, will vary it enough for multiple breakfasts in a row. Lunch is the trickier option. I've seen successful trips include such items as bagels with peanut butter, granola with dried fruit, canned meals (like Chef Boyardee), or, if you are staying at the campsite and are game for boiling water, simple boxes of mac and cheese. As mentioned before, some grocery chains give you fuel points for buying their food. Pull double duty and save on gas while you buy bulk food!

Saving on where you stay depends on location, season, and availability. Always, and I will say it again, always plan ahead. If you are seeking a campsite on a popular weekend, be sure a hundred other people are as well. Search state or provincial parks, deals at local campgrounds, or free camping in National Forest land. The best option? Find a local or someone with experience in the area and get honest (and free!) insight into the best areas and prices around.

Every camping trip is different, and every camper has different desires. But, whether you are wanting a big expedition, or a small reboot in nature, you will find that camping on a budget is both fun and rewarding.

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