Frugal Travel: Camping

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This guest post about camping is from Erin and Jeff. They’re married and the creators of the budget-minded travel blog, A Week or A Weekend. They love to travel and have lots of experience traveling for a week or a weekend.

Travel doesn’t have to be expensive. Or complicated. And travel planning and packing don’t have to be a headache, either. For 25 years, we’ve been saving money on travel by camping! In fact, right now we’re in the midst of a three-week, 4800-mile cross-country road trip that will involve lots of camping! Follow us on our adventures on our Twitter.

Why camping? First of all, camping is fun! It also gets us closer to the sights we came to see while making it easy to get outdoors. And, camping allows us to save money on lodging at night while seeing the same sights the hotel crowd sees by day.

In the interest of full disclosure, Erin was miles away when Jeff took the above photo. While Jeff’s open to backpacking, Erin draws the line at digging her own toilet. But even a full hookup RV site for our VW camper is always cheaper than a hotel room!

Frugal-Travel-Camping4For many people, packing for camping can seem overwhelming. Did we remember to pack the can opener? What if we don’t want to get the good towels dirty? We’ve tackled this problem by re-using old household items to create a set of everything we need for camping, from plates to towels to a can opener, that never gets unpacked. (The old towels are good enough for camping!)

We also bought cookware from Goodwill, and it stays with our camping gear year-round. It was a small up-front expense, but it allows us to save money by preparing our own meals rather than eating out while we’re on the road.

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Inexpensive and functional! Note the cheese spreader – class is always in style, even with mismatched silverware.

Erin’s cousins Mary & Dan have taken this concept to another level — everything is pre-packed in labeled tubs that only get used for camping. That way, they know they’re already packed and can hit the road much more quickly. Mary’s a gourmet cook, so her food preparation tub is a bit more stocked than ours — another reason to go camping with them!

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As for us, we also have our camping gear pre-packed (if not labeled). Heck, we’ve been using the same plastic camping plates for 20 years! Travel toothbrush? Check. Dish soap? Yep. Coffee mugs? You bet. Screwdriver set? The six-bits-in-one version we got as a stocking stuffer is perfect for camping, and it never gets taken out of our pre-packed camping gear.

Basically, everything that we’ll need while we camp — except for food and clothing — is pre-packed and ready to go!

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The bottle full of quarters is for coin-operated campground showers!

Not a camper? Consider pre-packing for travel anyway. We actually have another pre-packed toiletries bag in our non-camping suitcase! While it may not seem frugal to have three sets of toiletries (home, camping, suitcase), consider this: we’re not using any more of them than we otherwise would. And, more importantly, buying them at home — in bulk or on sale — is much cheaper and more convenient than buying them while we’re on vacation!

Whether or not you jump on the pre-packing bandwagon, consider creating a packing list. Not a scribbled-on-the-back-of-a-junk-mail-envelope version, but one that’s typed up and exhaustive. List everything you could ever possibly want to bring on a trip. Any trip. From mountains in winter to snorkeling in summer. For building campfires to checking e-mail.

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Part of our packing list

We’ve traveled enough — and made enough travel mistakes — to know how important it is to have things we need, and how frustrating it is when we’ve forgotten them at home (never mind that time Jeff left his entire suitcase at home for a beach weekend). Print the packing list before your trip, start crossing off the things you won’t need (snorkel masks for your ski weekend), and — boom! — you’re already making progress.

Traveling is our passion. Camping is one way that we make it frugal and fun while taking it a bit off the beaten path. And pre-packing keeps us a bit more sane in the sometimes frenetic days before a trip — and a bit more prepared once we’ve hit the road.

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Besides, we think that happy hour in the great outdoors — with our own beverages in a $15 per night campsite — is pretty tough to beat!

This is a guest post from Erin and Jeff. They are married and travel often. They chronicle their adventures on their blog, “A Week or A Weekend” which can be found HERE. Erin and Jeff are probably planning their next trip right now!

How do you keep your travel costs down? Are you a camper?

Go Gingham related links:

Camp cooking supplies and what I cook with
Meal planning for campers
Travel tips for a trip or stay-cation around the Northwest
Travel packing in a little suitcase and a chart
Save money on your next trip: before and during

3 Comments


  1. Camping rocks! Many of our campsites last summer were $13/night. One site was on a lakefront. Our own personal beach. How cool is that?

    I am definitely a fan of having pre-packed boxes and a list. My hubby had camping boxes but they were completely disorganized so I spent a lot of time cleaning them out, reorganizing and labeling, but the time I spent doing that saves me SO much time when packing. Repurposing old household items (those ugly patio plates we got as a wedding gift are perfect for camping). Checking thrift stores may also be helpful. We DO take our everyday cast iron skillet along with us as the non-stick factor is a huge plus. My toiletries bag is the same one I use for camping or hoteling.

    A suggestion for those with kids–I have a canvas bag with toys/books/travel-sized games/washable markers which I keep always packed. They are only allowed to play with these when we travel. As your kids get older, look for fun, educational-style workbooks (Target’s dollar area is a good source). You can fit a lot of stuff in a small space if you are careful and believe me, you will be grateful you did this when the inevitable crankiness/rainy weather hits.


  2. Oh my gosh, you guys make me regret that we got rid of our camping gear this summer! Love that last pic of the two of you. As a former camper (or, maybe, a suspended camper, until the teens are launched), I wholeheartedly endorse the list and the pre-packed tubs. For frequent campers, they make it so much simpler–which makes it more likely you’ll actually go.
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