Camping can be very expensive or very affordable. Everyone has different ideas and expectations about what camping is or should be. One thing that can really help make camping an affordable pastime is learning how to budget for a trip. Here are a few ideas or things to think about when budgeting for either a simple weekender or the trip of a lifetime.
Set an Amount:
Begin by setting a realistic dollar amount you are able or willing to spend. If you go camping often then you will immediately have an idea based on the average of some of your past trips. If your new to camping this will be more difficult since your not exactly sure of everything you will need or encounter. If this is the case, you need to include additional money in your set amount to cover any margin of error. Once you set your amount, do your best to stick to it.
Begin with what most would consider the “major expenses”. These probably include gas, food, camping fees, equipment you need to purchase, etc.
- Gas: Most people have to drive somewhere to go camping. With the price of gas today, this may in fact become your most costly expense. I’m sure this seems very obvious, but when budgeting for this, I first have an idea of where I would like to go, and then I have to assess the gas mileage of my vehicle. If I would have to spend nearly my entire budget on fuel just to get to my destination…you get the idea. Many times I find myself wanting to go to some very cool, far off destination, and once I realize how expensive the gas alone would be, I do a simple search online and find there are so many locations that seem interesting that are much closer. Once you begin to realize that there’s no need to drive 5-6 hours each way, not only does it make camping more cost effective, but you will see that you can make the time to go camping, much more often.
- Food: Many people consider this a fairly major camping expense, but I really look at it like this… Do you eat everyday? If you do, then you have already planned on spending that money or you already have food you were going to eat for those days. Camping meals can be as simple like hot dogs and hamburgers for dinner and cereal or oatmeal for breakfast. Much of camping meal planning is dependent upon how you are going to cook food. Do you have a portable BBQ grill or small propane stove, or do you need to cook over an open fire? If you have either of the first two, then nearly anything you would cook at home is possible. if it’s open fire, then you may need to think a little more what food you already have that can be prepared that way. Nothing says “I’m camping ” more than Hot dogs on a stick over an open fire. Be creative and remember, camping makes any meal fun.
- Camping fees: This is another area that can add up quickly. Thoroughly research where you want to go to and look for campgrounds that have the amenities you desire and a fee that fits into your price range. With the $40 per night national average, you really want to look into how much this is going to set you back. Also, be sure to call or research if there are any “hidden fees” My wife and I recently stayed at a California State Park Campground and and thought the $24 a a night price tag was a deal… and it was, until we arrived and were told that there was an $8 additional vehicle overnight parking fee. Needless to say it was a little frustrating. One way to save some cost for the more adventurous types is to go the primitive camping route on public land. This often entails some back road driving or hiking and a some extra research ahead of time as to where you are allowed to camp. Some back country camping is free or there may be a small fee ($5 ). The drawback is that you will not have amenities like picnic tables, cooking facilities, running water, coin operated showers, toilet facilities…you get the idea. It’s called primitive camping for a reason. I prefer this method because when I go camping, I prefer solitude and the flexibility that back country camping allows. Here in California (and many other parts of the country from what I’m hearing), making reservations at many of the State Campgrounds is an arduous task. You cannot make reservations longer than 6 months in advance and if you don’t make them 6 months in advance, it is often impossible to get reservations at the campgrounds you want. I don’t know about you, but I have a difficult enough time planning 2 weeks out, so 6 months is definitely out of the question. Back country camping affords me the opportunity to decide a week out that I want to go, and I know I won’t need a reservation. Because most people are unwilling to camp with out these “amenities” my family and I have even been known to go back country camping on major holiday weekends like Memorial Day, the 4th of July, or Labor Day and have been able to enjoy some peace and quiet in the wilderness without having to make a reservation.
- Equipment: For people new to camping, this can quickly add up. Tent, sleeping bags, camp chairs, coolers… the list can be endless depending upon your desired comfort level. Camping equipment can be an investment, so if your new to it or if having to buy certain pieces of equipment breaks your budget, talk to friends or family and see if they have equipment you can borrow. Many people that are into camping will be more than happy to lend you something you don’t have if they think it will get you hooked and they will have someone to go with more often. Camping is a great activity to spend time with friends or family.
- Discretionary Spending: This can often end up becoming one of the largest areas to affect your overall budget. When we go to a new place for a camping adventure, my wife and daughters like to buy keepsakes or momentos of our trip such as postcards or hats or maybe a t-shirt. If this sounds like you or your family, be sure to take that into your initial budget consideration.
- Unforeseen Costs: Try to build into your budget a small buffer for things that are unforeseen. They often show up in the form of items you forgot to pack. Not long ago at a campground, I realized that I had completely forgotten to pack our folding camp chairs. Fortunately, we were not far from a local market, so we went and were able to purchase 2 for $10 each…and a bag of forgotten marshmallows for smores. Luckily, I had included an extra $20 for just this instance. By allowing for this extra in my initial planning, we were able to still conform to our original budget. Remember no matter how prepared you are, things will still happen.
As you can see, when budgeting for a camping trip, there are many considerations to take into account and a camping outing can be either expensive or inexpensive. Just remember that if you set a budget, and can stick to it, you are more likely enjoy your time in the outdoors.