Victoria Day is just around the corner. While I know we get the day off to celebrate the Queen’s birthday, I associate the day with camping. We’ve gone camping every year since I was 14. It helps that out family owns a cottage 2 hours away or that the camp grounds are 5 min drive from my house. I have a huge extended family, along with 3 siblings and Victoria Day long weekend is normally the first weekend of the year that all the families get together. Naturally the holiday holds a special place in my heart.
Camping vacations have been a popular choice for families for many years. Family budgets are often tight, so camping is sometimes the only affordable means to get away on vacation for a reasonable amount of money. However, it is still not free.
Borrow From Friends or Family
If you have friends and family who like to go camping a lot, chances are you can borrow some of their items for your trip. Unless you go camping all the time, there really is little reason to buy a lot of camping equipment. Most people are more than willing to loan their camping stuff so it gets used regularly, keeping it from moulding or rusting.
Take advantage of the generosity of your camping relatives and friends by borrowing things like canteens, water jugs, camp stoves, lanterns, coolers, coffee maker, griddle, heater, and even camping dishes and cutlery. Of course, you’ll want to borrow the tents, as well as sleeping mattresses and sleeping bags, if possible. However, for a small investment, you can buy your own sleeping bags, pillows, and extra bedding just so you have your own personal items.
Buy Second Hand Items
Walk into any quality second hand store and you’ll find piles of gently used camping equipment. That’s because there are always people who make the mistake of thinking they’re going to devote their vacation time to the camping experience, buy all new equipment, and find out they should have borrowed or bought second hand before they splurged. With that said, you can take advantage of these hasty decisions by buying camping gear for next to nothing.
Visit yard sales and flea markets, too, for gear that is practically free for the asking. Tents may need to be aired out and scrubbed well, but a little elbow-grease goes a long way toward the cost of a brand new tent. Used sleeping bags may not be as appealing as other equipment, but consider buying used sleeping bags for extra padding underneath your air mattresses, or for sitting around the campfire. A little diluted bleach goes a long way to sprucing up, freshening up, and getting the mold and mildew out of used gear.
Find Gear and Campsite Deals Online
Not only can you find specialized second hand camping sites like The Outdoor Gear Exchange , MEC, or Outdoor Online, you can also hit up the classifieds like Craigslist, and Kijiji for some great local deals. Keep in mind that shopping online can involve shipping if you are not shopping locally. Do the math before you make your decision.
Of course, besides the camping gear and supplies, you’ll need to plan out where you will be staying. Your shoestring vacation budget might not allow for a trip to Yosemite, but you can find many fine parks that offer great deals right along with their magnificent vistas.
If you’re in the States you might want to visit sites like Boondocking.org or FreeCampsites.net and others like them that give you resources for finding places to camp free. Campers also love to share their favorite finds in websites and forums. Search around the internet and start clicking on interesting looking sites, but always check the authenticity of a free campsite by calling the local tourist bureau.
Plan Your Camp Cuisine
The best part! As far as food choices go, camping calls for easy meals, but there is a wide variety of food to consider. Stocking coolers with sandwiches, fruit, and drinks may be your idea of the perfect camping experience. Or, you may want to have the makings ready so you can throw together a nice meal. Trust me, as kids, we didn’t care what we ate. I tried more things camping than I did the entire year at home. Camping makes kids adventurous.
Your decision may depend on the equipment and cooking setup you have available. If you are using a camp stove, you can make just about anything you want as long as it can be cooked in a pot or skillet. Of course, the size of the stove and the amount of propane will limit your menu, but just be creative. You can make everything from soup to fried potatoes to hamburgers and steak on a camp stove, so long as you bring the necessary pots and pans.
Then there are the campfires and grills. If you are fortunate enough to have a campsite with either, or both, your cooking experience could include a whole repertoire of goodies. It will all depend on how much time you want to spend cooking, and the availability of food. Planning ahead is the key to success.
Cleaning up may not be easy, so that may help determine the types of meals you make. To avoid a mess, try making all-in-one meals in heavy duty foil for the grill. A foil bundle hot off the grill filled with potatoes, ham, and onions is a nice treat after a busy day hiking or boating. Kids always enjoy hotdogs over a campfire. Plan each meal in advance and you won’t go wrong.
And, don’t forget dessert! Marshmallows roasted over an open fire are a delight for all ages, and they are extremely cheap. Expand on that theme with something as simple as graham crackers and chocolate bars and you have the perfect camping dessert ñ S’mores. Who needs a fancy dessert cart?
Taking the family camping is a learning experience. Each year, you’ll figure out how to do things better, and cheaper. Start small, and if it turns out you are in love with ‘roughing it’ then go ahead and branch out. Keep the frugal camping basics in mind, and enjoy the great outdoors.
Oh and bring headphones if you need time for yourself, and want to tune the rest of the world out.
What are your most frugal camping tips?