How to Save Money on a Camping Trip

How To Save Money On A Camping Trip
Written by Oana Schneider

Did you know that camping is one of the most popular outdoor recreational activities in the US? It could be a simple tent in the backyard, a tent at a campground, or a recreational vehicle roaming the streets of the desired destination. Most families agree that camping is a fun activity that the kids will have fond memories of as they grow up, so a lot of people indulge in it on a regular basis.

Here, we will take a quick look at some camping-related statistics and give out tips on how you can save money when going on a camping trip – be it with friends or the whole family.

Camping-Related Statistics

Before dishing out tips on how you can save money when going on a camping trip, let us first take a look at a few statistics:

  • In 2007, consumers spent $1.453 million on camping equipment.
  • For 2013, more than 40 million Americans went on a camping trip.
  • It is estimated that dealers of recreational vehicles or RVs generate between $16 and $17 billion each year.
  • For 2014, the revenue of campgrounds and RV parks in the US totalled $5 billion. The next year, consumers spent more than $1.5 billion on camping equipment. a large portion of this went on backpacks and sleeping bags.
  • For July 2014, tent campers spent approximately $220 on food, beverages and entertainment during their trip.
  • For the same year, survey respondents said that they purchased or replaced their camping sleeping bag once every 3.7 years on average.
  • 32% of survey respondents said that lack of time was the biggest barrier to camping more often.
  • 54% strongly agreed that camping reduces stress and aids in relaxation.

For 2014, the most popular types of camping trips in the US are as follows:

  • 54% – Travel to a single destination and stay there for several days before returning home.
  • 43% – Weekend travellers, take several weekend trips throughout the year.
  • 22% – Travel from destination to destination, rarely staying in one location for more than a few nights.
  • 6% – Park an RV all summer at a campground or private land to use throughout the season.
  • 6% – Seasonal traveller or snow bird, stays at a southern location for most part of the winter months.
  • 3% – Leave an RV parked on site year-round and use it for part of the year, then drive or fly back home.
  • 1% – Full-time RVers.

What are the Best Ways to Save Money on a Camping Trip?   

When planning a camping trip, your goal is to have fun without spending too much money. The good news is that there are many ways for you to plan a frugal camping trip without discounting on the fun, which we will learn more about here:

1. Look for a route that’s close to home.

Camping allows you to see more of the country without having to go abroad. However, if you travel too far, you would have to spend more on gas, food, and all the other expenses. To save money while still enjoying a camping adventure, choose a route that is close to home. Visit websites like to find out which campsites are nearest your area. The website even lets you choose dates, and gives you an idea about the rates of the accommodations and campsites on your chosen destination.

2. Go with the rest of the gang, or bring the entire family along.

It’s no fun going on a camping trip with just two or three people, so bring the entire gang or the whole family along! Not only is this fun, but you will also save money on gas, food, and campsite costs.  On average, campsites can accommodate 6 to 8 people comfortably in two to three tents. If you’re a couple going on a second honeymoon, you can look for another couple to split the costs with for a more frugal outdoor adventure.

How To Save Money On A Camping Trip

3. If using a camping spot, make reservations early.

If you want to save money, don’t go camping during holidays like the Fourth of July, the first of spring or the official start of the summer season. Gas prices and camping rates will be higher during these times. In the same vein, rates are usually higher during the weekends as compared to weekdays. So how can you save money on reserving a camping spot?

Place your call early, a couple of weeks ahead is best. This will give you a chance to reserve a good camping spot, with great rates to boot. Just remember that most campsites require a deposit. If your friends decide to cancel at the last minute, you will be charged a fee – so make sure to lock those dates down.

4. Bring separate coolers for drinks and food.

During the camping trip, more people will be opening the drink than the food cooler. To save money on ice, bring separate coolers for food and drinks. Opening the food cooler less frequently will make the food last longer, along with the ice. You can actually freeze meat and other cold food items at home, ahead of time. Not only will they keep longer, but they can also act as secondary ice blocks to pump up the cold in your cooler.

5. Shop in the bulk food section and don’t buy snacks at the gas station.

One of the biggest mistakes campers and road trippers make is purchasing their snacks needs at gas stations. These establishments kick up the price of even the most common candies, so you end up spending more while on the road. Purchase your favorite bag of chips, drinks, candy, and other food items on the go in bulk. You will also save money by cooking for the whole group instead of eating out. Purchase what you need from superstores to save money on raw ingredients.

6. If you must buy camping gear, don’t go for brand new.

If it’s your first time to go camping, save money by ditching the brand-new camping equipment. A frugal way to cross out all the items on your to-bring checklist is to borrow from friends or relatives who also go camping. Even if they will ask you for a rental fee, it would still be comparatively lower than buying the gear brand new.

You can search for coupons or discounts online if you are thinking of investing in good quality camping gear that you can use for years to come. Some of the items you will need are a sleeping bag, tent, cooking tools, camp stoves, outdoor tools, lighting equipment, hiking shoes, and outdoor games.

How To Save Money On A Camping Trip

7. Plan your menu in advance.

How many people are going on the trip? By planning your menu in advance, you can have delicious meals to cook during the trip, without spending too much money in the process. Make the dishes as camp-friendly as possible – the lesser the number of ingredients, the better. One-pot dishes are the best since they have all the nutrients that you need, without discounting on flavour. Make sure to include dessert such as S’mores – no camping trip will be complete without it!

8. Use apps to save money on gas.

Download apps like GasBuddy on your phone or tablet computer when going on a camping trip. Since you will usually have to fill up the tank before driving ahead, even a few cents difference in price will save you a lot of money in the long run. GasBuddy lets you know which nearby gas stations offer the lowest rates on a real-time basis.

9. Leave the toys for big boys at home.

Even if you have a fancy boat, a jet ski or an ATV at home, these are toys for the big boys which are not really practical to bring along on a camping trip. If you will carry that boat on top of your RV, you would have to pay so much more on gas, moorage charges, boat launch or trail fees. Camp ground managements usually offer such big ticket items for a minimal fee, compared to what you would be paying if bringing along your own equipment.

10. If you’re visiting national parks frequently, get an annual pass.

Finally, if you frequently visit national forests and parks, consider getting an annual pass. For one entry to a national park, you would usually have to shell out $20. If you go on such camping trips three or four times a year, an annual pass will save you more money. There are also other programs which give you rewards for staying at certain campsites, and give you discounts when using the facilities on the ground. If you are staying for a couple of days, ask the camp director if you can pay on a daily instead of a weekly basis.

Whether you are backpacking your way through the natural reserves in the US or if you are simply going on a short camping trip to enjoy nature with the family, these tips will help you save a lot of money during your travels.

About the author

Oana Schneider

Oana Schneider is a published author located in Chicago, Illinois, who currently works for as a communication specialist and blog editor. She writes about lifestyle, family budget, has a degree in Communications and advocates for women’s rights. Her future plans include getting a Labrador and losing a few pounds.


  • These are some great ideas to save money. Bringing separate coolers for food and drinks hadn’t occurred to me, but it makes perfect sense. I agree about leaving the big toys at home. Not only do they cost more in gas to transport, but they also can slow you down, and can sometimes limit the types of spots where you can camp. I’m all for borrowing gear, especially if you’re just starting out, and aren’t even sure you like camping, or don’t go that often. If, however, you’re going to be camping quite a bit, I’d invest in some good quality gear, rather than constantly borrowing from others. Planning the menu in advance is another great idea, especially if you’re planning to pack food to take with you. If you’re buying it along the way or when you arrive, it’s still important to have a list, to reduce the number of trips you have to make to and from the store.

  • People often try to be too clever when they go camping, thinking that in order to have a great holiday, they have to spend a lot of money. This couldn’t be further from the case, however, and you do often find that the people who spend less end up making more important memories that they can take through the rest of their lives – which is great. It’s the little things that make the biggest impact, at the end of the day.

  • We are getting ready to go on a camping trip in a few weeks, so I was glad to see this post. I like the idea of the food and drinks in separate coolers to keep the food colder. We usually pack them like that anyway, just for convenience, but now there’s another reason to do so. I always look for camping supplies at yard sales and a few years ago I found two camping stoves for $3 apiece. We usually camp at places that are within one hour from where we live not only to save on expenses, but because we don’t want to spend a lot of our vacation time on the road.

    • Glad you liked it! If you have in mind to take a longer vacation and start a road trip you should also read:

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