Camping as a low Cost travel alternative
PLANNING A FAMILY CAMPING TRIP TO LOWER VACATION COSTS
Camping is the best way we can think of to make possible that family vacation when budgets are stretched so tight during these difficult economic times. It is also a way to bring the family closer together as each member must take on responsibilities and has the opportunity to grow through the experience. Of course camping is not for everyone, but perhaps some folks who have negative associations with the thought of a camping trip only feel this way because of past experiences.
Camping can mean many things to many people. Some do not think they are camping unless they have backpacked into a wilderness area and are isolated from other people. Others feel that a popular group campground is just fine, especially if some of the creature comforts such as electricity and showers are available. What is important when thinking about planning the trip, is that just as all family members will have responsibilities on the trip, it is also a good idea for all participants to have some ownership in the outdoor destination.
One way camping can be used as a money saver is by using it as a substitute for staying in hotels. The cost of most any campground will be significantly less than the cost of even a basic hotel room. If you will be using a campground as a hotel substitute, I suggest that it is wise to find one that does have showers and perhaps some other amenities that might not otherwise be desired or needed. Add the savings of meals prepared at the campsite and the camping option saves even more money. For example, if the family were planning a trip to visit an amusement park for several days, camping in a nearby campground could save hundreds of dollars and might make a trip possible that would have been impossible otherwise.
Locating campgrounds is quite simple these days, whether for public campgrounds (federal or state) or for a private campground. Below we have provided links that will allow the user to locate several one-stop web resources for doing just this. Some states allow reservations to be made well in advance and can take some of the worry out of the process. Many would be unwilling to make a lengthy trip on simply the hope that a camping spot would be available. Through the federal reservation system, there are even options for renting cabins for a very reasonable price. We recently made a trip to the Rocky Mountain West where we spent approximately one week in a picturesque cabin along a mountain stream, one week in a former Forest Service fire lookout on top of a mountain, and two weeks camping in well-maintained state and federal campgrounds. The cabins ran in the $30-$40 per night range and camping fees between $7.50 and $15.00 per night.
When making these reservations, take note of services offered such as showers, drinking water, and electrical hookups. Also, find out if there is a camp store and if you will need firewood. My experience has been that relying on firewood that can be gathered at campgrounds is inversely proportional to the size and popularity of the campground. If I am heading to a campground with only primitive sites (often no water or perhaps even bathrooms) then I can usually find enough to make do. However, if the weather has been wet this wood may not be usable and you can find yourself without.
This brings to mind the issue of cooking. I am in the process of writing an article on outdoor cooking and will deal much more with this issue in that installment. For now I will just say that my view is that simplicity is the goal. Trying to count on being able to cook over a wood fire is often not a good idea. Inexpensive propane cooking devices are readily available and will operate in most any weather conditions. I try to bring items that are quite easy to simply heat and serve and for which the cleanup is easy. If you are comfortable using paper goods and plastic ware, the cleanup can even be easier. If you have environmental qualms over this idea, by all means bring appropriate outdoor eating utensils.
The next issue is equipment. It may be that you already own much or all of the basics. A checklist of gear you need is essential. As with the issue of cooking, a soon to be released article on procuring gear is in the works. There is a myriad of ways to find reasonably priced items such as online auction sites, CraigsList, and online retailers. Knowing what considerations to take into account for your particular need will be an extensive portion of the upcoming article.
In conclusion, let me encourage you to consider this low cost travel alternative if you feel it might be an adventure your family would enjoy. We have found that through our travels from the Pacific Northwest to Florida, and from the Adirondacks of New York to the desert Southwest, camping has been the most rewarding way we have traveled. Sometimes we have roughed it on these trips and other times our camping trips have been pretty first class as camping goes. Whatever way you choose to get out and enjoy the outdoors, we wish you and your family all the best.