If there’s one thing that I can’t compromise on in this life, it’s the love for travel, but grownup responsibilities mean grownup expenses. The Budget Travel Tips series from First Choice Power examine how you can travel while finding a way to save money. Whether you’re in school, have a family, or just don’t have the income you wish to support your travel dreams, we share tips on how you can still see the world – without going into debt!
Let’s Go Camping!
Travel is important to my family and me. This includes both getting on a plane to a new exotic city and simply exploring my own backyard. But as a mother of two children, I have a mortgage, insurance payments, school tuition, and all the other expenses that comes with adult life. Travel has become more of a challenge in terms of cost and budget. But that hasn’t stopped us from doing what we love!
Our first journey into travel budgeting will explore camping. Here’s the run down on what you need to step outside and make adventure happen on the cheap.
I’ve been camping my whole life. As a true lover of nature, camping is near and dear to my heart. As a city dweller, I love waking up with the birds at the first crack of dawn and actually being able to see the stars at night.
Camping is a means to absorb the landscape of the natural world around us, and it teaches children an appreciation for that world and its resources. Sure, it’s more work than checking into a hotel with fresh towels, a plush already-made bed, and room service, but the trade-off can’t be compared to other accommodations.
Camping is camping. You hear the coyotes at night, you cook your dinner over a fire (or stove), and you wear the same clothes day after day. And let’s not forget, camping is comparably cheap, which is why it can be the best way to set sail on adventure if you’re on a budget.
The One True Camping Essential: A Tent
There’s a fundamental tenet behind the purchase of camping gear: “You get what you pay for.” And this is especially true when it comes to your tent.
Simply put, your tent is your only shelter for your adventure. All other variables are optional and malleable, but a tent is essential to protect yourself from the elements. If a big wind arrives in the middle of the night or you receive a visit from a surprise rain shower, you need to be sure that you and your belongings are protected with a well-made tent, not a cheap flimsy one!
But since we’re discussing budget travel tips, we aren’t going to tell you to run out and buy the swankiest possible tent for your family. Instead, locate a recreational store that will rent a tent. Next, set it up on your backyard before you head out to the campsite as a trial run. It’s best to know what you’re doing before you head out into the middle of nowhere.
After you camp a couple time, you’ll be able to decide if camping is for you and your family. At that time, definitely invest in a well-made tent. Check the reviews online and talk to some more experienced campers. According to camping aficionados, the best time to buy your tent (and most camping gear!) is in the winter – the new models are being rolled out, and stores are wanting to clear out extra holiday stock.
And once you’ve made your purchase, set it up in your backyard before you take it for a real camp adventure.
Your Camping Checklist
How you collect these supplies is up for interpretation and preference, but the best recommendation is to use what you have instead of always buying new stuff. In fact, the reason camping can be such a budget-friendly way to travel is because it allows you to reuse stuff over a long period of time. In other words, think of this section as a checklist!
- You’ll want to bring food. Protein rich snacks like trail mix that includes nuts are great to take on hikes.
- A cooler with ice to keep drinks and other items cool would be nice.
- Water is an absolute must. Being out in the elements can dehydrate you faster than you think. Pack an extra gallon to wash up if need be. Other options include camping somewhere with access to clean running water.
- Bring a backpack to take water, snacks, binoculars and a map during your hike.
- Bring an old towel.
- Don’t purchase an expensive sleeping bag right out the gate. Sleeping on old sheets with a pillow and a quilt or two should keep you plenty warm. Once you decide whether you want to become a “camper,” then you can invest in a good bag and sleeping pad, two must-haves for campers who enjoy comfort.
- Pack layers of clothing. The air can get chilly at night. Think of it this way: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only being unprepared with the wrong clothing.
- Bring a First Aid Kit!
- Pack that sunscreen. It’s good for your day hikes, tent-side relaxing, and just being outside. Dealing with a sunburn while camping is no vacation. And while your’re protecting yourself from the sun, bring a hat.
- Bring trash bags. “Leave no trace” is serious camper code.
- Bring supplies for a fire. This includes a lighter, your own wood, and a starter log if building a fire is new to you. Not every campground allows you to collect wood. More importantly, only build a fire in allowed areas, and make sure there is no fire ban.
- Bring a flashlight. Stumbling in the dark is a challenge at home, let alone where stumps, rocks, and unfamiliar terrain abound.
- Pack some entertainment! If you’re like us, you’ll want to bring a guitar. There’s just something about the sound of the strum in the great outdoors! In other words, ensuring everyone has a good time camping means there’s a greater chance you’ll camp again in the future.
Where to Camp
Camping in Texas is allowed in most Texas State and National Parks. Many parks offer electricity hookups, and this means you’d be camping next to RV’s and trailers, which often use noisy generators to run appliances. If you’re looking to escape the sounds of the city, head for the area of the park where only tents are allowed.
There are also private properties across Texas that have opened their land to folks camping for a minimal fee each night. Search online for campsites in areas of the state and country you’ve never explored.
My family has always been a fan of camping on the beach, but just like state and national parks, be sure you follow the rules. It keeps your family safe and your budget free from fines.
Plan ahead for your trip so you’re not relying on Wi-Fi once you are out in the sticks. Camping is about unplugging from your regular life and absorbing nature. Figure out where you want to camp, grab a map, and ease right into the whole experience.
The Cost of Camping
Typically, you’ll pay an affordable price for a campsite, per night. You may also need to pay entry into the park itself if you’re camping at a state park that provides hiking trails.
If you sign up for a Texas State Park pass, then the fee to enter the park is waived each time you camp. This is really a great deal for those of you who want to camp or even just hike across our state more than a few times each year. When it comes to camping in the park, you will only pay the overnight camping fee.
In comparison to the price of hotel rooms, camping is a steal. For the price of two nights at a hotel (plus food at restaurants), you could likely outfit your campsite with great new gear!
Final Camping Tips
As you get ready to take a break from life and vacation in the great outdoors, remember these last few tips:
- Don’t wait too late to get dinner started! No one wants to prepare food in the dark with only a fire of flashlight providing light.
- Don’t leave your food sitting out or your trash bag on the ground. Animals are everywhere – you just can’t see them! They will smell and find your food, guaranteed. Don’t leave it out for them to destroy your site with bits of food and trash.
- Don’t wait too late to assemble your tent. Fumbling around in the dark is difficult work.
- Don’t worry about being dirty. This is camping, and that is the point! Get rugged, and leave the city behind.
Up next in the Budget Travel Tips series: Staying in Hotels!
Images courtesy of Ebony Porter.