For most of the thrifty and frugal crowd, camping is a common summer adventure.
One of our readers (Thanks Judy) recently introduced me to “Boondocking.”
Boondocking is camping rough. Really rough. It’s also free. Boondocking refers to camping for free, weather it is at a Casino’s RV site or a wilderness area in a public park.
I’ve found several websites that index and rate “boondocking” sites:
True, some “perks” of maintained campgrounds aren’t always available — flush toilets and latrines, electricity hookups, noisy campsite neighbors.
There are a number of easy workarounds for the lack of plumbing (I’l let you Google “boondocking tips” for that info though).
Aside from roughing it, how else can you save money on your family camping trips?
1. Get your gear used. Tons of people take up camping every year, but tons of people give it up too. Freecycle lists, CraigsList and the classified ads are great ways to get the big stuff like camp stoves and tents. Smaller items like silverware, cooking pans and knives are easily (and cheaply) found at yard sales and thrift stores. Housewares are easiest to find in July right after “wedding season” and hardest to find in August and September when everyone is hunting up that stuff for dormitories. Conversely, if you’re not opposed to dumpster diving, check out your local college campus dorm dumpster areas as soon as the school year ends for a serious stash of housewears being ditched by departing grads.
2. Save on space and ice by preparing and freezing meals ahead. We make rice pudding, and freeze it in gallon sized ziploc bags. It stays frozen a long time, and makes great breakfasts over the campfire. Besides, it doesn’t leave puddles in the bottom of the cooler.
3. Try solar lights. You can find solar garden lights just about anywhere now, and they are great for marking out obstacles on the campsite, or having in the tent for little ones who are afraid of the dark.
4. Day camp. This never occurred to me until I saw a family doing this at a local lakefront park. They pitched a tent on the lawn, pulled out their cooler and sent the kids to play. Mom and dad held down “home base” at the tent and kept an eye on the kids. Little ones returned to the tent for naps or to change from swimsuits to playground clothes. It didn’t cost the family anything except the cooler full of water bottles and peanut butter sandwiches and the kids got to play all day. (Oh, and did I mention, mom didn’t have to check the shower for spiders, wash dishes in the dark, hassle with the propane stove, or worry about bears). When the sun went down or the kids got tired of playing, the family just folded up their tent and lawn chairs, and went home.
5. Camp off-season. My husband hates spiders, and as a result, will only camp in the winter. Like serious, dead-of-winter, snow-on-the-ground craziness. But let me tell you this, it’s cheap!
6. Camp during the week. If you’ve got the vacation time, a Monday-Thursday camping trip can sometimes cost 1/2 the weekend rates.
7. Share! Every summer we try to attend a four-day camping trip with some friends. Between us, we have five “parental teams” and around twenty children, or about eight tents and an RV. We rent three adjoining campsites and let the kids run loose between the three. That keeps our site rental fees very low, as we just split it based on the number of people in our group and the number of days we stay. We also share a couple of cook-stoves, and one fire pit, reducing our firewood expense greatly by sharing. (You can cook 35 marshmallows over one fire just as well as you can cook 4).