10 tricks to lower the cost of your camping trip

Going camping is a fun way to enjoy time with your family and it is the kind of activity that should not break the bank. Use these 10 tips to help you save money on your next camping trip.

1. Camp during the week

When you are planning your next camping trip look for opportunities to camp during the week if your work schedule allows. Many campgrounds offer discounted rates during the week and increase their rates on the weekends.

2. Prepare ahead of time so you don’t have to buy items from the campstore

Take the time to properly plan for your camping trip to ensure you have all the items you are going to need. The camp store items are marked up significantly so you want to avoid shopping there if you can. I have a camping checklist saved on my phone that I always use to ensure I’m not forgetting any items. Anytime I go camping and realize there’s an item I forgot I will add it to my list so I don’t forget it next time.

3. Keep water jugs to fill at home

While most of the campgrounds have potable (safe to drink) water, it may not necessarily be desirable to drink from. Additionally using bottled water all weekend can get expensive, especially on hot days with a big family. Below is a picture of the water jug we use and we love it. It has lasted 4 years and is still going strong. In addition to this we will keep about four extra gallon size jugs of water that we refill at home and bring with us on each trip. Once our main water jug gets low we will use the gallon size jugs to refill it, that way we always have fresh water that’s easy to access on the counter.

Our water jug

4. Use dishes instead of paper plates

Paper plates and plasticware are a great option to enable you to spend less time doing dishes and more time enjoying the camping trip. However they do cost a lot of money over time. If you are looking to cut down your camping costs, get a cheap set of dishes you can wash and reuse to keep in your camper. It will be a small upfront investment to save more in the long run.

5. Cook your own food

This tip should go without saying. However it still amazes me whenever I see a delivery driver show up to a camper at the campground. Personally I LOVE to cook while I am camping. There are so many awesome camping meals out there, if you have a favorite camping meal, feel free to post the recipie in the comments below. Stay tuned to this blog, we will be doing a future series on camping meals!

6. Cook over fire with charcoal or wood

One of the main reasons why I love to cook while camping is that I love to use the fire to cook. The last five tips in this post are all ways you can reduce your propane usage (and save money).  My family and I can go an entire camping season using less that one tank of propane! One of the ways I conserve propane is by cooking over the fire.  If you plan on having a fire anyways, you might as well kill two birds with one stone and cook over it as well. As soon as we arrive at a campsite for our first night of camping, I will always start the fire as step 1 of setting up camp. That way it has some great coals to cook on by the time our campsite is all set up. Then we cook our standard easy first night meal, burgers and hot dogs!

To make life easier while cooking over the fire I suggest that you get a portable cooking grate. I personally use a Mr. Bar-B-Q cooking grate with folding legs over the campfire and I love it. My brother as well as many others use a tripod with a cooking grate and those work great as well!

7. Use an electric griddle

Another way to save propane is to use the “free” electricity at your site, that you have already paid for. One way to do this is to make sure you have an electric griddle with you. This makes for a very easy way to cook breakfast (and other meals).  I have two electric griddles that I setup on a table under my awning and cook a huge breakfast each morning.  I have a flat griddle that I use to cook the pancakes and eggs.  Also I have a deep sided electric skillet that I use to cook the bacon or sausage. Just be careful if you use two electric griddles because they draw about 12-13 amps a piece. If you have them hooked up to the same plug they will surely blow the breaker. When I cook with both griddles I will plug one of them into the side of the camper and for the other one I will run and extension cord from the 20 amp connection on the power panel.  That way it never blows the breaker.  Presto makes excellent griddles and skillets…the deep sided electric skillet I have is the one my dad used when I camped as a kid, and it still works great!

8. Use the electric water heater

Not all, but most campers come with a water heater that can run off an electric or propane heater. If you have this feature on your camper you can save propane by using the electric heating element. I have found that it heats just as well as the gas heater. Just be careful to turn off the electric heater when the water is drained from the water heater tank. If the camper is plugged in and the electric heating element is on with an empty tank it will burn up the heating element. The only downside to using the electric element is that it uses about 12 amps which is almost half of a 30 amp connection. It is a minor inconvenience and I just make sure to turn off the AC before I use the microwave.

9. Use a space heater

This is one of the best tricks I picked up! For cold weather camping I bought an inexpensive electric space heater for my camper. Again, you are already paying for unlimited electricity, why use your own propane! We have been very happy with the temperature in the camper during near freezing conditions outside.  The little 1500 Watt space heater we have works great for our 19ft camper and we don’t even need to have it on the highest setting.

10. Make a bucket light

This is another personal favorite that we learned from our friends when we lived in Mississippi. It is very popular in the south to have a homeade bucket light to hang in a nearby tree.

Our Bucket Light

Bucket lights are very easy to make, all you need is a white 5 gallon bucket, a lamp kit, a light bulb, and some rope. These are a great alternative to a propane lantern, again since you already are paying for electricity. I simply use the same extension cord that I used in the morning for my electric griddle, it doubles as my bucket light extension cord at night! To make a bucket light, all you need to do is start by removing the bucket handle and re-attaching it at the bottom end (so it hangs like a lampshade). Then cut a small hole at the bottom of the bucket so you can insert the lamp kit. After that just add the light bulb, tie a string to the handle, and hang it from a tree.

Bucket light doubles as light and cord storage

Another added benefit is that the bucket doubles as space to store your other light strings and extension cords! If you really what to deck out your bucket light you can add your favorite sports team sticker to the outside or get a cool bulb that changes color with a remote.

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