Camping: The Affordable Vacation Alternative

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How much do your memories cost?

Alright, when you think of vacations, what typically comes to mind? Is it a tropical beach, a cruise, or visiting family?  We enjoy those, but within the last month we’ve taken two vacations that throw our thoughts into huge comparisons when we look at time/cost and complexity.

One trip was a great trip to Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah.  The other was a family vacation to Chicago and Wisconsin to see the sights and visit family.


Planning for the camping trip was much simpler, partly because we’ve camped so much and have a system down that we didn’t have to spend a ton of time on that.  You may have to.

The big contrast is the cost.  Let’s show you some specific examples from each 4 night 5 day trip:


Flying Trip

Camping Trip

Lodging $120 –  1 night hotel, 3 nights w/ family $36 – 4 nights at campgrounds
Entertainment $150 – Museum and Aquarium $20 Park entrance feeFree – lizards, rocks, and cousins
Food $350 – eating out, food for cooking and snacks $150 – eating out, shared cooking meals, snacks
Travel $1500 – airfare, car rental, gas $200 – Gas
Miscellaneous $15 – Souvenirs Free – souvenirs – sand, rocks, pictures

TOTAL                                $2085                                                         $406


We can do 5 epic camping trips for the cost of one other vacation (where we mostly stayed with family and bummed a lot of food off of them).

Basically, as you can see, we can take about 5 camping trips for the same price that we can take one flying trip of the same length. As the times get longer, a week, two or more, you start to get more and more disparity between the two and camping day by day is less and less.   That’s one of the reasons that we get out so much, is that we don’t have a lot of money and we don’t have to spend a lot of money to make these trips happen.  We don’t spend any more on food when we camp then we would had we been at home.  We eat regular food and it is great.

This whole post is about the affordability of camping.  Even if some of these aspects aren’t simple on their own, when compared to a regular vacation, the one time cost that can be spread over years of use is actually very reasonable.  Then you get to enjoy many more adventures because the per adventure cost really isn’t much more than gas and food.


Here are a few other aspects of camping to really put it into perspective:


Lodging – One comment I hear a lot is when looking at buying a tent, especially a family tent, people are hesitant to spend very much money.  Let’s compare…One night in a hotel, typically you’re in a dump or found a steal if you can get something for $59/night.  Typically you are looking at the $100 to $150/night range.  For the same price as a night or two at a hotel, you can get a pretty sweet tent.  For the price of three nights at a hotel, you can get an awesome tent!

Then throw on a few more things.  Let’s say you want to go backpacking.  You can simplify even more.  One of our favorite options is a hammock.  Grand Trunk makes a double hammock.  Instead of taking the whole tent you can either bring a tarp, or have the whole system incorporated with a fly and cover for your hammock. This is a simple way to save both on space and weight and the kids love it!  It’s also a great way to hang out in the backyard on a warm afternoon with your hot spouse!  Who wouldn’t love it – it’s relaxing!

Cooking – We usually use a 1 burner butane stove when we camp.  It cost about $20 and has been going strong for 7 years.  As a bonus, we pull it out during every power outage to cook dinner on.  Although you can invest a lot of money in fancy camp cookware, most of ours is old pots from thrift stores that work just great (and we don’t have to feel bad about banging them up).


Sleeping – Keep it light and warm.  Sleeping bags can be pricey, but a good nights sleep will make you want to keep going!  Whether you are backpacking or just car camping, a good sleeping bag is important.  Especially when it comes to your kids.  All of our bags are rated 20 degrees or colder for the kids and the great thing is that we have never had a kid wake up in the middle of the night or even in the morning saying they were cold.  Yes, we buy kid specific bags since they keep them so much warmer (not a lot of extra space to try to warm up with their little bodies).   We plan on spending about $60 on a good kids sleeping bag, and $80-100 for adults.  Don’t skimp on this one – get good sleeping bags, especially for your kids!


After you take care of these 3 basic needs, food shelter, and warmth, you can make camping as simple or complex as you want it to be.  It’s not unrealistic to think that a family of 4 could get all of their basic camping gear for under $600 (and that’s for really good gear – go to a discount store and get in for under $400).  Consider that you can use a lot of this gear for 10-20 years, and it’s a major steal.  Compare that cost and the benifits to one other vacation.  It’s a no brainer – I know which one I’m choosing!

Here’s to saving money, making memories and having a blast doing it!

Recommended Product

Grand Trunk Double Hammock –  Do you need a hammock to go camping?  Well it’s debatable.  Should you want one?  YES!  Taking a hammock on your camping trip allows you to do the one thing that camping is best known for…relaxing!  The hammocks from Grand Trunk Goods are amazing.  Made of parachute nylon, they’re super packable and weight just over a pound.  As we already mentioned, these are great for the backyard and the backcountry and everything in between.  These hammocks go up nice and easy with caribeaners attached to the ends.  I


Inside there is room for 3 hooligans to come and romp around next(though it’s a tight fit with 4) to you while you’re trying to relax.  They are a perfect size for cuddling up with your favorite person!  One piece of advice:  Kids can’t get enough of these hammocks, so if you don’t want to share, put it up nice and high so they can’t reach it!  Luckily, if they do manage to get in, Grand Trunk hammocks are really tough and take the abuse without any problem (trust us, a pack from our neighborhood put it to the test).  Cost – $65


One lucky winner will score a Grand Trunk double hammock.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks to Grand Trunk for supplying the hammock for this review.  

160 thoughts on “Camping: The Affordable Vacation Alternative”

  1. What kind of meals do you make while camping??
    And do you share your camping gear list?
    We camped and hiked in Yellowstone and Glacier last summer with the kids and another family, but the meal preparation is definitely an area where I’d appreciate someone else’s input.

  2. We are definitely a camping family! We’re always looking for ideas for keeping our son entertained while in the kayak or canoe. We’re hoping to do a backcountry canoe trip this summer and will need more ideas.

  3. People have already mentioned it, but geocaching. We have ran across several just by chance while hiking. The kids LOVE trading something of theirs for something in the box. I need to get a cheapie GPS. I know there are a ton of geocaching spots around us.

    I’d also like to try orienteering.

  4. I’d like some good water safety tips and I’d like to know more about geocaching!

    It’s amazing how vacation costs add up! Great point about camping trips costing waaaaaay less.

    (Also, my daughter was looking at your pictures and told me you have a “two-headed stroller” haha 🙂 )

  5. We love to know more about how to camp our way through CO and Utah next summer – and – I think my middle kids would love to try geocaching. (For keeping kids happy in the kayaks – try a SMALL fish net 🙂

  6. Of course once you start taking your kids not only camping but backpacking, canoeing, kayaking and climbing – the cost will start to increase. That said, it is still less expensive and more enlightening to spend some time in the woods.
    I’d be interested in hearing about infant-friendly camping activities.

  7. We would like to know more about tubing in local rivers. I see tubing as a mid way point between swimming and rafting/kayaking. What rivers have you tubed? Does it work as well as rafting when taking children along? Are there places to rent tubes and life jackets or do you need to invest in them?

  8. I stumbled across this post from Pinterest – I have to tell you I am super excited to see hammocks becoming more mainstream! Camping and backpacking – especially with a hammock – are great activities for kids. My husband and I had great outdoor experiences when we were kids and are looking forward to allowing our own children to explore the great outdoors, too.

  9. Fort building. I’d love to have some ideas on materials I could have in the garage that the kids could take and standup a fort in the backyard that could stand up to some rough use. Either pre-cut shapes that work or a material that is light weight and connectable.

  10. Geochaching. We got to try it out at a school sports night last year and my kids loved it (the scavenger hunt lead them across school grounds looking for clues).

  11. Geocaching. It really sounds like a lot of fun. I have done a bit of reading on it, but haven’t really done it yet. It is something that I’m interested in though…and think everyone would enjoy it!


  12. Miranda Gonzalez

    We started camping and fishing this past summer, but we are beginners, so learning about either of those would be awesome!

  13. we love hiking and camping. i’d like to Geocaching! i think crystal mining would be fun too, we recently went to a place were we could sluice and dig for gems. Lots of fun!

  14. Rhonda S. Phillips-Tenderholt

    fishing, hiking, camping, geocaching, what to pack/meals to make. All the above that everyone else mentioned…not very unique, sorry.

  15. We love to go camping and hiking, but unfortunately did not get the chance to go this past summer, so I am really looking forward to it next year

  16. I grew up camping with my family and I feel like it was the number one factor in my love of the outdoors as a teenager and and adult. so much fun and so important!

  17. We camp as much as possible but its always local type stuff, I would LOVE to learn more about camping in general so I can ad all the kiddo friendly places to my list! That & rafting! I think it would be fun to go rafting where you pull off & camp for a few nights then get back on the river & go :C) Great giveaway!! thanks!

  18. this geocaching is new to me and sounds really fun from the comments so far. i think that would be a good option to learn about! someone mentioned stay cations too and devising a unique staycation could be a fun challenge too

  19. Always looking for more camping tips. We just purchased an old travel trailer and can’t wait to explore more of AK.

  20. I can’t really think of one thing but we are all about outdoor activities. We play at the park, we ride our bikes and go for walks. We take the boat to the lake, go rafting or canoeing or kayaking down the river, and we go camping and more!

  21. I would actually like to hear more about camping my husband works all the time and is usually not into this but I am with you last summer instead of going on a week long vacation and flying we went and spent the day at a water park but is the same reason I would love to go camping.

  22. I would love to take a family white water rafting trip. However, I need to know a bit more about the minimum age that most rafting guides recommend. Our youngest son might now be old enough yet.

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