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Camping On A Budget

Cheap Family Vacations

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Does the cost of travel have you wondering if you can afford to take your family on a vacation this year? Then you might want to take your family on a camping trip. Campgrounds at state parks, national parks, national or state forests, and other public recreation areas make great destinations.

What can you expect at the campground?
It costs around $12-$25 to spend a night at these campgrounds, which is much less than the cost of a motel room these days. The parks are typically run by park rangers, who also provide security at the campgrounds. Each campsite will likely have a fire-pit, charcoal grill, and a picnic table. There will be an area to set up your tent, and a place to pull your car off the road. These parks usually have buildings that enclose bathrooms and showers. You'll also find drinking water available, places to do your dishes, and trash containers. Yes, there is some work to camping, but what a great way to involve the family in daily chores.

What recreation is available?
Most public parks have hiking trails, and many parks have lakes for fishing, boating, and swimming. Imagine the sight of your kids seeing a deer cross the path or a raccoon snooping through the campsite at night. There may also be a playground with swings, basketball courts, and other amenities. Also remember to bring along bikes, balls and gloves, board games, Frisbees, or any other favorite game or toy. There will be plenty of opportunities for the family to play together. Many state parks and other public parks offer nature programs for the kids, and some even show outside movies on weekends. Since most of these parks are located in remote areas away from city lights, they make great places to watch sunsets and to gaze at the stars at night.

What if I have no camping gear?
If this is your first time camping, you can gear up with the basics for under $600.

  • For a family of 4 I recommend a tent that sleeps 6. You'll appreciate the extra room that a 6-person tent provides. For some ideas, here are some

    Family Tents for under $200.

  • Next you'll need sleeping bags. Since you're probably not camping in cold weather, consider a 3-season bag. These are still rated for 30 to 40 degree weather, and if they get too warm at night just unzip the zipper. Mom and dad might like the coziness of sleeping bags that zip together. Check out these

    Sleeping Bags under $50.

  • For added comfort and insulation from the cold ground, you might consider putting a pad under your sleeping bag. You can find

    Sleeping Pads under $30.

  • Your campsite will likely have a charcoal grill, which is great for some cooking, but dishes that require a pot or skillet won't get all black if you have a propane camp stove. You can find a 2-burner propane stove for around $35-$80. The propane cylinders are $2-$3 dollars and will probably last a week. Check out these

    Camp Stoves for ideas.

  • To keep drinks cold and food from perishing, you'll need a cooler. Pick a cooler large enough to accommodate your needs. Here are some ideas for

    Coolers from $30-$100.

What if I do have camping gear?
Then you're ready for a really cheap vacation. All it will cost is campground fees, food, gas and incidentals like charcoal, ice or bait.

A Few More Tips
Other items to take camping can be found at home or bought at the grocery store: pots and pans, cups and glasses, silverware, pillows, flashlights, extra batteries, and food. I'd also recommend a cheap tarp for around $10 to place under your tent. This will help protect your tent floor against tears and to prevent water from seeping into the tent in case of rain. I didn't recommend a lantern, because they get hot and attract bugs. Instead, buy a 9-volt battery lamp for around $10 and use it sparingly so that you can enjoy the night sky. Here's a little shopping tip: rather than shop online for your gear, save even more money by going to a local Wal-Mart or Target store. They have everything you need at the lowest prices.

The Bottom Line
Figure $600 for a one-time cost to buy new gear, $200 or less for campground fees for a week, and $200 for food, gas, and ice, and you've got a great vacation for a family of four. Once you've acquired your gear, each subsequent camping trip will be even cheaper. You'll add to your gear from time to time, and some items need replenishing. Conclusion: for economical and adventurous vacations, take your family camping.

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