Love to travel, but also want to save money? Cashing in on last-minute airline deals, staying at all-inclusive hotels, or doing a cross-country rad trip are all great options for fun, inexpensive ways to escape. But if you love being outside and learning how to live in harmony with Mother Nature, then there are big ways to save money camping.
The best part? There’s no need to go to a sporting goods store for expensive equipment, either. Here are some Savetastic camping tips that can save you money on a trip, plus what the best ways to camp are!
State Park Passes & Free Campsites
Some campsites are really expensive. If you’re going to pay for that, then you might as well just get a hotel room. To do camping the right way, do some research before you leave.
A state park pass will let you camp at parks throughout the US; fall asleep to the setting sun and wake up to a beautiful sunrise. For an annual America the Beautiful Pass, you’ll pay $80 (link below). There are also lots of camping apps that will find free campsites for you as you’re traveling. Never pay for pricey hotels again!
No Tent, No Problem
You don’t need a tent to camp, especially since tents can cost upwards of $1,000! Borrow one from a neighbor or simply use your car. You can purchase a cheap tarp from a hardware supply store to hang over open windows and doors. This keeps the bugs out while letting in cool air.
If you’re someplace that is warm at night, you can set up a hammock or just sleep under the stars. Put some bug spray on your forehead, tuck yourself into your sleeping bag and have a good night!
Preserve Your Back, Travel More
If there’s one thing you should purchase for a camping trip, it’s an air mattress. There are different types, from big thick ones to small, convenient roll-up versions. They range from $30 to over $100. Whether you’re sleeping in your car or on the ground, air mattresses support your back and help you stay active for longer — because the last thing you want is to have to cut a vacation short because of back pain. (Adding a trip to the chiropractor is not the best way to save money on a camping trip!)
Walmart Parking Lots
If you can’t find a free campsite and aren’t anywhere close to a state park, you can always try urban stealth camping. This means finding a place to park your vehicle for the night, waking up early, and heading out before the meter maids start their rounds.
If that sounds too risky, a Walmart parking lot is a common resort for many travelers on the road. The corporate site and media interviews have noted that the company appreciates the overnight visitors because they usually end up buying items at the store.
However, permission to park varies by city — mostly due to local ordinances — and the store manager’s decision. In fact, OvernightRVParking.com, a website that tracks more than 14,000 free RV parking locations in the United States and Canada, noted in 2020 that only 58% of Walmart stores currently allow overnight RV parking.
Bottom line? Whether it’s Walmart or another store with a major parking lot, it’s smart to double-check with the store first.
Pack Smart and Light
- When you go camping, you only have a limited amount of space, so pack light.
- Stay away from suitcases. (Running around the woods with rolling luggage is no one’s idea of fun.)
- Forget the disposable packs of water and use a reusable bottle instead. Stick to non-perishable food items or freeze-dried packs so that all you need is to add hot water for a meal.
- Pack versatile layers of clothing, especially if you’re somewhere where the temperature changes wildly from day to night.
- Stick to warm layers, but avoid bulky materials such as wool and knit sweaters.
With careful planning, it is totally possible to live out of a 35-liter backpack for months!