Joe and I are poor. If we lived anywhere other than Orange County we would probably be middle class, but we live here, so we’re poor. This becomes a problem when we plan vacations. We like to travel, we like going to new places, we like trying new foods, but we don’t like to spend rent money on plane tickets. Despite what that nasty little salesman told us when we got sucked into listening to a timeshare presentation, we know its not a good idea to plan a vacation at the expense of loosing the roof over your head.
We’ve discovered that the best way for us to vacation is by camping. Camping tends to get a bad rap and conjures up pictures of dirt, boredom and lots of work. While there is work and some dirt (or sand if you’re beach camping) there definitely is not boredom. We’ve been able to see some pretty amazing places and create life long memories by camping. For people who are on as tight a budget as we are, camping provides a way for us to do and see things we normally wouldn’t have the money to do.
How cheap is it? Well, our last camping trip to Yosemite Valley cost us a total of $250. That included the campsite, gas for the drive up there, food and souvenirs. It did not include all our camping equipment, but that is a one time expense that we won’t have to pay again for a long time. Plus, if we didn’t want to buy the equipment we could have borrowed it for free like we did last year.
Of course, camping isn’t for everyone. It does take quite a bit of planning (the most popular campsites fill up quick and you have to book them about 6 months in advance). You have to be okay with doing your own cooking and sleeping on the ground (or in an air mattress, which I highly recommend investing in). And you have to be okay with leaving most of your electronics at home. You don’t have to be a nature enthusiast, pass a wilderness survival class or have an affinity for smoky the bear. You just have to be willing to step slightly out of your comfort zone and get ready for adventure. Here are some tips to help you get started
- Just do it….at least once. One of my best friends and former college roommate when camping with us in Yosemite. She’s not high maintenance, but she has to have make up on every day and typically sleeps with 10 pillows. She was a little nervous about camping, but decided to just give it a shot. Three months later, she still talks about that trip and can’t wait to plan another one next year. For her, the beauty of Yosemite, the tastiness of camp food (everything really is better if its cooked outside), and all the fun playing Scattegories and badminton was worth a few nights with only one pillow and minimal make up.
- Start small. If you really are nervous about camping, start out small. Find a local place and only book two nights. If it goes well, plan another, longer trip. If it doesn’t, then you know your doomed to a life of hotels 🙂
- Pick a beautiful place. There are so many beautiful campgrounds in America, and so many beautiful places with campgrounds right next to them. If you pick a setting that takes your breath away at every turn, you’ll be less likely to be annoyed by bugs and dirt everywhere. Do you want to spend a week at the beach but cringe at the thought of spending thousands of dollars renting a house? Go camping! Carlsbad, Coronado Island, San Onofre and Doheny State Beach are just some of the places I remember camping as a kid. And what about the Grand Canyon? It’s one of the 7 Wonders of the World and its only about 7 hours drive from So Cal (Joe and I are thinking about camping here next year). Last summer Joe and I had the privilege of camping in Yosemite and it was absolutely stunning. Everywhere we looked we felt like we were looking at a painting.
- Enjoy the journey. Local camping is fun, but if you want a real treat pick someplace that is at least 4 hours away. Then, make the drive part of your vacation. Last summer we drove up to Northern California near Salinas. We ended up getting their super early, decided to explore, and found the John Steinbeck museum. It just so happened that half our group was in a book club and had recently read East of Eden. It was so cool to stumble upon that treasure and learn about the author we’d come to love.
- Go in a group. When it comes to camping, the more the merrier. Without t.v., smartphones or computers, you need lots of human companionship to keep you entertained. Not only will the trip be more entertaining, it will be less expensive. When we went camping in Yosemite a campsite cost $20 a night and could hold up to six people. Had we gone by ourselves, we would have had to pay full price. But because we shared the site with four others, we only had to pay $6.50 a night.
- Borrow equipment. The first time Joe and I went camping we borrowed everything from his brother and my parents. The second time around we bought a lot of our own stuff, but only because we found some great deals online and knew we would use the equipment for years to come. If you aren’t sure that camping will be a common vacation for your family, or if you just don’t have the money to spend on tents and camping stoves, then ask around. I’ve found that many people are willing to share their camping gear. If you go with a group, ask everyone what equipment they have and then assign everyone a list of things to bring so you don’t bring too much of one thing or not enough of another. One cookstove will usually be plenty, but you’ll need 2-3 lanterns and a bunch of flashlights.