In our blog post 10 Ways to Vacation on the Cheap, I wrote about camping as a low-cost option. As I thought about it further, I realized camping can be as expensive as a more traditional vacation. I mean people go glamping now and pay more to spend the night in a tent (albeit a very fancy tent) than they do a hotel room. So camping can be expensive, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.

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Here are my top tips for camping on the cheap:

1. Timing is everything: Avoid peak times and you can avoid the highest of the campsite fees. Booking a campsite during off-season versus in season can save you a lot of money, especially if you’re camping for an extended amount of time.  An added bonus: You will have fewer people around if you’re camping at off-peak times.

2. Water and Ice: You need a lot of water and ice even for a weekend camping trip. Fill and freeze water bottles at home, using them as ice in your cooler and then later as drinking water. Buying bottled water and ice isn’t a necessary camping expense if you plan ahead.

3. Firewood and Tinder: Learn how to make a fire and use FREE wood for your campfire. Check the Craigslist free section or neighborhood message boards to see if anyone is getting rid of lumber. Need tinder? You don’t have to buy a dura flame log. You can use old newspapers or lint from your clothes dryer as tinder to help get the fire started.

4. Gear: Camping gear can be expensive. If you don’t already own the necessities (sleeping bags, a tent, a good cooler) see what you can borrow from friends. If you camp regularly, investing in camping gear may be worth it. You can buy a good tent for $400 and that’s still less than the cost of a couple of nights in a decent hotel room. Of course, shop sales and Craigslist to see if you can get a steal or deal on gear.

5. Food for the journey: The best way to save money on food for a camping trip is to plan ahead. Purchase hot dogs, burgers, and breakfast meats when they are on sale. Keep them frozen until you’re ready to go camping. Albertson’s in Arizona offers a buy 1, get 2 deal on meat about once a month. Check your local grocery ads for the best deals and stock up before your next trip.

6. Mix your own trail mix: Rather than spending money on trail mix, make your own. Purchase ingredients as they are on sale and mix before you leave for your trip. You may spend the same amount but will likely have more trail mix for your effort.

As with much of what I tell my clients and write on this blog, camping on the cheap is all about planning. Save money, get out of town, and RELAX for less money than a traditional vacation.

Tell me: Do you enjoy camping? What tips do you have for saving money while enjoying a weekend away?