Camping is a way to have an affordable holiday or weekend away. However, it isn’t for everyone and without careful thought, research and planning, a camping trip can still be expensive. If you are trying camping for the first time, borrow as much gear as possible, just go away for a night or two and choose somewhere close to home. If the trip isn't a success you haven't wasted money on loads of gear.
If you decide camping is fun, here are ten ways to save money:
1. Plan the basics of your trip. Where do you want to go and what do you want to see? Research what campsites are available and the facilities they provide. Pick up information at tourist centres and consider buying an old fashioned book listing camp sites. Check the internet. Plan what food you are taking.
Plan your trip. Image: Marie Vonow
2. Think before you spend money on a tent. Maybe you can continue to borrow one? Do you really need a big tent? Some are quite fancy and expensive. Is the tent you are considering buying easy to erect and pull down? A second hand tent (bought through Gumtree, a garage sale or an advert in a shop window) can save you money but check there are no holes in the tent and all pegs, poles etc are there.
This second hand tent cost $70, was simple to erect and was used for many camping trips. Image: Marie Vonow
3. Sometimes it is fun for the kids to have their own tent and a small one can be purchased cheaply. It also means the adults have some degree of privacy.
This tent was big enough for 2 adults and a child but more fun for 2 youngsters to share. Image: Marie Vonow
4. There are free camp sites to be found but you won’t get electricity. Sometimes a basic toilet is available. If not, do you have a camping toilet? They can be purchased but if you are handy you can construct one which will save money.
Make sure you have what you need to cook, light your way after dark and entertain yourself without power. Take plenty of batteries as these will be expensive if you buy them at a roadhouse. If you run out of batteries in the middle of the night when you are in the middle of nowhere it is very inconvenient. There are now crank style torches which are charged by winding a handle. These are great for camping as no batteries are required.
This torch doesn't need batteries, just wind the handle. Image: Marie Vonow
What about keeping clean? Occasionally a free campsite has a cold water shower but usually it doesn't. Do you have a solar powered shower or do you plan to get by with a wash for a couple of days?
If you are using a free campsite make sure you follow any rules regarding camp fires, disposal of rubbish and length of stay.
Follow the rules. A fine will damage your budget. Image: Marie Vonow
Some camp sites charge a minimal fee which may be collected by a caretaker or there may be an honesty box.
5. An unpowered site at a caravan park is cheaper than one with power. You still have access to a lovely hot shower, a playground for the kids and a barbecue may be available. Save money by avoiding peak season and long weekends when you are likely to be charged more for a campsite.
6. A camping fridge that runs off your car battery is a luxury you may decide you need. They can be bought second hand. However, an esky with large chunks of ice will keep perishables cold for quite some time. The bigger the pieces of ice, the longer they will stay frozen. Freeze your own ice in empty milk cartons at home instead of paying for bags of ice. Keep the esky out of the sun so ice stays frozen longer.
7. If you are planning to use an open camp fire think about where you will get the wood. It is illegal to collect wood from the side of the road in many areas these days. Also, check there is no fire ban.
If you need to take your own wood think ahead so you can access free or cheap wood rather than buying a bag of expensive chunks at a service station along the way.
An open fire is relaxing but you will probably need to bring wood with you. Image: Marie Vonow
8. Keep meals simple. Take your own food with you to avoid paying top dollar. Even basics like a loaf of bread and a carton of milk can be pricey at a roadhouse. It is fun to make simple damper on a campfire, very fresh and a memorable experience. Sausages and hamburgers taste so much better out in the fresh air so there is no need to plan fancy meals. If you are lucky (and in the right location) you may catch some fresh fish but it is always wise to have a back up plan in case they aren’t biting.
Fresh fish for tea. Image: Marie Vonow
9. You will save money on fuel if you don’t plan a long trip. Use any fuel vouchers you have saved from the bottom of shopping receipts. Ask fellow travellers where the cheapest places for fuel are. When we travelled across the Nullarbor Plain, fuel prices were high and information from folk travelling in the opposite direction saved us money.
10. Take plenty of water for drinking and washing with you. If you have to buy it you will end up paying a high price. Larger amounts of water as needed for washing may not be available everywhere.
Sign in shop. Image: Marie Vonow
If you enjoy camping it is a great family holiday. Getting back to basics is good for the soul as well as kind to the pocket. You will also appreciate the comforts of home when you get back.