How to Camp with Kids on a Budget

Vacation costs can add up quickly for any family! We chose to start camping with our family because it was more affordable than alternative vacation options. We look at our camper purchase as an investment for our family vacations for years (and years) to come. We figure that the investment we made in our camper is likely the equivalent to just one family trip to Disney. Instead, we get to vacation for years! Who can argue with that justification?

In order to maximize our “investment” and our fun, we try to fit in as many trips as possible each year. How do we fit in so many vacations without breaking the bank??  Here are a few of our biggest cost-saving tips:

Make your own meals at the campsite.

Making meals at our campsite is easily our number one cost saver. If we’re feeding our family with groceries we would have needed at home we figure its really not an added vacation cost. Which means, more camping for us!

We don’t always have time to cook a big breakfast at home so having something simple like pancakes and bacon for breakfast still feels like a treat for our family.

We also love cooking simple dinners like hot dogs or pie iron pizzas over the campfire. Easy, fun, and budget-friendly. Yay!

Make a list and check it twice.

Forgetting something you really need can be expensive! Depending on your destination, you could incur extra gas costs to drive to a larger city to get what you need. Or, you may have to purchase a duplicate item you don’t really need just to get by for the duration of your vacation. And, shopping in a smaller, vacation town is typically more expensive than home.

We make detailed lists for meals and groceries and other items we need to pack so we don’t forget anything. We also try to keep a second set of other necessities (think contact solution, shampoo, toothpaste, etc.) in the camper so they’re always there.

Select a campground without hidden costs.

We try to select campgrounds where there are no extra fees and there is plenty of “free” or included fun available.

Michigan State Park campgrounds are obviously the most budget-friendly options and don’t come with any hidden costs. We prefer the campgrounds with lake access and a playground. These simple pleasures are enough to entertain our kids for a weekend. And, we love that they’re spending time outside exploring.

When we visit private campgrounds we try to find parks where all of the amenities are included in the camping fees. It’s so much more fun to enjoy a vacation with our kids when we don’t have to constantly say “no” to extra activities like mini-golf and go-karts because we want to stay on budget. (Again, staying on budget = more camping trips!)

Research activies ahead of your trip.

Let’s face it, we don’t always make great financial decisions when our kids are grumpy and fighting because they’ve been cooped up because of not-so-great weather for a few hours.

Before we leave for our trip we research and plan a few options that aren’t crazy expensive in the event of not-so-great weather. We’ve visited local museums, taken walks in a new-to-us downtown (giving the kids each $5 to spend on souvenirs), and gone on mini-road trips to check out scenery on our trips. 

Knowing the location of the closest ice cream shop is always a good idea too!

Stock your camper with activities.

We keep our camper stocked with loads of cards, games, and other fun that we can bring out in case the kids start getting bored.

Something a simple as a pile of inexpensive glow necklaces or sand toys can be entertainment for hours. We’ve also created scavenger hunts for the kids at the last minute based on items they can find at or near our campsite.

Have any tips of your own you’ve picked up over the years? Share them on our Facebook group!