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Camping is the perfect Frugal Vacation

Camping is the Perfect Frugal Vacation!

Frugal Vacation:  Camping

If you are looking for a frugal vacation, camping is a wonderful solution! Your family can dine amidst tall pines, identify constellations in clear night skies and wade through crystal clear waters.

We have put together our best camping tips to help you get the most out of your frugal vacation.  

Camping with children:

Pick a campsite that is near the restrooms and playground - a short walk with little ones is much easier than a long walk.  In addition, children are less likely to get lost if they decide to visit the bathroom or playground without your permission.

If you have an infant or a toddler, take a portable crib such as a pack n play for your child to sleep in.  You can also use them during the day as playpens.  Here is an example of a Pack n Play I wish I had when mine were little: Graco Theresa™ Pack 'n Play Playard This one is incredible - the features it has are amazing!

Booster seats that attach to the picnic table for children to sit in are very helpful for meal time and provide a great place for little ones to sit and play with toys at the table.

Give kids walkie talkies to take with them when exploring.  We get a lot of use out of ours and it always sets my mind at ease knowing I can contact my children if I need to.

Allow each child to carry their own flashlight.  I would not recommend getting the shakable flashlights for younger children.  We tried them and my children were not able to shake the flashlights long enough to get decent use out of them.  We are very pleased with our flashlight by Maglite and ours came with a lifetime warranty.

Bring a large Rubbermaid container you can use as a bathtub if you will need to bathe your infant or toddler while camping.

To get the most out of your trip, make an idea list in advance of what you can do. 

Keep sleeping bags dry by using overnight pull-ups in newly trained children.

Give each child an emergency scream whistle to blow in case of an emergency.  3 blows to the whistle is the standard distress call.

The popular Emergency Scream Whistle pictured from Walter Drake is so loud, you can hear it over roaring crowds and raging surf! Originally sold to the Secret Service, 125 decibel blast draws instant attention; works equally well in wet weather.

Emergency Scream Whistle

Be sure to pack rain gear - summer months are known for their thunderstorms.

Baby backpacks and hiking strollers are wonderful ways to carry your baby around while camping and hiking.

Take along toys and games for the children to play with and activities for them to do while camping.  I found a website that has a great collection of outdoor related games and activities.  

Potty Chair for younger Children (this is especially convenient for going potty at night)

Water Wings or other type of "floaties" for non-swimmers to wear in water

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Be Safe:

Keep valuables such as money locked in your vehicle.

Teach children to stay where they are if they get lost.

Bring a First Aid Kit in case of an emergency

Follow local campfire regulations. If fires are permitted, build only small ones, never leave them unattended and always put fires dead out, especially when retiring for the night.

Pack water filters or purification tablets for purifying lake or stream water, in case you need more water than you've brought along.

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Know the campsite rules regarding pets.

If you are bringing your pets camping with you, be sure to  take their shot records with you.  Some campsites will want to see them.

Bring a stake and long lead for your dog to give him room to roam, while still staying safe.

Provide plenty of water and shade for your pet at all times.

Clean up after your pets. (An easy way to do this is to put a Ziploc baggie inside out and put on like a glove.  Pick up after your dog, seal bag and dispose of properly.)

Trim your dog's nails before you go so they don't put a hole in the bottom of your tent.

Bring a leash.  Some campsites have a short leash law.

Pack a Pet First Aid Kit in case of an emergency

Put a collar with ID tags on your pet.

Pack any medications your dog is taking.

Keep your dog quiet.  Continuous barking will disrupt other campers.

Prevent flea and tick bites by bringing medication, flea and tick collars or sprays.  The 2 most effective brands of flea and tick control are Advantage and Frontline.

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Top Tips:

Waterproof your tent to help prevent leaks.

Keep food inside coolers or Rubbermaid Containers.  Consider putting them in your car to keep the animals out of them.

Take trash out before you turn in for the night.

Use as many disposable products as possible (plates, cups, utensils, etc.) and clean-up will be quick and easy.

Use mesh laundry bags for dirty clothes

Bring extra batteries

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Checklist of Things to Bring:  (Don't feel as though you need everything on this list - some items are more important than others.  Rather than buying everything at once, build up your camping supplies over the years.)

Your Campsite

Family sized tent

Extra Tent Stakes

Tarp to go under your tent

Sleeping Bags

Door mat to wipe feet on before entering tent

Broom to sweep out tent

Rope for a Clothesline & Clothespins

Air Mattress (or pad) with pump

Battery Powered Fan for keeping cool on hot nights

Lights on a string (Christmas style lights) to string around campsite

Folding Table (Many campsites will provide a picnic table, but it is always nice to have an extra table to put your cook stove on or for food preparation.)

Canopy to put over picnic table - this gives shade while you are eating

Plastic Table Cloth

Thumbtacks for holding down tablecloth

Screen Room

Lawn chairs

Cooking / Meals

Written meal plan with all ingredients needed (Write down what you will be eating for each meal and double check you have all ingredients. )

Kitchen Box - use a large Rubbermaid container to store the following:

  • Meal plan & Recipes
  • Ingredients needed for recipes
  • Cooking oil
  • Aluminum foil
  • Plastic wrap
  • Trash bags
  • Plastic grocery bags
  • Cooking utensils
  • Pots & pans
  • Disposable Products:  Napkins, Paper Towels, paper plates, plastic cups, eating utensils, Styrofoam cups...
  • Can opener
  • Skewers
  • Oven mitts
  • Knives
  • Coffee
  • Gallon & Quart sized Ziploc baggies for storing food
  • Seasonings
  • Condiments
  • Sugar/creamer
  • Cocoa for Kids

Cook Stove with fuel

Dishpan and Dishwashing soap if you won't be using disposable dishes

5 Gallon Water Container (or the size that best fits your needs)


Tools & Other Necessities

Directions to your campground

Emergency Telephone Numbers

Cell phone & Car charger


Tools (especially hammer for pounding in stakes)

Lighter (windproof)

Lantern and Flashlights


Fire starters & Firewood (Many campgrounds will not allow you to collect wood for fires)

Extension cords

Duct tape

Small camp shovel



Work gloves

Travel Sized Sewing Kit

Personal Care Items


Bug Spray



Jackets (even during summer months, the evenings can get cool.)

You can either buy a First Aid Kit, or put together your own. Some ideas to add to your kit: tweezers, needle, nail clippers, band aids, antibiotic cream, small scissors, Ace bandage, gauze, cortisone, feminine products, pain medication, blister pads,  first aid book...


Toilet Paper

Bathing Soap & Shampoo


Feminine Products



Playing Cards (or other games for adults)


Fishing Gear


Radio or CD Player

Don't forget to view our packing tips for Children & Pets!

Have an idea to add to our list?  We would love to hear from you!

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Remote Camping Adventures

Pack your camper and experience nature in U.S. forests across the nation. Here's just a sampling of the adventures that await.

  • White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire and Maine. Spectacular foliage is a key fall attraction for visitors. The forest includes Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, and a variety of wildlife, ranging from moose and black bears to peregrine falcons. Visit www.fs.fed.us/r9/white or call 603-528-8721.

  • Superior National Forest, Minnesota. Nearly 2,000 lakes and streams offer unmatched canoeing, boating and fishing in northeastern Minnesota's north woods. Trails for novice through advanced hikers meander through 3 million scenic acres and include access to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Visit http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/superior/ or call 218-626-4300, ext. 2.

  • Dakota Prairie Grasslands, North Dakota and South Dakota. Four separate grasslands, including the aah Daah Hey Trail, offer rare views of wildlife and opportunities for hiking, canoeing, fishing, hunting and backpacking. These diverse sites range from tallgrass prairie on rolling hills to stark badlands. Visit www.fs.fed.us/r1/dakotaprairie or call 701-250-4443.

  • Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, Colorado. Located on the western slope of the Colorado Rockies, these three forests offer some of the most spectacular scenery in the mountain range. Sites include Bridal Veil, the tallest waterfall in Colorado; Grand Mesa, the world's largest flattop mountain; and Dry Mesa Dinosaur Quarry, home of the world's largest dinosaur bone fossils. Visit www.fs.fed.us/r2/gmug or call 970-874-6600, ext. 6676.

  • Custer National Forest, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. This ecologically diverse area includes elevation ranges of less than 1,000 feet up to the 12,799-foot Granite Peak in Montana. Other highlights include ancient sand dunes covered with grasslands, rugged badlands and fields of alpine wildflowers. Visit www.fs.fed.us/r1/custer or call 406-446-2103.

  • Angeles National Forest, California. Not far from bustling Los Angeles, Angeles National Forest offers diverse topography, ranging from 10,000-foot mountain peaks to 1,200-foot canyon bottoms. Forest trails wind through 800 miles of rugged backcountry, scenic ridges and tree-lined canyons. Visit www.r5.fs.fed.us/angeles or call 626-574-5200.

  • Willamette National Forest, Oregon. This 1.6 million-acre forest stretches 110 miles along the western slopes of the Cascades. Trails, roads, campgrounds and viewpoints allow visitors to enjoy the forest's abundant rivers, streams and lakes. Seven major volcanic peaks are part of the Willamette, along with the forested Cascade Range of mountains. Visit www.fs.fed.us/r6/willamette or call 541-465-6521

To find a National Forest in your area, visit the USDA Forest Service (http://www.fs.fed.us/) and use the dropdown menu to locate National Forests in your state.




Have more ideas?  We would love to know how you have taken a frugal vacation.