December 4, 2022

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by PSECU, a Pennsylvania-based credit union.

Camping gets you in touch with your wild side and represents the perfect way to unplug from the constant connectivity of the modern world and commune with nature. However, camping means investing in a bunch of pricey equipment, right?

Wrong! Sure, you can head to Cabela’s to outfit yourself, but why spend a wad of cash to do what human beings pretty much have done since they first stood upright and cooked food over a fire? Follow the seven tips below to enjoy the great outdoors on the cheap.

1. Invest in a Simple Tent

When Henry David Thoreau spent a year at Walden, sure, he had a cabin, but for summer camping excursions, a simple pop tent makes for pleasant enough sleeping accommodations. After all, you’ll be sitting up most of the night toasting marshmallows and chatting with family and friends, anyway.

The smaller the tent, the less you have to wrestle with it to set it up. If sleeping on stony ground gripes your back, invest in a cheap air mattress. You can find twin-sized models which self-inflate at department stores for less than $50, often less than $30.

2. Or Sleep Under the Stars (With Netting)

Drive a pickup truck? There’s nothing like the romance of sleeping out under the stars, and a cheap bit of mosquito netting and some poles can make the prospect more comfy. Simply follow a few steps, and you’ll be snuggling with your sweetie while meteor showers rain overhead (the Perseids hit the U.S. in August, so plan a night of stargazing then).

3. Bring Your Own Food

Sure, you can stock up at the convenience store when you stop for firewood, but who wants to pay $8 for a bag of turkey jerky when they can bring cheaper eats from home? Instead of spending more for individually-wrapped snacks, take some from the Costco-sized bag at home.

Those who enjoy dogs and brats can find them far cheaper at the neighborhood grocers’ than at the last stop before civilization ends, and vegans and vegetarians pay far less for produce they chop and dice themselves than they do for prepackaged convenience snacks.

4. And Store It Properly to Keep It Fresh (and Prevent Bears)

Before heading out, hit the local dollar store and stock up on airtight mason jars. Use these to keep snacks fresh and also to mask the scent somewhat from bears — although you’ll still want to avoid keeping food in the tent with you as a precaution. This also keeps your chips fresh and crispy and keeps pesky ants and other insects away, too.

5. Bring the Fun with You

There’s no need to rent expensive quads and jet skis for off-roading and water fun when you can swim, kayak or simply take a hike. Bring your boots and swimsuits along to enjoy both aquatic and landlubber fun for few dimes.

When it comes to sitting around the campfire at the end of day, you can’t go wrong with an acoustic guitar. Bring along board games, a deck of cards or even a game of horseshoes for additional family fun that costs next to nothing.

6. Consider Going Off the Beaten Path

If you have little ones, staying at a campsite does offer slightly more security than roughing it, but if you’re with a group of besties, do you really need to pay a fee? After all, part of the fun of camping is leaving humanity behind and getting your nature groove on — something that proves easier to do without the din of voices from nearby fires and the reek of port-a-potties from the hygiene station.

If you have four-wheel drive, consider going off the beaten path. Multiple old fire roads lead to the most magnificent and isolated campsites imaginable. You’d have to beat me with a big stick to get the location of my personal fave spot out of me, but with a touch of an adventurous spirit, you can find your own personal oasis.

7. Really Strapped? Look No Further Than Your Backyard!

Too broke to afford a tank of gas? If you have a yard, no worries. Remember the joy of camping out in your own backyard as a kid? Recreate that feeling.

If you have a screened-in deck, you may not need to invest in a tent, sleeping bag or netting at all. Simply drag some blankets and pillows out on your porch and enjoy. Plus, if you get the munchies, the fridge is only a few feet away.

Enjoy Camping on the Cheap

Human beings have slept outdoors since the days our ancestors first came down from the trees and in from the seacoast. Camping offers the perfect way to slow down in a hurry-up world. Use the tips above, and you can enjoy unplugging from the madding crowds without maxing out your credit cards.