5 Ways to Save $ On Your Next Camping Trip

2012, 46109, Virginia Beach KOA, COP, Virginia Beach, VA, pull camper, dog, Outdoor, Kids,
December 22, 2010

Whether you’re on a tight budget, or just want to use your money for stuff you love to do (like camping), you’re probably always in the mood to save a little cash.

We asked campers some of their favorite tips for saving money, and these are the top five responses:

1) On-Site Cooking:

  • Cooking and barbecuing at the campsite, rather than dining in local restaurants, is a great money saver. To boost savings even more, buy items on sale and then freeze them to use when you’re camping later in the year. Use traditional grocery items (rather than quick, pre-packed foods) and plan meals that uses food for more than one dish, like meats and veggies that can be used both in foil dinners and stews. Another great idea is to invite friends and family members who are camping with you to prepare meals pot-luck style. The more the merrier!
  • (Thanks to Eric Early, Sharon Sadilek, Tammi Hailey, Charlene Balkema , Krista Pomeroy, Courtney Hurd and Lori Kamieniecki for their tips!)

2) Where There’s Smoke…

  • Campers like Giuseppe Lipari and Carrie Hancock opt to take wood from home with them, as do several other campers. Keep in mind that some states do have prohibitions against bringing wood across state lines, so you may want to check with the KOA you’ll be visiting about any regulations or restrictions in their local area.

3) Bring It With You:

  • While KOA stores are the perfect place to grab drinks and other necessities while you’re at your favorite campground, gas stations, convenience stores and other stops along your route can take a bite out of your budget.
  • “Tourist shops and roadside shops can break you in no time. Seems like even when you expect it and plan for it, when you wind up having to purchase just a few little things that you forgot it drains your budget,” said Kip Wilson. That’s why he makes sure to stock up on batteries and other essentials before hitting the road. Katie McGrath agrees, telling us that she and her family bring as much from home as possible, like food, toys, activities, bait, etc.
  • “I take a couple of days to prepare a list of everything I might need,” Betty Wilcox says. “It saves me from having to buy at the last minute. That way, my cash is spent on souvenirs not toothpaste.”
  • Opting for reusable plastic dishes (not paper ones) brought from home are also, “good for the pocket and the environment!” according to Erika Anderson-Pierson.

4) Inexpensive Activities:

  • When she heads out camping, Jeannine Lambrecht-Rowe likes to take full advantage of the activities at the campground as a way to save money, rather than seeking out expensive pastimes.
  • Mark Eaton also uses a museum membership program, for off-site fun, saying, “We are members at the Ontario Science Centre and they have agreements with tons of museums across North America that allows us free entry. We learn as much as we can on our trips then enjoy the facilities at the campgrounds.”

5) Use the Card:

  • A number of campers we asked, like Kerri Groff, Ryan Young and Ruby Pederson, told us that camping itself—rather than staying in a hotel—is a great way to save money. As Kathleen Drost noted, “We enjoy riding bikes, storytelling, walks, and sitting around the campfire—all for free.”
  • But Eric Jackson, Diane Krzemian Boike and other campers took it one step further, telling us that KOAs Value Kard Rewards program allows them to save even more money.
  • “The rewards card is awesome,” Diane said. “The more you stay at KOAs, the more points you rack up towards more discounts.”

Do you have some great cash saving techniques you’d like to share? Tell us more by commenting below:

  • KP

    Planning ahead of time is a great money saver for us–I’m glad you mentioned it. It’s amazing how much you spend when you have to buy all the little things you forget, whether it’s plastic forks or bug spray. Good tips!

  • Roberta W.

    I created a checklist on the computer (I use Excel). When it’s time to take a trip, I print it out and pack up!!

  • Janet Thomson

    Using an Excel spreadsheet we have created a “menu options” shopping list. It includes everything that we would need to create that meal. We decide what food options we want for the trip, take the spreadsheet to the grocery store, and buy what we need. Then we place everything that needs to be packed in the cooler on one shelf in the frig. When it is time to pack the cooler we are not searching the frig for those items. This helps eliminate the “forgotten items” that waste our vacation time having to run to the store to buy! It not only saves us money but it also eliminates multiples of the same thing in our frig at home at the end of the trip! Nothing like s’mores with no chocolate or burgers with no ketchup!

  • Jay Kalvig

    It just goes to show you how much money can be saved when you camp in with a group of campers. List who is bringing what for each meal on your menus (i.e. breakfast: Cindy = orange juice, Sam = eggs, Donna = meat).

    • Courtney

      we usually camp with a group and everyone brings what they like and we all just eat whatever then eat the left overs for lunch the next day or two, works great, and while we probably dont save money no one leaves hungry cuz they didnt like what we cooked, we do go through a lot of salads….LOL!!

  • Yvonne & Bob, Cambridge, Ontario

    Lists are great ideas, but why re-do them all the time? I have a complete 4-season check-list saved on my computer that I print off and run down each and every time we’re getting ready to go away. It’s a HUGE timesaver, and nothing EVER gets missed, no matter the season.

    Also, a warning to anyone travelling in Ontario. It’s pretty much a given now that you CANNOT bring your own firewood in anywhere. (And don’t even think about taking it across the border – they WILL stop you!)

    Like to read? I pick up all our books at yard sales for 25 or 50 cents, and then just alwyas keep some in the camper so there’s always something there to read, and I don’t have to go buy any at full price. When we’re done reading them, we pass them on to fellow campers or leave them with the campground if they have their own lending stash.

  • Joan Rose

    Plan! I try to bring a variety of food staples and a couple of prepared dishes. Then go to local markets for perishables as needed. We eat lunch out rather than dinner. We have real plates and silverware – not paper and plastic. Try not to buy too many souviners. They take up room in the camper.


    Coleman.com has a campingcheck list on their website that is downloadable to XL. There you can edit the text or add additional items. You’ll never forget stuff again.


  • Lena

    We love to camp and sometimes we do forget much needed items. Since we have been useingf the “Coleman Check List” We have not forgotten anything. Now if we can find how not get biten by the flying blood thirsty critters. I would be happy. Yes, I am the one they ate on this trip…. Lena “)

    • Nikki

      Great tip! ThAnKs

  • Nikki

    I have a friend who uses a product they put around horse stalls to keep those awful biting flies away – he said you can get it where farm & ranch supplys are sold – worked really good last time we went with them – he just sprayed it around our campers, I’m gonna go look for some myself.

  • Shelly

    We don’t purchase paper plates or plastic cutlery. We have a set of sturdy plastic plates and camping cutlery. It’s a little bit more cleanup but it sure saves a lot of money in the long run, plus it’s good for the environment. We also have a KOA money jar and we save all of our change leading up to a camping trip and the kids can use that money to buy ice cream or candy at the KOA store or rent a bike.

  • Jeni

    Bring granola bars or trail mix to cut down on cravings throughout the day. You get hungry and whip out a bar and your hunger is curbed. No taking money out for an expensive lunch or wasting time having to stop cause someone in the group is hungry. Its easy and cheap!

  • Rich Garmong

    I want to rejoin the KOA program How do I do that?

  • Brad

    We use XL with column headings of: Meal / # Menu Menu Item Comments Have Need Packed Equipment Have Need Packed to plan menues.
    This sheet is used to do the shoping and packing. # = number of people. Packed means it in the camper.

  • Larry shock

    Am I missing something it’s 2012 where I am, all of this is 2010 and 2011 information.

    • KOA

      Hi Larry! Here on KOAKompass.com you’ll find not only the latest stories in this month’s issue, but also an archive of information from previous years. This story was originally published in our June 2010 edition of Kompass. Thanks for your question–and enjoy looking through all of the great info on the site. –Your KOA Kompass team.

  • Rose

    In California-Arizona an I believe Texas–you can find the greatest 99 cent only stores that have great deals on canned boxed and fresh foods nothing over a dollar. I was told in Mesa that lots of snowbirds shop there and its not surprising. Give it a try !!!