Whether you’re a seasoned camper or planning your very first weekend away, there’s plenty of things you can do to make the whole experience a lot kinder on your wallet. Here’s some budget camping tips to see you through to the end of the 2017 season with a little more change in your pocket…
Try before you buy
While camping, either under canvas or in the relative comfort of a VW Bus, is still a good deal cheaper than the least expensive holiday cottage or hotel room, buying all the kit can be a put off for the first timer. Often a friend, neighbour or relation will have had a go at getting away from it all and invested in all the necessary equipment, so for your first outing why not borrow before you buy. If it all goes as according to plan, go out and buy everything you need (or make them an offer on the kit you’ve just tried out) for your next excursion.
Off the beaten track
A posh four-star site with swimming pool, kids entertainment and all the mod cons might be as much as £30 a night for a family stay. But there’s cheaper options, especially if you’re willing to slum it a bit on a site without electric hook ups and only basic facilities. Buy a porta-potty and mobile shower instead. Coolcamping has a good list of sites.
The right kit
There’s two important nuggets of advice here; only take the bare essentials and be elective when it comes to selecting the right equipment. A steel belted coolbox with superior insulation, for example, doesn’t rely on a power source so you’ll save money in the long run. Cheap is not always best, especially if you want to use the same kit for many years to come, so if you think camping’s definitely for you invest things that are likely to last. The biggest mistake people make is skimping on sleeping bags – if you get cold at night, you’ll be in a hotel next time.
Budget tips here include putting sheets of cardboard under the groundsheet to help prevent cold coming up through it and taking along wind-up torches and radios which will dial out the need to spend a fortune on batteries
You don’t necessarily need to travel to the other side of the country to get your fix of outdoor adventure. Find a site that’s local and you’ll not only save on fuel costs, but you’ll spend less time in the car and more time relaxing.
On the continent you can take advantage of discount cards, such as the one offered by ACSI here. If you travel out of peak season, you can save as much as 50% off campsite fees at participating sites. Camping Cheque offers a similar scheme. Look out too for special promotions in the national newspapers. The Sun, for example, offered camping from just £1 as a special promotion this year.
While it’s tricky these days to find somewhere to pitch up free of charge in the UK, abroad the authorities are much more open minded. Most towns in France, for example, have special areas for camper vans where’s there’s an electric hook up and waste disposal facilities, many of which are totally gratis. Look for the appropriate sign as you enter a town. Failing that, why not try one of the many ‘municipal’ sites on the continent – there’s one in most towns. They are subsidised by the local council are fees are therefore minimal.
Join a club
While it might seem extravagant, if you’re planning on doing a lot of camping then joining a club can save you cash. The Camping and Caravanning Club costs just £37 to join, has 108 sites and offers up to 30% discount on site fees – as well as 10% off ferry crossings if you’re travelling abroad. Membership of The Caravan Club costs from £48 per year and members can save £12 a night at any of its 200 club sites.
Nothing’s likely to spoil a camping trip more than feeling cold for the entire duration. The good news is that you don’t need to fork out a fortune on specialist clothing from a posh outdoor shop – just dress in lots of layers and, if you really feel the chill, buy a full body thermal.
While it might be convenient, the on-site campsite shop will inevitably be more expensive than a local supermarket. Therefore, once you’ve got pitched up, pay a visit to a big outlet and stock up on all you need for your break.
It will pay financially to pick a location that offers the most things to do – and we don’t mean theme parks or shopping precincts. Choose a site where there’s lots of ‘free’ things to do like taking a family walk or a bike ride safely away from cars (perhaps with access to a disused railway, or a canal towpath) and maybe a free to enter local tourist attraction to explore.
When the weather’s bad, you will inevitably end up spending more money sitting out the rain in cafés or paying for expensive exhibitions or amusements. If you’ve some flexibility on when you go, therefore, keep a keen eye on the weather forecast and pick a week away when the sun’s likely to shine.
Bear in mind you can’t put a price on time away with your family, so whatever you do and whatever your budget – get out there and enjoy yourselves.
The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of VW Heritage
This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)