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Get our top tips for saving money on a campervan trip:

Will Badart

It’s easy to spend a lot of money on camping. Between tents, sleeping bags, food, gear, park passes, and so on, you’re easily looking at multiple hundreds of dollars if you’re starting from scratch.

But what if I told you that it’s equally easy to not spend boatloads of money on camping? If you have access to even just a little bit of outdoor space, you can sleep under the stars tonight, using stuff you probably already have around the house.

In this post, I’ll share some tips, tricks, and personal experiences getting out camping without breaking the bank.

 

Tent in a backyard

Author’s tent, pitched on the apartment balcony because it sounded like fun.

Tip 1: It Doesn’t Take Much To Camp For Free

The first and most important idea I’ll impart is that we should open our minds about what constitutes “camping.” Camping can be so much more than what happens when you fall asleep in a national park: it’s watching the stars from the hammock in the backyard, it’s setting up a sleeping bag under a tarp to enjoy the cool night air, it’s pitching a tent on the apartment balcony because it sounds like fun. If you accept this, then “free camping” can be a reality!

Tarp tent

An example of a tarp shelter, this one in “plow point” configuration.

Tip 2: Use What You Have

As a gear junkie, I know firsthand how enticing that new tent is, how badly we need that new backpack, and how amazing it would be to have that lantern with the disco ball mode. But I also know how important it is to resist that temptation and to get creative with what I have. At the end of the day, if you have enough cover to keep warm and dry for the night, you’re set to camp.

For example, I didn’t have a sleeping pad on my most recent camping night. Rather than go out and buy one, I used a folded-in-half comforter with a yoga mat underneath. I also didn’t have that disco ball lantern, so I used my headlamp on a carabiner. Another from personal experience: when I visit my folks out in California, I don’t have a tent. When I camp out, I either set up a tarp shelter or, weather permitting (which it always is out there), sleep directly under the stars.

Of course, I haven’t shared the most obvious substitution for camping gear: if you don’t have a sleeping bag, just use a pile of blankets! And don’t forget that your Walmart air mattress makes for a wonderfully deluxe sleeping pad. These few examples are far from comprehensive. My objective here is to get your gears turning and to encourage you to think about how you can use what’s already on hand before whipping out the credit card.

camp for free in a backyard

Author’s tent, pitched in the backyard of a family friend

Tip 3: Lean On Your Family & Friends

Don’t be afraid to beg and borrow (but please don’t steal). Whether the people close to you are camp geeks that can kit you out for the weekend, or you’re simply borrowing some extra blankets, sharing and borrowing gear can be one of the best ways to save on camping. Just make sure to return everything in as good – or ideally better – shape than you borrowed it in.

This tip goes beyond just gear, though. Your friends, especially those you enjoy camping with, can help provide space if you don’t have access to a yard or outdoor area (or if you have one but want access to a different one). Ask around! See if anyone you know agrees how incredibly fun it would be to sleep in the backyard! Fellow apartment dwellers in particular should take this note to heart.

Dispersed Camping in Canada

Use These Tips And Find A Place To Camp For Free

With these three tips – be open to unconventional camping experiences, get creative with the gear you already have, and borrow and share to fill in the gaps – you’re well on your way to a lifetime of free camping. Of course, there’s still much more you can do to cut down your camping bill; subscribe to Escape Campervans’ blog to stay tuned for future posts on free camping!

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