Planning a family holiday? I hear camping is cheap.

Planning a family holiday? I hear camping is cheap

Image adapted from flickr.

It’s summer. Let’s go on a family holiday!

First, set your budget. I hear camping is cheap.

1. Buy a tent.
Get a tent that’s big enough to fit your entire family plus your gear and that’s reasonably easy to put up. (Vintage is great for dining chairs and statement hats, not so great for tents.) Cost: at least $200

2. Buy sleeping bags.
Now you CAN probably borrow the 25-year-old sleeping bags that live in your in-laws basement as long as it doesn’t get too cold at night. I mean, who needs zippers anyway? All the better for your children to crawl in with you just as soon as you finally get to drift off. But you decide that it’s probably a good investment for you to own your own sleeping bags at this point. So you buy the cheapest, crappiest sleeping bags you can find. Cost: $100 – $200.

3. Buy an air mattress.
“Who needs an air mattress?” says your husband. Stare that mofo down until his resolve melts into a  puddle in the middle of the camping gear aisle. Step over that puddle and pull the biggest air mattress you can find off the shelf and put it in your cart. Cost: $100

4. Buy a camp stove.
Honestly, you can probably live happily off cold sandwiches and charred marshmallows for several days. But apparently cooking on a shitty little burner is part of the camping experience. God help you if there’s a fisherman in your crew. And, anyway, you absolutely cannot live without coffee. Cost: at least $100

5. Buy all the other shit you need.
Well, now you’re set. You’ll just run out the night before to pick up a set of camping plates and cutlery ($35), a cookware set ($45), a spare tarp and twine ($25), bug spray ($9), a basic first aid kit ($25), a proper cooler ($100) and enough food to feed your family while you live in the wilderness for four days ($150).  Cost: $389

6. Buy a goddamned minivan because there’s no way in hell you can fit all that crap in your hatchback.
Buy a used one, sure, but not too used. You don’t want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere. Cost: $18,000

7. Book your campsite.
Oh, you can’t just pitch a tent anywhere? No. No, you cannot. Cost: $40 per night

8. Spend two nights in a tent with your family and break down and spring for the yurt instead.
What’s a yurt? It’s like a tent on a raised platform with actual beds inside. Still roughing it, but gently. Cost: $90 per night

$1199 (plus the cost of your minivan upgrade): The amount of money you need to save while camping before you allow yourself a proper hotel holiday again.


PS. I know some of you are real camping pros. What essential (or not-so-essential) camping gear am I forgetting?


  1. Did you really buy a minivan(interrobang)

    This is why it’s best to amass/borrow stuff. You will be glad you have that air mattress; a utility knife is important, so is a bodum or some one-cup camping filters, because if you’re sleeping on the ground you’ll need coffee in the morning. Also recommended: a lantern, several flashlights, ear plugs, and glow sticks for the kids. And toilet paper. And a camping table cloth with clamps. And some plastic bags for wet dirty stuff. See, this is why you amass stuff during the year.

    • Rebecca Cuneo Keenan

      No, we didn’t actually buy a minivan. We’ll just cram it into the Rondo which is pretty spacious for a not-a-minivan. But I’m tempted! Amazing tips, thanks! We’re going to try to keep things light because we’re only doing two or three nights and not in a row. Planning to use the tent as just a place to crash as much as possible.

  2. Margaret Vieira

    I packed crafts for my toddler. She painted and played while we set up camp. You also forgot camping chairs.

  3. Camping chairs, marshmallow roasting sticks, lanterns (easier than flashlights), a potty so you don’t have to go wandering in the night with a small child, wipes, deck of cards, sheets for air mattress (otherwise it gets really, really cold) and a pop up hamper for dirty clothes so they don’t get all mixed in with the clean ones, and twine to hang between trees so you can dry bathing suits and towels. We LOVE camping, and once you get the supplies up front… hang onto them. We do at least three weekends a summer.

  4. Sylvie

    Holy geez… slow down! We camp a lot, but we built up our gear slowly. Tent is important, but can be borrowed. We actually downsized our tent to save space in the car and because we’re considering backcountry camping – yikes. We switched from air mattresses to self-inflating mats (more expensive) because we found the air mattresses too cold and uncomfortable; it seems they always deflate in the night. Also, you could just bring a bunch of blankets and buy individual sleeping bags later on. Same for dishes – use what you have.
    As for chairs, we bought these little tripod seats for the kids at Dollarama. They’re great.
    The essential buys for us were utility knives, sturdy plastic tablecloth, coleman stove, games to play in the tent if it rains, sand toys…
    As for non-essentials : we love our hammock and the kids spend tons of time in it. Also, we’ve started bringing bikes, which has been a real success.
    In any case, hopefully you had a blast and will use your newly acquired stuff next year!!

    • Rebecca Cuneo Keenan

      Well, this post isn’t strictly autobiographical. We already owned a tent and just bought sleeping bags and an air mattress. We were thinking of getting more gear, but I figured I’d do exactly what you’re suggesting: make do where possible. Since we’ll only be camping for a night or two at a time, I think cold sandwiches and whatever we can make over the fire will be fine. And I’ve seen those Dollarama kiddie chairs! On it. Thanks, Sylvie.

  5. Cheryl

    Okay, tent and sleeping bags and all of that ARE important, but I think everyone has forgotten the MOST important thing: alcohol! I know I need it after all of that, LOL!

    Thanks for the amusing post Rebecca! Especially like the “stare that MOFO down” bit :)

  6. Alix

    We love camping! Having said that, I no longer have all the camping gear and when we thought about camping this year we decided it was too much to buy all of that gear. The thing that drives me crazy about camping now that we have 2 kids is lugging all of the stuff out of the garage, packing it all onto the car, unpacking it, setting it up for two days, packing it all back up again, dirty and possibly wet, then bringing it home, cleaning it all and shoving it back in thr garage again. This is supposed to be a vacay, right?!

    • Rebecca Cuneo Keenan

      Yes, exactly. All the set up and tear down and the extra work involved in all the meal prep etc eats up so much of your vacationing time. Also, we don’t have a garage or a big storage room in the basement. I have no idea where we’re going to store all this stuff.

  7. Devon

    LMAO!!! Love your list! Just got back from four days camping with a three year old and a one year old. My tips? Spring for one of those “over 1000 stickers inside” books where you find the sticker and the place it goes and then can read the story together, it gives you at least two or three hours break from the constant refrain of “when will the rain stop?” while you sit in the cold, wet tent with your kids while your husband strings up said tarps in the pouring rain.
    And while you’re figuring in camping costs, don’t forget the cost of firewood! These days, everywhere has bans on bringing your own, you have to buy theirs to the tune of 24.00 a bag, which doesn’t sound so bad until you realize how small the bags are, and that you’ll probably need two bags a day, especially if you were planning on actually cooking on the damn fire! Seriously, now I know why the campsites are so cheap, because I think we just spent $200 on firewood!!!

  8. MamaDee

    I know I’m late to the party but I recommend bush pie makers. Kind of like sandwich makers but used over a fire…we make grilled cheese, pizza pockets, fajitas, desserts too!

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