Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ultra Budget Camping - part 1

I've read lots of blogs and watched lots of videos on Youtube on ultra light camping.  It's a pretty hot topic, and yes there's lots of people out there posting ideas on how to make your own gear out of items that are incredibly affordable alternatives to expensive options you'd find in an outfitter.  Making a twig stove out of an IKEA cutlery stand for $4.99 rather than spending $70-100 for a Vital Stove or BioStove for example.  Sure you have to put a little effort into it, and it won't charge your cell phone, but still, for $4.99...

Anyway, the point of this post wasn't to talk about making cheap gear.  On a recent trip to my parents, I was flipping through a book called Wildly Affordable Organic. In the introduction the author talks about how she decided to do what is called a Food Stamp Challenge.  This is where you try to feed yourself for a week on the amount of money a person in the US, in a low income situation would get in food stamps - on average $3 a day per person.

The point of the challenge (and the documentary called Food Stamped) is apparently that it's impossible to eat a healthy diet and not starve on what you can buy for that amount of money.  The authors of the book disagreed and set about to prove you can eat a healthy, satisfying diet on such a little amount.  I thought, "huh, lets see if I can plan a menu for the four of us, for a week, using that as my budget."  Turns out it wasn't that hard, but I have a good supply of things like rice, beans and lentils on hand.  Still, using the flyers and picking sale items to help decide our menu, I managed to put together a weeks worth of healthy food.

Then I got to thinking about how to incorporate a tight budget into our camping trips.  Chris's biggest complaint is that I spend too much on food for each trip, and he's not wrong.  Even when I have 95% of the things we need already on hand, that last shopping trip always ends up being stupidly expensive.  We walk through the aisles, filling a buggy with chips and cookies, 4 types of granola bars (because we can't ever agree on one kind we all like), a case of water (even though we brought a big jug...because little bottles are easier to take on hikes...and yes we packed our reusable ones, but sometimes the water is kinda dirty looking and we'll probably use the big jug for cooking...yeah, I know.  We can talk ourselves into anything.) By the time we've left, we've gotten enough stuff for a few extra days worth of camping...and none of it ever gets used.  The packaging gets all mangled...sometimes wet, and usually anything inside gets crushed a bit.

I've never been too good at sticking to a menu...

With the economy the way it is, it's getting harder and harder to take a family vacation, and even when we can afford a week of fun, it's probably not going to happen more than once a year.  Some things we can't really control - gas prices for example.  Towing the Boler to Pog Lake in Algonquin last year cost us $160 in gas, round trip. But in other areas, you can totally pinch pennies and make your trips fun without draining the bank account or running up your credit card.

Maybe I'm greedy, but I want to get as much fun packed into our summers as possible.  See, if I can make sure our camping trips are inexpensive, I can convince Chris that we can take more of them each year.

So this is going to be a series of posts exploring how to have a week long camping trip for as little money as possible.  We'll see how just how cheap we can manage to make a 7 day/6 night camping trip for a family of four. I'd love to hear your ideas, advice or stories about how you budget a camping trip.

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