When you think camping, you tend to think s’mores and kumbaya, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Campgrounds abound in the continental US, and it’s a great way to save a few bucks when vacationing almost anywhere in the country.
So, me and my husband went on a short vacation for a few days last week. We went to New Orleans, walked around the French Quarter, saw the street performers in Jackson Square, ate a ton of really great food (including 10 lbs of boiled crawfish), went to the Aquarium of the Americas, had beignets at Cafe du Monde, ferried across the Mississippi, drove through the Garden District, went kayaking in the swamps, etc etc. Even though we were there to visit the city, we “went camping”.
When I think back on past vacations, the memories are of what we did, what we saw, what we ate — I rarely ever remember where we stayed. To me, lodgings are a necessity of vacationing, but at the same time, they don’t matter (unless it’s an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean in which case the resort IS the vacation), so why drop a lot of money on it?
We don’t cheap out on seeing the sights, eating local cuisine, doing the touristy stuff, etc, but we certainly go the cheap way on transportation and lodgings (the biggest costs in some vacations). We drove and pitched a tent in the state park. After crunching the numbers, there’s no comparison.
Driving vs. flying saved us about $900 (but cost us about an extra 13 hours total).
Tenting vs. the cheapest (and probably nastiest) motel stay in New Orleans saved us at least $130. Saved much more than that, if you’re like me and don’t do vacationing in rundown motels. The nicer/better location hotels seemed to range between $150-$300/night, which is a heck of a lot more than the $28/night that we paid for our campsite. ($28/night is on the high end — most campgrounds charge less than that.)
There’s definitely a bit of a compromise when staying at a campground — tents have no a/c or heat, so the night time ambient temperature has to be semi-comfortable. Of course, bringing a portable a/c or heater is always an option. The shower/bathroom facilities are reminiscent of college dorms (must bring shower flipflops!). Each campsite has only a basic faucet spigot, picnic table, and one electrical outlet (so you have to bring extension cords or multi-outlet plugins). You also never know what you’re going to get in terms of campground wildlife. Sometimes it’s raccoons, sometimes it’s armadillos, snails, and mosquitoes.
There’s also quite a few upsides to camping. It feels safer than staying at a motel/hotel — it’s like a gated community. A gated community full of vacationing families and retired folks in RVs. I can honestly say I’ve never seen any nefarious looking characters at a campground. There’s a lot of eyes too, since everybody tends to be outside grilling or playing ball or riding bicycles or walking dogs. It’s really safe. Also, you can see the stars and hear the crickets as you’re falling asleep. You can fall asleep on your own bedding, with your own mattress and pillows. We actually brought our full size, guest bedroom mattress — it breaks down into 4 pieces and fits into the backseat of my Honda Insight. No joke. Campgrounds also come with fairly nice outdoor spaces to walk and hang out in. It’s a nice, leafy green place to unwind after a long day of shopping, eating, and sightseeing in the city.
What would we have gotten for that extra $$$ if we’d gone the normal way? We’d save about 6 hours of travel time each way (flying vs. driving). We’d get questionably clean sheets, a/c, and our own private bathroom in a motel/hotel in what could be a questionable neighborhood. We’d get a clean rental car that doesn’t smell like 11 hours worth of bananas.
For us, there’s no question, the cheap route is completely worth it. We even bought ourselves a new, super-roomy, 6-person tent this time around, which has already more than paid for itself!