How to Plan Your Easy & Budget-Friendly Camping Trip

How to Plan Your Easy & Budget-Friendly Camping Trip

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A lot of people think travelling is out of the question when you’re working to pay down your debt, but if you budget properly and plan ahead, a weekend getaway is absolutely something you can do!  With just a little bit of planning, we were able to take a weekend road trip from Southern California up to Yosemite, camp in the park, and eat & drink to our hearts’ content for under $500!  Before we dive into the details, here’s a breakdown of (roughly) what we spent:

Food/Drinks – $200

Gas – $200

Campsite – $52

Park Entrance – $30

For a grand total of $482 for 2 people, we were able to take the trip of a lifetime!  To plan your own trip, I’ve broken down how we prepped and planned to make this happen.

Prep & Planning

Since food is always one of the biggest costs when camping, I decided to meal plan ahead of time to figure out what I would need to buy.  I found some great recipes online for tinfoil packet meals, and decided to keep it simple; we did short ribs, potatoes and asparagus the first night, and Philly cheese steaks the second!  I also got all the fixings to make sandwiches we could pack for our hikes, and kept breakfast simple with a few different pastries that could be enjoyed hot or cold.

For drinks, we packed plenty of beers, waters, sports drinks and a few cold coffee beverages – we planned on hiking early both days so it wasn’t worth starting a fire in the morning to make hot coffee.  I bought a few snacks for the hikes and for the car – and of course, everything to make s’mores – but otherwise I stuck to my shopping list.  We had more than enough to eat, but we also didn’t bring anything we didn’t need – it kept the cooler light, made packing easy, and kept the cost down!

For accommodations, we only spent $26/night on our campsite, and another $30 to enter the park.  I did a lot of research beforehand on the park, the campground, and which sites were the best, so booking ahead of time meant we got our pick of sites in a campground close to all the hiking we wanted to do.  Like many popular destinations, campsites in Yosemite often fill up months in advance, so make your reservations ahead of time to give yourself some options.  Our site was nice and flat for our tent, was a short walk to the restrooms, and backed up to the wilderness rather than another campsite – planning ahead has its advantages!


One of our biggest cost-saving measures was the decision to take our older, manual pickup truck that has dual gas tanks rather than our newer one that has slightly worse gas mileage.  Besides the fuel efficiency and the ability to coast on the downhill sections, the dual gas tanks meant that we only needed to fill up half as often, meaning less temptation to buy gas station snacks when we stopped!  While the new truck is arguably nicer and more tech savvy, it would have meant spending more money, and frankly we love the older one for road trips; it certainly seemed more fitting for being off the grid for a few days!

When planning your own trip, one super simple way to save money is to choose somewhere closer to home; since gas was one of our main expenses on this trip, going somewhere a little more local would cut down on fuel costs significantly.  We’re also going to get a National Parks Pass for our next trip, which is free to veterans (my husband) and we completely forgot about this time – the $30 entrance fee for a week isn’t bad, but that’s $30 we could have pocketed and used for something else, so look into eligibility for free or reduced entrance fees for your own trip.


Since my husband and I are avid hikers, we already knew that we wanted to spend most of our time hiking the amazing trails in Yosemite Valley, but there are a ton of free options if hiking isn’t your thing.  Do your research on the area you’re travelling to and you might be surprised at what you find – we have friends that have floated down the river to see the entire valley!  Since we knew we’d be hiking, we prepared sandwiches and packed our lunches, snacks and water both days so we didn’t spend a dime in the park.  Choosing free activities like hiking, fishing, or a float on the river are great ways to have an unforgettable trip while staying well within your budget.

Back at our campsite, we cooked our meals, made s’mores, and had beers by the fire – if any of you are coozie fans like my husband and I (we collect them), you’ll absolutely love this YETI one pictured here – it keeps your hands warm and your drinks cold like nothing else (and makes a great gift)!  By planning ahead and bringing exactly the items we knew we’d use and the food we planned on eating, we were left with minimal waste – the leftover trail mix and chips will get eaten at home, and the rest of the drinks went back in the fridge.  Meal planning saved me from throwing out uneaten perishables, so make a list and stick to it – your budget will thank you!

Overall we had an incredible time that we’ll never forget, and were able to travel to an amazing destination while still working towards our financial goals.  The trick to travelling on your debt free journey is to plan ahead – if you do your research nothing can take you by surprise – save for a lot of rain and occasional snow in our case!  Do your homework, plan ahead, and make smart choices – your weekend getaways can be stress-free and more budget-friendly than you ever thought possible!  What’s your next vacation destination?

Here’s me on the Valley Floor!


11 thoughts on “How to Plan Your Easy & Budget-Friendly Camping Trip”

  • Lauren, this is a very helpful post! I would love to get info on what kind of food you’ve prepared before your trip. I always have a problem preparing the ‘right’ kind of food for camping.

    • Hi Lyndsy! I tried to keep it super simple for food – we did potatoes, asparagus & short ribs the first night, and Philly Cheese Steaks the second! I put the peppers and onions in tinfoil on the campfire first, and then in separate tinfoil packets I added the roast beef and provolone later, just so the cheese would melt! It was super easy and almost no clean up!

  • We a fan of lowbudget travels to, mainly its because thats what we have affort so we have to find a way to manage with what we have otherwise we would just stay home. It helps a lot if you are a nature lover as we are so it gets a lot cheaper than a city break for an exemple. Camping, hiking, fishing, swimming in lakes, river and waterfalls, picking mushrooms…anything.

  • This reminds me that I really need to make a trip out to Yosemite with my daughter in the near future. I remember having such a great time there until we had one tragic occurrence. I can imagine it would be an amazing trip.

  • I’ve been wanting to go on camping trips but my boyfriend isn’t a big fan of the great outdoors as he’s a little worried something might happen… But I might secretly plan a trip this fall with your guide so he has nothing to worry about anymore..

    • Planning ahead is the way to go! Sometimes sticking close to home is a nice way to go, and might put him a little more at ease 🙂

  • Camping is actually my absolute favorite way to “vacation”. We never pay for a campsite, though. We always find a secluded primitive area off some forest service road and set up camp there.

  • I love this post! Lots of great tips. We love to camp and are looking forward to taking a few trips this fall. Our favorite place we’ve camped is Fall Creek Falls in Tennessee. Do you have any information about what you pack, how you set up your camp site, etc? I’d love to hear more! Thanks for sharing!

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