A few years ago, my husband and I spent a lovely nine days camping in Sedona, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Zion National Park. We hiked, we developed a new inside joke, and we ate dinner in our car because it turned out to be monsoon season. Despite the rain, it was a great trip, and it probably cost less than $600, including the rental car because neither of us wanted to put 1500 miles on our cars.

I’ve been camping with my family since I was a toddler. For a long time, we went every summer. It’s always a fun time. It’s also a fairly frugal vacation. If you need to get away, but can’t afford a vacation, consider camping somewhere within a day’s drive. Here are tips for planning your trip.

Reserve Your Campsite Now
Most campsites accept reservations about 7 months in advance. Visit Reserve America or the National Park site to book your site. Since we’re in April, holiday weekends will be taken. However, mid-week and non-holiday weekends should still be available. The key is to be flexible with your location and dates. Don’t just plan for the major national parks. Check out a state or county park.

Arrange to Borrow Equipment
If you don’t already have the necessary camping supplies: tent, sleeping bags, camp stove, lantern, and cooler, ask around. Your friends most likely do and would be more than happy to lend them to you for the weekend. Just make sure you sweep out the tent carefully and air out the sleeping bags before returning them. If you plan to camp frequently, watch for sales at Costco, Wal-Mart, and local camping supply stores.

Plan Your Menu
Camping food should be simple and it should be something you can cook on a fire or campstove. Aim for one or two pot meals. Eggs are the most common breakfast. Dinner is chili, tacos, barbecued chicken, and other dishes along those lines. Pack trail mix and sandwich fixings for lunch. S’mores are a must, so bring wire hangers for toasting marshmallows.

Plan Your Activities
You don’t want to plan your trip down to the minute, but you should have some idea of what you plan to do so you can pack accordingly. If you plan to hike, you’ll need hats, backpacks, and water containers. If you plan to photograph nature, pack the camera. If you plan to send your kids to Junior Ranger, check the website to see what sorts of activities are available. Is there a pool or lake on-site? Bring the swimsuit.

Follow the Rules
If the ranger says to use the bear box, use the bear box. If they say not a path is closed, don’t go down that path. If fires are banned, don’t light one. The rules are there for your protection – remember, it may be called a “park,” but this is the wild.

Relax
The nice thing about camping is that you’re forced to relax. You can hike or swim all day, but come nightfall, there will be quiet time sitting around the fire talking or playing games. You’ll go to bed early because it’s dark and rise early because it’s light. Your lungs will feel fresh and clean.

This post is making me want to camp! I may have to start looking for a nearby spot to park my tent for a few days. What are your camping tips? Do you have any favorite camping spots? Any good camping stories? Share them in the comments.

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