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Aug 142012
 August 14, 2012  Posted by  Travel

Do you love to travel but suffer — like the rest of us — from a limited budget?

One easy way to cut lodging expenses is by camping. We’re not talking get-into-the-wilderness-and-commune-with-nature type of camping where you cook all of your meals over an open fire and hike every day, although that’s a great experience and we highly recommend it.

We’re talking a cheap place to lay your head at night while you’re playing tourist in a nearby city or town. For example, several years ago our family enjoyed an entire week seeing the sights in Washington, D.C. Staying that long in a hotel in the nation’s capital would have been a budget-buster for us, but our lodging cost just a few bucks a night because we pitched our tent in a county park in nearby Virginia and drove into the city every day. Camping at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, Va., isn’t as cheap as it was then but you can still pitch your tent for $28 a night,  far cheaper than a hotel room.

Camping may not be for everybody, but our investment in a tent and a few sleeping bags and our willingness to forego a motel/hotel stay has enabled us to see a lot of the country over the years.

Even with the astounding increase in public campsite prices — we lament that we’ll never again see the $2 per night sites we once had at the Grand Canyon — camping is a cheap way to travel. The most economical sites are usually in state or local parks. Private campgrounds offer more amenities like pools and game rooms (do your kids really need to be playing more games?) but cost more.

If you’re a novice, getting it together for a camping trip can seem overwhelming but in reality, it’s fairly simple.  All you really need is a tent, a ground cover (to protect the tent’s floor), a sleeping bag for each “camper” and a light. You can pack pillows from home or invest in smaller, camping pillows if space is an issue. And, depending on the type of ground you are sleeping on, you may want to take pads to use under the sleeping bags.

Since you’ll likely be getting in after dark on most days and perhaps making trips to the restroom during the night, you’ll need a light.  You can make do with flashlights but it helps to have something like a battery-powered lantern that throws more light when you sit around the picnic table planning the next day’s adventure.

As with hotels, you should reserve your campsite well in advance if possible. Some parks have sites that are rented on a first-come, first-served basis, but they go fast during busy times of the year.

If you’re not sure you’re going to like camping, borrow or rent the equipment before sinking a lot of money into purchases and camp close to home the first time out – so you can bail if you hate it. If you decide camping is for you,  look for end-of-the-season clearances when you’re ready to buy your own.

Here are some other campgrounds near large cities:


Kathie Sutin

Kathie Sutin has covered everything from construction to transportation. Features, however, are her specialty especially those about travel, food, health, parenting and people. Her work has appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Midwest Traveler, Southern Traveler, St. Louis Parent, Hooked on the Outdoors, Missouri Life, St. Louis Magazine, Air Tran’s flight magazine and Sauce Magazine and websites including and At her last fulltime gig, public relations writer for the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, she developed a vast knowledge of all things St. Louis as she spread the gospel about free and things to do in the Gateway City. That came in handy when she launched St. Louis On The Cheap as did her lifelong strategy of paying less whenever she can.

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