Camping on a shoestring
On Saturday we head down to the coast for some good old fashioned camping and I am so excited. Camping is a great low-cost way to see the country. All you need is a tank full of petrol, some basic equipment for sleeping/eating, and a sense of adventure. The cost of campsites does seem to have risen over recent years, but there are still bargains to be had! I use Pitch Up to scout out sites with low fees within spitting distance of beautiful countryside, points of interest and - most importantly - a decent, real ale pub.
We were drawn to the idea as a low cost way of "escaping", however after experiencing just how well and refreshed I feel after a few nights in the great outdoors, I just can't get enough. Even if we won the lottery (which would of course involve actually playing it) I'd still want to escape several times a year to sleep under canvas.
We try and make our holiday as cheap as possible as we're still hammering away at our larger financial goals. Here are some of the ways we do that.
First of all, you need less than you think.
I can't for the life of me understand why people need specific camping cooking utensils or pots. We just bring our regular, bomb proof, stainless steel pot from home alongside a spatula, tin opener, spoon, knife and chopping board. A cheap melamine "crockery" set, some knives and forks and our shatter-proof Duralex glasses (they hold hot or cold drinks, and we use them for wine too!) and we are pretty much set.
We found our Vango 6 person tent for under £80 on eBay. It had only been used twice and something similar from the same brand would cost hundreds new. We put it up and, to our delight, it is absolutely perfect. Look after your tent, and invest in a repair kit and some waterproofing solution, and there's no reason why it shouldn't last you years.
Camping equipment regularly comes up on eBay, local selling sites and even Freecycle as people seem to always want the next Big Thing. We're perfectly happy with our minimal, battered kit!
I use websites like tripadvisor and daysout.co.uk to identify free or cheap days out. If the weather is fine we will go for long walks on the beach or in National Trust properties (we have a membership), if it isn't we will explore free museums and art exhibitions. We're looking forward to visiting Studland National Park this weekend. As we pay £8 a month to be members of the NT the whole day will be free. The rest is all carefully budgeting for using You Need a Budget, so the odd trip to a waterpark or donation to a museum won't leave me feeling burned.
That said, there's no reason to squuuueeeeze activities into every available hour. The best part is just getting to spend 24 hours a day focusing on the people you love, so we also pack board games, cards and, for quiet evenings, books from the library. Some of our best memories were made bumbling around the campsite with beers, snacks and each other!
The first night's meal will be a frozen bolognese. Last night I simmered the bolognese as I cooked dinner, and froze it in a freezer bag. Then all I'll need to do is reheat it and cook off some spaghetti. I even "splashed out" on a £8.99 bottle of Chianti from Lidl to mark the beginning of our holibobs! Freezing your first nights food will also keep whatever you pack for lunch cool. It's nice to use that first day just to unwind and explore a little (as well as wrestle with the tent!)
For breakfasts we bring eggs from our chooks at home and bread, for fried/scrambled egg sandwiches.
Rather than spending on hot drinks from the café we bring our cafetiere along and enjoy a lovely freshly brewed coffee outside every morning.
Other cheap meal ideas:
Chickpea curry: Fry an onion, garlic, curry powder, chuck in a tin of chickpeas and a tin of tomatoes then stir in instant rice (the microwave kind) at the end, for an easy one pot meal.
Chilli beans: 1 chilli spice pack, one onion, 2 tins of mixed beans, 1 tin chopped tomatoes. Serve with instant rice or tortilla chips.
Omelettes in a bag: Get strong, ziplock bags. In each put: 2 eggs, a knob of butter, salt and pepper, whatever toppings you like (e.g. cheese, tomatoes, veggies, meat) and pop into a pot of water at a rolling boil until firm.
Also, camping is the one time I'm not afraid to rely on convenient foods. Instant mashed potato, tinned curries, vac-packed rice and instant noodles for a week won't kill my family, and are so much cheaper than eating out. Plus, because we never eat that kind of food at home, it intensifies the feeling of being a treat!
When we want to do something really fancy we will splash out £10 on a meal deal from M+S/Tesco/whatever is nearby. This usually gets you a bottle of wine, a main meal (steak/fish/whatever you can do on a hob), a side dish and a dessert. Little Miss Thrifty is happy to have some pasta boiled up whilst we have our fancy meal so on the whole this is minimal effort, lovely food, yet less than 1/3rd what we would spend at a restaurant/pub.
We're already planning our next camping trip - a little further afield this time - so any tips for camping in France, or any money saving tricks I might've missed out on, would be gratefully received!