Family Vacations: Camping vs. Traditional

These VW camper vans are cool - this one was camping just a few spots down from us

These VW camper vans are cool - this one was a few campsites down from us

Camping is a great way for a family to get away and do something together, but it can also be a very economical compared to traditional vacations. Here are our costs, from a recent weekend of camping at one of our state beaches:

  • Campground (2 nights): $57.50
  • 77 miles (roundtrip) at $0.44 per mile: $33.88
  • Meals for five (breakfast, lunch, dinner for two days): $20
  • Firewood: $8

The entire weekend cost about $120, which is fairly typical for us. Sometimes we might have steaks instead of hamburgers, or have to travel further, but a weekend of family camping usually falls within the range of $120.

A traditional vacation, in which the family is staying at a hotel and eating at restaurants, is much more expensive. Travel costs, like hotels and restaurant meals, are highly localized so you will have to plug-in numbers from your area to make a comparison, but our costs here in Northern California would be:

  • Hotel (2 nights): $150
  • 77 miles (roundtrip) at $0.44 per mile: $33.88
  • Meals for five (lunch, dinner for two days): $160

The entire weekend would be a little under $350, and only if I could get a beachfront hotel room for $75 (including taxes) a night. Of course, food is also a big expense when you have to eat at restaurants, but my numbers assume that the hotel offers a free breakfast, as many do these days.

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18 thoughts on “Family Vacations: Camping vs. Traditional

  1. A beachfront hotel for $75 / night!? Are you serious? Give me the phone number cause I’d gladly sign up. I would guess it’s more typically going to be hundreds of dollars per night.

  2. If you’re traveling to another country, take some local currency. In some places, it can be difficult to get your money exchanged outside of regular business hours. You can go to any large bank and exchange foreign currency before you go to the airport.`,

    Ciao for now

  3. Great post!

    It is true camping is cheaper than motel-ing it. I have found that camping at National Forest Sno-Parks is the cheapest way to rough it easy.

    Sumer Camping is free in the Sno-parks and they are hardly used. It is no frill camping with basic services provided by the USFS. Some even include shelters with stoves, tables & chairs, ATV & horse staging areas and wilderness hiking trails.

    If you camp the Western United States, you can check out the Sno-parks nearest to you at

  4. This is an interesting subject to me. When I was a child my parents took us to Disney World once. My fondest memories of being a kid are going camping with my dad. We usually went once a month in the summer time and a few times in the winter. As I got a little older he became the scout master and we would camp more often.

    I think kids need to spend more time outside. I also believe that camping allows a real opportunity to interact with your family instead of interacting with rides, movies or video games.

    I started a thread on my canoeing forum about paddling with children and got a lot of interesting responses.

    I’d like to hear what you all think.

  5. Love the post. One thing to add to the equation though is the cost of your camping gear. Some folks go and buy expensive gear and only use it 1-2 times which when added to the cost could make camping more expensive. Clearly if you get many uses out of your gear then the costs per trip goes way down.


    Eric’s last blog post..Mineral Springs Family Campground Review

  6. Fantastic post! I agree with it all. Not only is an outdoors trip more bang for your buck, but you have to entertain yourself rather than be entertained. And that usually makes for the greatest memories!

    Big Hank’s last blog post..Camp with the Camping Guru!

  7. I’ll be doing a lot of inexpensive travel this spring and summer, and camping and mooching off friends and family will be the chief ways I’ll do it.

    I live near Mount Shasta and we have tons of places to camp that are stunningly beautiful. I’ll likely stay out of campgrounds and head down dirt roads in the forest. I like my privacy and I keep money in my wallet.

    Of course, I understand that many of you have young ones to think about, and that’s when a real campground can be quite appealing.

    John Soares’s last blog post..February Hike of the Month: Briones Peak in Briones Regional Park

  8. Dang, tough crowd this morning – lol! Let’s see…

    Juice: $2
    Ground beef: $4
    Hamburger buns: $2
    French fries: $3
    Pop tarts: $1
    Pasta: $2
    Pasta sauce: $2
    Soup: $5
    Bread: $1
    Lunch meat: $2
    Milk: $3
    Cereal: $2
    Cheese: $3
    Eggs: $3

    Okay, $30 – but a lot of this stuff we already have. We don’t run out and buy eggs, cheese, lunch meat, bread, etc. just for camping. We would have used that stuff even if we’d stayed home. Our meals on this trip were…

    Friday night: pasta
    Saturday morning: eggs & pancakes
    Saturday lunch: soup & sandwiches
    Saturday dinner: hamburgers & french fries
    Sunday breakfast: cereal
    Sunday lunch: sandwiches

  9. Michael, I was just going to leave the same comment! I typically spend between $50 and $75 on groceries for a weekend of camping with my family of 5. And that’s before beer! How about sharing a typical shopping list, Roy?


    Mike’s last blog post..Why do you ride?

  10. Honestly. $20. Did I miss a post on your grocery list? or am i buying too much organic stuff?

  11. This blog post is absolutely true: Outdoor vacations/experiences like camping, backpacking, rafting, etc, tend to be cheaper than traditional vacations. At Idaho & Oregon River Journeys, we run trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon and Main Salmon rivers in Idaho, as well as the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. These trips are priced as “include alls”, meaning the price includes pretty much everything you would need for the trip. When compared to expenses like getting hotel rooms for six nights eating out for every meal for six days, it is easy to see the economical value of our trips.

    Simply put, outdoor trips have a higher value to the dollar than, say, a trip to Las Vegas. Plus, you’ll remember your trip and all the fun experiences you had for your entire lifetime.

    Will Volpert
    Idaho & Oregon River Journeys