Camping is a great spring, summer or fall family trip idea with saving money already built in. For extra frugal bonus points read this for frugal camping hacks and thrifty camping ideas before your next trip.
Thrifty Camping Ideas
I am a HUGE fan of family camping – tent or camper. I really love camping in our VW van but also love the feeling of sleeping in a tent and being really outside. They’re both so good.
Since having our toddler, we mostly camp in the van. It’s easy to take all the gear we need and she just loves it in there.
Whatever kind of camping you love to do, the Dollar Tree is a great place to stock up on camping essentials before you go, including camping ideas for food!
- Dollar Tree haul – travel books and toys for kids
- Why I love camping (plus what big animal did we wake up to outside our tent! – video)
- 50 frugal summer activities for kids
- Why it’s great for your kids to play in the sand
- Road trip hacks with kids
- How to survive long road trips with toddlers
Frugal Camping Hacks – What I Would Buy From Dollar Tree
These are our favorite dollar store camping hacks:
One of our camping hacks is to have a separate cutting board that we keep just for camping. At home we use wooden cutting boards, but it’s plastic all the way for camping trips. You might not have the luxury of washing your cutting board as squeaky clean as you do at home, and plastic in this case is more food safe than wood. So we feel better having a separate cutting board for camping.
This is something we never buy or use, except for camping! We have come across way too many gross picnic tables at campsites over the years, with squashed bugs and bird poop all over them. Especially now that we camp with a preschooler who puts her hands in everything, a table cloth at campsites is a lifesaver. We throw it over top of those picnic tables and voila – clean surface to eat off of – yay!
Many campgrounds with flush toilets or outhouses do have toilet paper. But we have on occasion come across ones that aren’t stocked and you don’t want to be caught with your pants down and no t.p. in those cases. Bring a few rolls; they don’t take up much space in the car.
I’ve just discovered how useful these are. This is one of our frugal camping hacks that I love the most – use long lighters for camping instead of matches. When it’s wet or windy out, it’s so easy to start a fire with one of these lighters. The long ones are handy for not getting your hands burned.
(Or as my 3-year-old calls them, flip floppers)
This is one of my favorite frugal camping hacks. If you are camping in an RV with a shower then maybe flip flops aren’t totally necessary, but if you will have to use a campground shower, GET YOURSELF A PAIR OF CAMPING FLIP FLOPS! Yup, all caps, it’s that important.
Campground showers are not known for being the cleanest, most sparkling place you could have a shower. Your feet will thank you when you wear an inexpensive pair of flip flops in the shower. I keep a separate pair just for traveling.
So useful to keep things organized when you’re camping. We actually keep a tote with our basic camping supplies in our basement year-round. That way we’re not hunting around each spring and stocking the exact same things up every year from around the house. It’s easier if they just stay in the bin and we add what we’ve run out of and we’re ready to go.
Tin foil is so wonderful for cooking when you’re camping. Foil from dollar stores doesn’t work any differently than foil from any other store.
Throw some veggies or fish or sausages or whatever in tin foil, wrap it up in a packet, and cook over a fire. You can even eat right out of the aluminum foil, making clean up a breeze.
We have a separate set of cutlery for camping. It cuts down on the amount of waste we produce since we’re not using plastic cutlery for each meal. We also don’t use our main cutlery set from home. You never know when you might misplace some when you’re away and we want to keep out main cutlery set intact. A cheaper set for camping works well for us.
We use these little containers for salad dressings, jam, butter, any extras you might want with your food on your camping trip. We also try to remember to bring a plastic container to keep our bar of soap. Makes it a lot tidier than throwing the soap into a plastic shopping bag after it’s wet.
Camping lights that you can hang up or clip on are great for tents if you want to read before bed. You can also bring these with you to the washroom or outhouse if you gotta go after the sun has gone down.
No these don’t need to be for an impromptu dance party in the woods with your kids (though that sounds fun).
Glow sticks are one of the best frugal camping hacks when kids are in the mix. You can get glow bracelets and necklaces and it will help with seeing your kids when you’re all still moving around after the sun goes down. It helps for safety when walking to washrooms/outhouses.
The glow sticks can also help little kids feel braver that might be apprehensive about the dark/different sounds when you’re camping outside.
We always make sure we have a LOT of water bottles when we go on any road trip or camping trip. We don’t like buying bottled water so we make sure to bring several BPA-free water bottles – 2 or 3 per person.
Another of the essential frugal camping hacks is to pick up a bunch of mesh bags for your camping trip. Mesh bags are so handy for keeping dirty laundry (so it gets a chance to air out if it is days away from when you can wash it!) We also like mesh bags to organize clothing, like clean socks in one, all our 3 year old’s t-shirts in another, etc. It cuts down on hunting around when you’re living in a small space for a while.
Access to a sink with running water might not always be an option when you’re camping. Picking up a package of hand wipes is a useful frugal camping hack for cleaning up before or after eating, or even wiping off sunblock at the end of the day so you don’t feel like a greasy mess as you climb into your sleeping bag.
Of course you always hope that you won’t need to use it, but it’s important to be prepared. Bandaids, antiseptic wipes, gauze are some of the first aid basics you should have. We also always make sure we have tweezers, just in case we get bitten by a tic and have to remove it (ew ew ew, they creep me out so much!!!)
Camping Ideas For Food
Dollar stores are GREAT places to stock up on camping food. We usually eat fresh food at home, but more canned food will not hurt you for a week when you’re camping and is so convenient. Some great thrifty camping ideas for food that you can pick up at Dollar Tree:
- Cans of tuna
- Canned vegetables (peas, corn)
- Baked beans
- Ketchup, mustard, relish
- Granola bars/protein bars
- Trail mix
Also pick up a small can opener while you’re there. We keep a separate one just for camping.
Thrifty Camping Ideas For Preschoolers & Kids
Pick up a few new outdoorsy-related toys for your kids before your camping trip. Fun things to do when camping with family: get kids involved with interacting with the natural world. A Dollar Tree find that my daughter LOVES is a simple plastic magnifying glass. She loves looking at leaves and flowers and dirt under the magnifying glass when we’re out for a hike.
Other thrifty camping ideas for kids are pails, nets, scoops, diggers. You don’t need fancy when you are camping. It’s also a good idea to have a game you can play inside the tent or camper if you’re having a rain day.
- Rain ponchos
- Beach toys
Camping Items I Would Never Buy From Dollar Stores
I don’t skimp and pinch pennies on everything. Frugal doesn’t mean being cheap. It means being thoughtful in your purchases, and making sure they align with what you want for your life. It means fewer mindless purchases.
Some things are worth spending more on. Your list might be different from mine but these things I would absolutely pay a bit more on:
Rope is very useful to have on a camping trip but this probably isn’t something I would buy from a dollar store.
You can hang it between two trees as a clothes line and dry wet bathing suits and towels, or tie down a tarp or tent.
Rope is generally not very expensive, and I would rather have better quality rope that doesn’t break in the wind. Nylon is very durable, like this rope.
This is a camping game-changer. I haven’t seen these at most dollar stores, but I would not buy one from a dollar store. I’d spend more and get a much better quality headlamp. It’s nice to have light and be hands-free so we ALWAYS bring headlamps on camping trips.
Black Diamond makes high quality outdoor gear, including their headlamps. This headlamp has a whole bunch of light settings, from reading level to super bright. It is dustproof, waterproof (you can wear it in the rain), and very highly rated.
This set is SO great for camping, I absolutely love it!! The lid is used as a plate, the bottom part is a bowl for oatmeal or soup or whatever. The two smaller containers snap shut tightly and I put snacks in them like trail mix or fruit and they don’t spill. There is a spork which I loved but also quickly lost. I use this set for everyday, non-camping lunches as well!
Happy camping! 🙂
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What are your favorite frugal camping hacks?