How to have an affordable family camping trip on a budget

Camping is a brilliant holiday you can have with your family and create unforgettable, long-lasting memories. You don’t need to break the bank.

Family camping should be fun and a chance to spend time with your children. With careful budgeting and planning, you can have a fun time without stressing about money.

So how can you start family camping on a small budget?

Prioritize essential gear while seeking out discounts or opting for secondhand options. Utilizing household items such as cooking equipment, quilts, garden chairs, and pillows can significantly reduce expenses. Add a few extra food items to your regular shopping list to further manage costs, plan and precook meals. Research and book a campsite well in advance, focusing on amenities like play areas, woodlands, and free local activities.

This article shares tips and tricks for camping on a shoestring budget. Allowing you to make the most of your family’s outdoor adventures while keeping costs to a minimum.

How to choose budget-friendly campsites 

When camping on a budget, selecting campsites offering affordable rates is crucial. Look for campsites that are family-owned, with basic facilities. Not the commercialised campsites.

The larger campsites, with swimming pools, evening entertainment, and daytime activities for kids, will be more expensive. You need to steer clear of these. It will feel tempting to book, as you want your kids to have as much fun as possible, and you worry that they will not be entertained.

Another great way to save money on camping and activities is small animal petting farms. Not all will have an electrical hookup (EHU), but they will be cheaper than commercial campsites. Children love to be around animals, and many farms allow camping on their grounds.

If you have transport, find a campsite away from the beach. The closer to the beach, the higher the price per night.

Additionally, consider camping during the off-peak season when rates tend to be lower. Although it will be colder, especially during the October half-term. You need to be prepared to forget about mud and soaking clothes.

Early April can be cold at night and frosty. Rates are still reasonable. However, you may want an electrical hookup with a low-voltage fan heater and some water bottles, as it will get cold during the evening.

My son Nick loves to play with other kids on site and will play most of the day. Ideally, find a campsite with a kids’ play area or large field areas they can play. Even better are campsites that have woodlands. You can make dens, climb trees, explore and teach them about nature. If the campsite has a small shallow stream, you can enjoy playing in the water.

Pack smart and bring essential gear

Avoiding unnecessary buying of camping gear expenses by packing smartly and bringing only the essential items. Having a camping gear list will help you focus on what you need. Save your money, and stop impulse buying. Which can be very tempting when you start buying.


  • Tent
  • Mallet
  • Pegs
  • Groundsheet (Tarp will be cheaper)
  • Large picnic blanket
  • Sleepings bags or quilt
  • Pillows
  • Beds (air beds)
  • Air pump
  • Extra blankets
  • Table and chairs
  • Aluminium foil back sleeping mat
  • Head torch
  • Lanterns
  • Torches
  • EHU hook-up
  • Windbreaker ( beach windbreaker is ideal)
  • Tarp for additional shelter and poles


  • Portable gas stove and gas canisters
  • Electrical multi cookerElectrical portable stove
  • BBQ
  • Charcoal
  • Kindle and logs for fire pit
  • BBQ Lighter blocks
  • Plates
  • Mugs and plastic cups
  • Saucepans
  • MatchesWater container (5l water bottle from the supermarket)
  • Knives, forks and spoons
  • Cooking utensil
  • Cool box

Additional Items

  • Foods
  • Cold drinks
  • Games for kids inside and outside
  • Phone /iPad chargers
  • Toiletries
  • Tent repair kit
  • First aid kit
  • Waterproof clothing
  • Clothing (outdoor)
  • Nightclothes
  • Indoor and outdoor games
  • Toilet paper
  • Kitchen roll
  • Foil
  • Black bags for rubbish
  • Electric fan
  • Hot water bottles
  • Food bags
  • Flip flops for the shower
  • Towels

    Borrow a tent from a friend, or camp with friends to cut costs. By camping with friends, you can share items, which I did on our first camping trip.

    Home to Campsite: Repurposing Everyday Items for Family Camping

    You don’t need to buy everything for your camping trip. Once you have a list of essential items, you will realise there are lots you can use items from your home. This will save you a lot of money, help keep your costs down and keep you within your budget.

    • Bedding – extra bed throws, quilt, pillows, and bed sheets to cover the air mattress
    • Cooking equipment – saucepans, plates, knives and forks, cooking utensils
    • Table and chairs – Collapsable garden chairs and table
    • Food storage – Keep large plastic containers to store food
    • Carpets – Replace with foil-backed picnic blankets
    • Torches and lights – Budget lanterns are a great option. You don’t need to spend a fortune. I still have my £6 lantern that I purchased over 5 years ago.
    • Outside lights – Garden solar lights for outside the tent. Ideally, string lights.
    • Kettle – Use your kettle from home if you have EHU, or use a saucepan for boiling water for drinks on a portable stove.
    • Toaster – Toasting rack for portable gas stove or bring toaster from home if you have EHU.

    Another reason for using as much gear from your home as possible is to avoid finding places to store your items. Plus it will give you more money for your holiday as your budget will not be used for camping gear.

    I always take my solar string lights camping with me. Removing them from the garden can be a pain, but using them for camping and the garden helps keep the batteries fully charged.

    Money-saving tips on buying camping gear

    Apart from using items from home, you can also find lots of savings on camping gear. It can be daunting, especially when you research and see other people’s setups. Don’t try to compete, as it will break your budget and don’t try to buy everything at once, build up your camping gear over time.

    Second-hand shops, eBay and Facebook marketplace – A great way to find camping gear. However, you always need to check for any damage first. If you are buying a tent, it can be more difficult in a store, especially for a larger tent. You need to check for mould, bad smells and any rips. Our guide on buying a second-hand tent will help you buy a good quality tent want not to waste your money.

    Using everyday purchases to buy camping gear – I use all of my receipts for everyday shopping to build points, cash back on websites and discount cards for camping gear. They are a great way to help buy smaller camping gear such as lanterns, cooking equipment, sleeping bags, etc. The main apps I use are Shopify, Amazon Panel, and Quidco. Not only can you double points, but you can also inflate the value of your savings by converting them into vouchers. Read our article that has 23 smart ways you can save money on camping gear to help you keep within your budget.

    Camp with friends – Camping with friends is another way to save money on camping gear. Maybe not to share a tent. Although if you are a single parent. Having another single parent in the tent with you, especially at night, can help to reassure you. Camping as a group, you can share cooking equipment, food costs, and also camping gear such as table and chairs.

    Renting camping gear – Renting camping equipment is not the cheapest way to start. However, if you have never been camping, comparing buying to renting, it can save you money. Especially if you want to hire a tent only. Although there are certain rules that you have to abide by. You will need to add an additional day at the end of your holiday to return or have collected. They can pitch the tent up for you, depending on the location. Read our article and compare costs, we list the pros and cons plus costs of renting tent for your holidays.

    Buy budget gear – We all assume that expensive is better. For camping, that is not the case. A good quality tent is more advisable, although my first tent cost me £45. I have had this for 5 years, and we used this for every holiday. You don’t need to spend a fortune on other items, such as lanterns and portable gas stoves.

    The higher-costing lantern has a power bank, which allows me to charge mobile and Ipads whilst we are away if we do not electrical hook-up. I also use lanterns that can be split into torches and lanterns, so you can use both at the same time. Helping to keep costs down on camping gear. Our guide to camping lanterns will help you select the best lantern for you. Help you decide on the lumens and pros and cons of each type of lantern.

    Keeping food cold – Don’t rush out and buy a cool box. There are two main types that are not overly expensive. A passive cool box and an electrical cook box. You need to ensure that the coolbox is big enough for you and your family. Our guide will walk you through the different types, how they work and what type of trip they are for.

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    However, you can make a temporary cool box. Find a large plastic box with a secure lid. Inside, place bubble wrap between layers of thermal insulation roll. Ensuring that all sides and bases are covered fully. Don’t leave any gaps. Make sure you have sufficient for the lid as well. Another option is to use air packaging pockets between the thermal insulation roll. If you have room, divide the box in half with two separate lids. This will help to keep items cool when opening the cool box.

    Empty containers and bottles – Keep empty small bottles, fill them with water and freeze them before you travel. They can be used instead of ice blocks. Once they defrost, you can also drink the water and refreeze it on-site if they have a freezer facility. Large bottles can be used to store water during the day instead of buying a water carrier. I always buy a 5l bottle of water prior trip, which saves me £10. Old takeaway containers can be used to store food and keep bugs out. They are also ideal for pre-made food and great for stacking in a cool box.

    Cooking – Deciding on how you are going to cook is a big decision, as the weather comes into effect. I have a portable BBQ, although I have stopped taking this. I cook over the firepit either directly around or via a three-tripod grill. Plus, I use portable gas stoves. Instead of buying a large cooking unit, consider buying two portable gas stoves.

    It is a cheaper option if you opt for gas. However, you need to consider long the gas will last during your trip. Nobody wants to run out of gas mid-holiday and worry about refills or buying more. Read our article and find out how long different gas canisters and bottles will last. This will help you to decide on the type of portable gas stove to buy.

    If you cannot decide on gas or electricity, you need to consider the safety of both options. You cannot have gas stoves inside a tent due to the open flame. Electrical cookers can be used undercover, although I do not recommend them inside of a tent. Mainly because of the increase in condensation and the cooking smells inside of your tent. To avoid wasting money, consider if you will always be camping using EHU. This will have an impact on the type of stove you buy. Here is our helpful guide on choosing a budget stove for camping. We will walk you through the different things you need to consider before buying.

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    Cook budget-friendly and delicious meals

    Food expenses can quickly add up during a camping trip. Instead of relying on expensive pre-packaged meals, plan and prepare your own budget-friendly and delicious camping meals.

    Opt for simple and nutritious recipes that require minimal ingredients and use affordable, filling ingredients like rice, pasta, beans, and canned goods.

    If the campsite has a freezer, you can precook and freeze food prior. Label and use the freezer on site. However, check when it is cleared, as you don’t want your food thrown away.

    Shop for groceries in advance to take advantage of discounts and avoid last-minute purchases at higher prices. If you are camping away from towns and only have local stores to purchase from, the costs will soon mount up.

    About two months before a camping trip, I add some items to my weekly shopping and freeze ready to premake food. I precook food that I can defrost and fits easily into a saucepan to heat up. I also stock up on cereal, drinks, and treats for the evening. By adding a few extra items, it helps to spread the costs.

    A great meal around the fire pit is baked potatoes. Cover them in oil or butter, wrap in foil (ideally 2 layers) and leave them to cook. I will add tinned baked beans with sausages or open them up and pop some filling inside for ease. Baked potatoes are a filling, warm meal for the evenings.

    I always take sufficient food to make picnics, with snack foods. I make these before going out on day trips, saving a fortune. I always allow one takeaway meal while we are away, typically from a local chippy. These are the cheapest, and children love a bag of chips with scraps.

    Family budget-friendly Amazon buying list

    Here is a list of our top budget items that we have tested during our camping trips and still use today.

    Related questions

    What are some tips for saving money on transportation to and from the campsite

    When planning a camping trip, it is essential to consider all aspects of your budget, including transportation to and from a camping site.

    • Choose a campsite near home – Being selective and finding a campsite near your home will reduce transportation costs. You will be surprised how many good campsites are local.
    • Plan your journey – Planning your journey in advance is important as this will allow you to plan the best fuel-efficiency route. Try to plan travelling during off-peak times, avoiding any traffic hold-ups.
    • Don’t overload your car – Adding too much weight to your car will decrease your fuel efficiency. It also increases the wear and tear on your tyres and suspension.
    • Car share – If you are travelling in a group, if possible, car share as this will reduce transport costs for both.
    • Public transport – If You pack light, using public transport can be cheaper than driving to your location. Especially if you are camping locally.

    What are some creative ways to entertain children on a budget while camping?

    Finding ways to entertain children on a budget camping trip can be difficult. Entertainment does not need to break the bank. Depending on the location of your campsite, you can use nature to help keep them happy and active.

    • I-spy books – This helps to encourage your children to be aware of their surroundings and well as helps to develop their reading skills. I-spy books make learning fun and interesting and are a great activity for all of the family to enjoy. There are books for nature walks, holidays near the beach, bug searching and car journeys.
    • Foraging – Foraging gives children the opportunity to identify plants or fruit. As well as making them aware of what is dangerous for them to touch and eat. We always take our foraging book with us, although we do not pick any of the items we find. It is a fun way to spend an afternoon together.
    • Nature walks – Many nature reserves have walking trails of different lengths, so you can select which is suitable. Often along the routes are wood structures and small hidden gems for children to enjoy.
    • Nature scavenger hunt – Create a scavenger hunt list that includes items found in nature, such as pinecones, different types of leaves, or animal tracks. It encourages children to explore their surroundings.
    • Campfire stories and songs – Roast marshmallows and create campfire stories at night. Takes it in turns to add to the story. This will create some amazing memories for you all.
    • Outdoor games – Pack a ball, frisbee, badminton or any other outdoor games they enjoy. It will keep them active, and other children may join in.
    • Stargazing – We love looking for stars at night. We lay the blankets on the floor, gaze up into the sky, and try to identify using our phone app.
    • Campfire games – Charades, Simon Says, What’s the Time, Mr Wolf- are fun. We also take cards with us and play group games during the evenings.
    • Crafts – Bring pens, pencils and lots of paper. Encouraging children to draw their surroundings and tracing tree bark and leaves.

    Immersing yourselves in nature, and creating lasting memories are a creat way to have a budget family friendly holiday without breaking the bank.


    I'm a single parent who loves pitching a tent and exploring the countryside at any opportunity. I am working with a glamping pod company and helping them to set up a family campsite in East Riding Yorkshire.

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