Destination Camping

 We’ve all heard of destination weddings and probably most of us associate a designer style price tag with mention of them but let’s turn that upside down and start a sale rack revolution in travel. Trust us, destination camping affords you a quality vacation without selling your first born to Visa.  

Destination camping is doable. On A Dime has done it and it can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Now if you are a “mints on the pillow” traveler, we totally respect that and direct you to our article on Virginia City as the Silverland Inn, with its indoor pool and flavored coffee creamers, did leave some pretty lush chocolates on the pillow.

This article, however, is for those who’d like to be as close to their chosen adventure as possible with less of a cash outlay. Here at On A Dime, it is Grand Canyon week so we’ll use it as our template (see article) though you can apply the plan to almost any locale. A recent destination camping trip took us to, of all places, Kansas and it was flat out prettier than a hefty tax return, well almost.

Moving right along. Adventurers; this is where we’ll try and simplify the destination camping idea. We will eschew a desire to color coordinate daily outfits with trail jewelry (as if) and embrace some Zen-filled simplicity. Below is a breakdown on packing but also feel free to peruse our article on gear. We will assume that you’ll rent a car and not be backpacking in.

Below, clothing courtesy of Salvation Army. No color coordinated trail jewelry though one of us has been known to wear makeup and jewelry.

14,508 feet
14,508 feet

Sample Trip – Grand Canyon

Book your airfare and reserve your car rental (You should NOT need a larger car for gear, On A Dime packs four people into a Hyundai for camping trips)

*Friends: when you camp in the Grand Canyon, you are literally in the park and they offer free shuttle service everywhere so park the car and kick it back. THIS is the advantage of camping it.

Gear From Home: *also check our article for more gear info.

1) An ice chest – you will pack clothes in this, tape it up and check it as luggage so check your airline for size restrictions. A rolling chest is the bomb.

2) Tent – 3-man is best (see photo below) even for 2 people. Pack an additional for the kids if they are old enough, as they usually LOVE having their own tent, as will the parents.  😉

Photo credit Scott McEwen
Photo credit Scott McEwen

3) Sleeping bag – and STUFF SACKS. Stuff sacks can be purchased at sporting goods stores and reduce your bag bulk by sometimes 1/2.

4) Sleep mat – this is the one higher priced item and it makes a difference in comfort and warmth. You can use a cheap air mattress but the true camping mat is worth the price.

5) Headlamp – no lantern is necessary as you can see from the photo below.

Night view camping at Convict
Night view camping at Convict

6) Mess kit – plate, bowl, cutlery, cup

7) Small skillet and a medium pot – Friends; we are serious, we use the skillet as a lid for the pot and this works out fine however it is good to plan destination camping in areas where you can get prepared food. The Grand Canyon is so flush with chow that you don’t even have to cook if you’d like to skip it. Walking/free shuttle distance from Mather Campground you’ll find a market with early morning coffee and food as well as multiple restaurants.

*Borrow gear from friends or spend very little if the weather is temperate and temperate is the only way to go until you are well versed in destination camping.

*No, you do not need a backpack. Yes, pack into your suitcase. A daypack is great but even the school ones suffice if your hiking is to be casual.

Gear To Purchase At Your Destination:

1) Firewood, fire-starts, and matches.

2) Pillows – yep, why not? They are about $4 each at Target.

3) Camp chairs – same deal as the pillows, we’ve purchased them for $8 and less. *Donate to other campers when you leave.

4) Snacks and any food you want to prepare yourself.

5) Ice and Water – both a large dispenser for the campsite and water bottles for hiking.

*Camp stoves – If you have one, you can pack it if you can fit it in the luggage however if you find destination camping is your thing, invest in a single burner stove. These run more than $50 but less than $100. Traveling by air with pressurized fuel cans is a no-go so check in advance about buying your fuel when you arrive. For a Kansas trip, we purchased the fuel on our way out of town at the local sporting goods store in Oklahoma City. The fuel cans cost around $5 and get you pretty far with cooking up the grub depending on altitude.

*And finally, let’s talk about clothes. Yes, a necessary space-hogging evil. At this point it is only fair to disclose that some adventurers (cough, cough) can be a little vain about their appearance while “roughing” it so know that the person writing this will be sharing the ins and outs of sneaking in a compact and lip gloss while assuring your fellow travelers that they are being too high maintenance if they want to bring their I-Pad. Basically, you do not need as much clothing as you think so pack and then make yourself remove a third to half.

1) undergarments – wash these out and hang to dry as you go so as to bring less. And socks – you can wear them more than once a day, it won’t kill you even if it does others.

2) undershirts/tanks/running/string tops

3) reg. t-shirts and PANTS! don’t forget those! a couple pair of jeans will cover it or some lightweight, zip away, hiking pants will do double duty as shorts.

4) long sleeve shirt – investing in a lightweight yet warm camping shirt is great however this adventurer has never done it. It’s been Salvation Army to the rescue anytime clothing is needed.

5) 1 pair of hiking boots, 1 pair of flip flops – that’s right, breathe and chant your way through the stress, you can do this.

6) beanie or stocking cap and gloves if it will be cold

7) couple pair of shorts and a swimsuit

8) sleepwear – leggings, long johns if cold.

9) toiletries – combine with your fellow travelers, as you only need one tube of toothpaste for the group and then stash a small makeup bag if it pleases you.

Now here is the kicker. Wear your bulky items on the plane so as to save on precious room. Don your hiking boots and pack the flip-flops.

And now we want to finish up with an idea for you on cost comparison. We recently checked prices for late summer lodging in, near, and not so near the Grand Canyon and here are the results. Also be aware that popular haunts will produce mighty crowds. If you skip camping and desire a hotel/motel, you are encouraged to seek out off-season travel and/or midweek for some pretty significant savings over peak season weekends.

First off – Lodging within the park is not terribly expensive (Bright Angel a little over $80 per night to Kachina at a bit under $200 a night) however you need to book 13 months out. The link for all 5 lodges is located in the Grand Canyon article.

Next up – Outside the park. On A Dime checked for August 18-21st and found that rooms are almost sold out and priced anywhere from  approx. $100 and up, per night, a few miles from the park entrance to a little less than $100 a night at a distance of 50+ miles from the entrance. In this price range expect no frills.

Finally – Camping at Mather is $18 per night (plus booking fee) and there are currently a number of open sites. Desert View has 50, first come/first serve sites for $12 per night (yes, you read that right). 7 night maximum. These sites fill early in the day and check-in is 11:00am.

To wrap this up, we are talking 3 nights hotel/motel at $300-$600+ and it can go up dramatically if you want mints on the pillows.

3 nights camping $36-$54. Bring the mints and some battery powered holiday lights for next to nothing.

Go ahead, double these figures it if you want to truly relax in this epic beauty and stay 6 nights. $600-$1,200 and up or $72-$108

Finally, we here at On A Dime want to add that often we’ve camped until the last night and then thrown down some bank for a bath tub and the mints. This always has us in a state of gratitude for the simple things in life like hot water and a blow dryer.

If you have questions, feel free to connect and we’ll do our best to get you the answers and we hope you try out destination camping and find it financially freeing and soul nourishing.

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