Back to the Wilderness on a Budget

I have camped since I was 19. I always loved it, but once I met Dan… 

Let me put it this way, he always says, “I’m a 5-star hotel type guy.” He had been spoiled after years of working around the world in his career. Staying in some incredible places at fabulous hotels around the world. Which his clients paid for. At one hotel he stayed, before the pandemic, the room staff folded up the dirty clothes he left tossed around the room. Dirty underwear and all!

I have been able to camp in some great places, with great people, while having wonderful experiences. He hadn’t had that chance. His camping experience was a drunken, teenager camping experience. At that age, you could sleep anywhere, on anything. 

Over the last two years, I have been reintroducing Dan to camping. I had missed being in the great outdoors. I craved it. We started by going places we could still plug in for electricity and had water at the sites. I wanted to get back a bit more to the basics, but with an air mattress. When you are old enough to hear your bones pop when you roll over in bed, you want an air mattress. After a few very successful trips around the area, I decided it was time to step up the game. It wasn’t backpacking but for us, in our shape, which is a couch potato shape, at least it was off-the-grid car camping. 

Several years ago I found an app called Hipcamp. Here is a link for Hipcamp. If you use that link you receive $10 off your first booking and I receive credits as well. It is like an “Uber” of camping. You can find places to camp that are on private land, farms, and spaces. You can go glamping, all the way down to primitive camping. Price points vary as well. I found a location outside Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio, located outside the tiny town of Shawnee, Ohio, whose heyday was in the late 1800s. 

We are talking Big Foot sightings are rampant in this area as to locals and legends. No joke either. They are having a festival this summer in another town over. Here is a link to info on the festival

The campsite I found off Hipcamp was only $20 a night for primitive camping. We gathered firewood from around the property, a huge expense at most sites was adverted. Many times we can go through $20-$30 of wood a night if we buy wood. It is an easy expense to rack up. One I almost always forget about. I do not recommend bringing your wood due to many state regulations about transporting wood, even within the state. This is all due to invasive bugs that have come into our areas. 

If you are not familiar with primitive camping, it means you have a place to set your tent, nothing else. No bathrooms. No showers. No electricity. No water. You dig a hole for the restroom or use a bucket (which I do and have tips for a later time) and pack your waste out. Bring water for drinking and washing. Use a converter from the car to blow up the double-high twin air mattresses, if you are close to your car.

We, meaning I dragging him along, decided we would go camping the weekend of my birthday in mid-September. It was my birthday after all! One of my favorite activities to do. Days are warmer, nights are perfect for a roaring fire and snuggling. The person we rented the camping spot, via HipCamp, had purchased several hundred acres on the border of the Ohio State Forest in that area. We were the only ones around. 

It was fantastic camping next to one of the most serene little lakes. It was almost mystical how peaceful it was. The fog would rise up off the lake in the morning, bringing to mind a mythical sword rising up, out of the water. The mind could wander and make up a story there. 

Traveling on a dime, we made this our cheapest camping trip to date. We live 170 miles from Shawnee. We made it back and forth with a tank of gas, including running around to a few sites in Hocking Hills such as Ash Cave pictured below. 

We also decided not to go grocery shopping for the trip. Instead, use only food from the pantry, plus the freezer. That helped keep the cost WAY down. I have a horrible habit of buying enough food for a family of food for 2 weeks when I do a camp shop. Every snack food in the store I will buy is my MO. It adds up to $150 later…  

Our only real expense this trip, other than the campsite, was some Ole Smokey Apple Pie Moonshine and Bourbon (I am a Kentucky woman after all) and a case of bottled water.

Over the years I have purchased equipment which means costs even out over time. I make sure to purchase quality items that may cost more but last longer and don’t need replacing as often and don’t waste money needing to replace an item.

I had purchased a new tent in the spring of last year. I returned the first tent not liking it and decided on a Colman tent, this one, Coleman Dark Room Skydome Camping Tent from Amazon. Several things I love about this tent:

  • Dark Room Technology! Dan is a late sleeper and most tents do not block the light at all. This one does! Great for late sleepers. You also can’t see shadows at night if the light is on inside the tent. 
  • It is a larger inside area tent. We fit 2 twin mattresses in the tent with plenty of space to move around. Great for if it does rain, you can pull things off the sides of the tent.
  • Dan is almost 6′ and can stand up in this. No hunching over!

We had a ball that weekend enjoying nature in its prime. We had no cell phone reception so we couldn’t play on our phones. It was only us, no distractions. The skies were clear enough and far enough from light pollution, that we could see the Milky Way, unusual for this area. We through our fishing lines in the lake, with little luck of catching anything than a buzz from drinking and us sitting there catching up with each other. The owner said he will be stocking it with fish this year. We drank moonshine till we howled our best Bigfoot impressions. It was a perfect weekend together. 

Altogether, the costs look like this:

Campsite: $40 for two nights.

Beverages to drink: $45 (much cheaper if we didn’t have alcohol. $4 for a case of water)

Camp gear: Already owned.

Fishing Gear: Already owned. No fishing license is needed in that location, check local guidelines. 

Food: Already had from a normal, weekly shopping trip.

Gas: $35 (fall of 2021)

Wandering State Park: Ohio State Parks are free to go into for the day.

In the area is free camping (this site is one way to find sites). On our next trip, I may scout for those spots first. The issue with spots such as that, spots usually are a first-come, first-served system. You need to prepare for plans A, B, or C. You may have to pay for a spot if all the free spots are filled. 

Camping during the pandemic became an “in” thing again. People came out of their homes into nature to get out of the house and away from others. Estimates of bookings for camping up 400% last year. With a bit of planning, camping can be a great choice for people and families on a budget. You can pick an RV park with all the amenities, down to finding a patch of flat ground in the middle of the mountains, all dependent on your budget. One of the best parts about camping is we always seem to come away with stories of our adventures that last a lifetime. 

I do plan on more tips and tricks in the future for making your camping trips more enjoyable on a budget. Keep tuned!

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