It’s taken us a while, but we’ve finally calculated how much we spent on camping in the US and Canada during our first year on the road. We made 100 stops in the first 12 months and planned to spend an average of $25 a night. We ended up spending $28.60 a night, so we were pretty close!
This included around a month of free camping in Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites, casino parking lots, one truck stop and the back yards of friends and family.
The Bureau of Land Management sites, where we had spectacular landscapes all to ourselves, were our favorite camping spots of all. We would have stayed in a lot more of these, had we not been on a one-year trip around the country that took in many expensive cities and other popular tourist areas. We also needed pretty constant phone reception for work. Although we stayed in some BLM sites with great phone reception, that doesn’t apply to all of them.
If we had just aimed for the best free camping around the country, where it was neither too hot nor too cold to camp off the grid, the map of our route would have looked very different to the one below. We might have avoided the eastern US, for example. Although we have found excellent free camping at state-run water management areas in Florida, the majority of sites that allow free camping, including Bureau of Land Management and National Forest sites, are out west.
At the other end of the scale, we stayed in two private campgrounds that cost over $60 a night. One of those was in the Florida Keys, where it’s nearly impossible to reserve a spot in a state park unless you book months ahead, and all the private campgrounds are expensive.
The other one was near Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. That was the second stop of our trip when we were still complete newbies and didn’t realize that you needed to book ahead to snag a good campground near a national park. The third major outlier was the $150 we spent to stay in a hotel in Denver (with Sonny the cat) while our trailer was having some warrantee work done.
In between the completely free sites and the pricey private sites, we’ve stayed in national parks, national forests, national seashores, Army Corp of Engineers campgrounds, state parks, regional parks and city parks for $8 per night and up.
A big shout out goes to the city park in Torrington, Wyoming, which offers water and electric hook ups for $10 a night! State parks, which often include water and electric hook ups, are also excellent value for money, compared to private campgrounds in the same area, with some pretty gorgeous scenery thrown in.
We've also found that some camping memberships pay for themselves very quickly if you're traveling full time. We received 10% off several campgrounds because of our Good Sam membership, which we got for free when we bought our trailer at Camping World, but the best deal by far was the $40 we spent on a Passport America annual membership, which gave us 50% off Passport America’s network of campgrounds, including one of our favorite spots of the year: Mount Desert Narrows Camping, near Acadia National Park in Maine. That alone saved us well over $1000 on campground costs in 12 months. Thanks to Passport America, we stayed in a lot of great campgrounds with full hook ups (water, sewer and electric) for around $15 a night.
We’ve also relied on Campendium to find the best camping around the country, free or otherwise. The campground reviews on the Campendium website, which include details about the cell phone service available for different networks, have been invaluable. Now that we’re not traveling like crazy from A to B to C, we need to write some Campendium reviews to help other campers out.
Clearly there have been lots of other costs associated with this trip, but considering some of the expensive cities and other tourist destinations we have visited, $28 a night on camping seems a pretty good deal. We'd love to hear what other people usually pay for camping, if anything at all! Below are some photos, in no particular order, of some of our most memorable camping spots from our first year on the road.
Kathryn Tully and Shane Sesta are a married couple, one American and one Brit, who are spending a year traveling across America and writing about their discoveries. Sonny is their rescue cat and fried chicken aficionado.