Camping on a budget

By: Michael Borg, Photography by: Matt Fehlberg and Michael Borg

Sink your teeth into these helpful hints, tricks and techniques that’ll have you out camping longer for less.

Camping on a budget
Ladies and gentleman, it’s time to dust off the camping gear and cut up the credit card as we bring you the best tips and tricks we’ve learnt over the years to slash the cost of camping

Have you noticed how the cost of a few nights camping has crept up? It’s almost at a point where it’s cheaper to book a motel room than to pitch a tent! I mean, even if you already have a decent camper trailer ready to go, the cost of the actual trip can put a family vacation on the back burner for a few months.

So what can you do? Plenty! Ladies and gentleman, it’s time to dust off the camping gear and cut up the credit card as we bring you the best tips and tricks we’ve learnt over the years to slash the cost of camping, and get you out and about more often than you’ve ever imagined.


It’s no secret that fuel is one of the biggest expenses on a trip away. But guess what? Fuel is also the one place you can really save some cash if you’re on a tight budget. Let’s start with the most obvious cost cutter: the fewer kilometres you travel, the more you’ll save on fuel, right? So it makes sense to travel a total distance that won’t break the bank.

But one sure way to get more bang for buck out of your trip is, instead of hightailing 500km in one day and staying for the week, why not find a few free camps on the way to your main camp and stop in for a night or two at each one? You’ll get to see more of this grand country of ours, and you won’t be doing many extra kays either, so it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to do it.


1 Shaving just 10km/per hour off your highway speed can save you a fortune in the long run, because the faster you drive, the more air resistance is created, which means your engine has to work harder.

2 Take the time to plan your trip properly as unexpected detours and unplanned expenses can really hurt the piggy bank.

3 Carry easy to use maps and up-to-date navigation devices. The less you get lost, the less fuel you’ll use. You’d be surprised at how quickly you can clock up the kays when you’re lost and driving around in circles.

4 Reduce wind resistance where possible. You can do this by limiting what you put on your roof racks, and by using a wind deflector where possible. 

5 Fuel is usually much more expensive in regional towns, so plan your fuel stops around major towns when possible to take advantage of cheaper fuel prices. A long-range fuel tank can allow you greater flexibility when it comes to when and where you have to stop for fuel, too.

6 It takes a lot of effort to air-condition a cabin in the heat especially when you’re towing a load, so use a windscreen shade at camp and open up the windows to cool it down before setting off down the road.

7 Finally, run adequate tyre pressures and keep your tow tug regularly tuned. Not only will it reduce the risk of a costly repair down the track but you’ll also save on fuel as you go. Even something as simple as old spark plugs can impact the fuel efficiency of your rig.


With camp fees ranging anywhere from $5-$30 per person these days, it’s easy to rack up a hefty bill on extended stays. So by utilising free camps, you can extend your stay without it costing any extra. Finding free campsites is fairly easy with the amount of technology available these days. Simply Google ‘free camps’ and they’ll pop right up. You’ll find most campsites with running water and public facilities will incur a camping fee, so if you’re able to be totally self-sufficient, the chances of finding a suitable free camp are bucket loads higher.

Once you’ve got your free campsite sorted, one of the best ways to lower the daily cost of a camping trip, believe it or not, is to lengthen it altogether. Yep, that’s right! It will cost you more per day to go camping for a weekend than it would to go for an entire week. Why? Well, when you’re camping for free the bill fuel bill to and from camp becomes the biggest expense. The cost per day of camping when you don’t use any fuel is very surprisingly minimal.


DIY toilet

There are a heap of DIY camp toilet designs out there that won’t break the budget. One of the easiest is the old milk crate design. Simply cut a hole in the top and attach a toilet seat with a few cable ties.

Home-made shower

One of the easiest camp showers you will come across is a simple metal bucket to warm up the water over the fire and cheap $20 shower pump kit. Or, you can even just bung in a few shower fittings to a PVC pipe and call it a job well done. To help heat the water up, paint it black!


The next thing to look into is what activities are nearby. There’s no point staying at a free campsite if it costs you an arm and a leg to get to the activities. The best places to look are for spots on or close to the water – it just opens up a whole range of cheap and easy options to keep the whole family entertained!

You’ll find any activities the kids enjoy at home will be just as fun, if not more enjoyable, on a camping trip. So bring the bikes, balls, cricket set and your favourite toys! Oh, and if you’re camping near water, make the most of it by bringing a length of rope to string up a Tarzan swing, and an old air mattress or tyre tube to float around on. If you’re a bit DIY savvy, why not help the kids make a raft from a few logs and riverside debris? It might not float for long but you’ll get a few hours of peace and quiet out of it!


Be firewood wise

Wood can cost a fortune if you have to buy it. A good idea is plan where to collect firewood on the way to your destination. You can even keep a stockpile at home and take a few good logs with you. If you’ve got plenty of good firewood, you won’t have to cook over a gas stove either.

If you have the room at home, you’ll often find free firewood advertised on sites such as Gumtree, especially after a storm. You’ll need to stack it up and dry it out for about a year, though, for it to burn at its best.

Low-cost meals

To keep the grocery bill down, add fillers such as potato and pasta with your meals. It’ll fill the troops up quicker and it costs less! And don’t forget to add dried peas, barley and pulses to your stews and sides either; they’re protein rich so you’ll use less meat, saving you a packet at the till and in cooling costs as well. And while you’re at it, why not chuck some powdered milk into a bag? It’s cheap, weighs very little, is great in damper and can be used in a white sauce for a makeshift meal when stocks are low.

Freeze your meat before you leave so your fridge doesn’t have to work so hard, and stock up on pantry snacks like nuts and dried fruit. It’ll help save your battery supplies and leave you free to camp for longer.

Recycle goods

Before you throw any rubbish out, have a think about what it could be useful for. Things such as milk crates are great for storing the gas bottle or camp oven in, a busted jerry can makes a good bin if you lop the top off it, and old food containers and cans have a million uses around camp, too.

Avoid impulse buys

The absolute worst thing you can do is visit the camping store before a trip away. You’ll spend money on things you really don’t need. If you really have to go, discuss with your mates what they’ve got and what you need to bring, then write a wish list and stick to it.

Split the bill

If you’re camping with others, why not buy your meat in bulk and split the bill? The same can be said for pretty much any and all camp expenses.

Insulate, insulate, insulate

The costs of cooling and heating your camper rack up quick so set up your awnings and throw a silver tarp over the top if you plan to bunker down. While you’re at it chuck in a few sets of thermals, a beanie or a wide brim hat in your luggage to suit to the conditions. You’d be surprised at what a difference the right choice of clothing can make in and around camp.

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Check out the full feature in issue #99 April 2016 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.