Camping for Beginners

There’s one more month left of summer vacation, and families everywhere are looking for a frugal way to get away for a weekend. Camping is the perfect solution! Unfortunately, if you’re like me, you didn’t grow up in a camping family.

When I first got married, I didn’t know anything about camping. I had gone twice with my neighbor’s family when I was about 8 years old. Needless to say, at the time I wasn’t thinking about taking notes, so I’d be able to camp proficiently in my adult years.

Over the years, however, I’ve learned a bit about camping, and it’s something my whole family enjoys. So if you’re a novice camper, there’s hope for you! Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

1. Camp with Another Family

I learned a lot about camping by camping with others. Fortunately every church we’ve attended has run some sort of family camp, and that’s where I learned how to camp.

If you camp with experienced friends, you’ll find that they’re more than happy to show you the ropes.

2. Try a Yurt Your First Time Out

If you’d like to give tent camping a try, but you’re worried it might be a bit much, try a yurt. Here in Oregon, you can rent a yurt for $29 a night. They’re basically big tents with wood floors, furnished with a couple of beds.

You still cook outside on a barbeque or campfire, but you don’t have to worry about setting up the tent and blowing up the air mattresses, and then finding and patching the holes in the air mattresses. Not that I would know anything about that…

3. Plan Easy Meals

Your first time camping, don’t try to be a campfire gourmet. I still remember the time my husband and I went camping on our first anniversary. I had a great meal of steak and baked potatoes planned. The steak was charred and the baked potatoes weren’t baked.

No, it’s better to take foods you can heat and eat. Cereal and muffins are good for breakfast. Sandwiches are great for lunch. And stews that you can just heat up are great for dinner. Consider making some of the food ahead of time and just packing it in your cooler. That makes for quick and easy food preparation.

4. Use Paper Plates

Normally I’m not a huge fan of paper plates, but one of the hardest things for me to learn about camping was how to effectively do the dishes. It’s harder than it would seem.

If you use paper plates, you don’t have to worry too much about dishes. You can become an expert at other camp-related things, like keeping the floor of the tent clean, before you tackle subjects such as dishes.

5. Bring a Big Pot, if You Attempt to Wash Dishes

Seriously. You’re going to need something to heat up the water you’ll need to was the dishes. I use my big canner. I fill it up at the water fountain and stick it on the campfire while I’m fixing the meal. When it’s hot, I dump it into a dishwashing tub with some detergent.

Then I fill the canner again and heat more water, while we eat. This water goes into another dish tub for rinsing.

6. Fireplace Logs are Great

I’m going to admit something. Even though I’ve been camping for over 10 years now, I still can’t build a campfire to save my life. A couple of years ago, a friend gave me some great advice. She told me to buy those 3 hour fireplace logs. You light the paper, and the log burns for three hours. It doesn’t get easier than that. It’s also easier to haul a few fireplace logs than it is to haul tons of firewood, which helps if packing space is an issue.

7. Don’t Rough It

There are plenty of campgrounds that offer flushing toilets and hot showers. Some even offer firewood for sale, so you don’t have to chop your own. If this is your first time camping, I highly recommend you look for such a campground. There will be plenty of time to rough it. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself the first time out.

Do you have any tips for beginning campers?


By , on Jul 21, 2009
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. niky:

    Each Whale Watch tour is a unique experience and the sightings differ. Giant Sperm Whales are the stars of the show and year-round residents. A usual Whale Watch tour may encounter New Zealand Fur Seals, pods of Dusky dolphins and the endangered Wandering Albatross. Find out why the Whale Watch tour is such an wonderful tourist attraction see more theadventuretravel.

  2. Becky:

    Thanks for the advice.

    This summer my family will be going camping the last week of August (the last week before school starts again Sept. 1). Since hotels are so expensive over here in Europe (something like $160 Euros a night for the places I was checking into in Denmark and Germany for 4 people and we have 5 now), I told my kids it was “camping or nothing” and they jumped for joy. Really, really excited.

    So, we’re heading to Denmark and Germany with tents, sleeping bags, a bunch of canned drinks (cuz they’re much cheaper here in Poland than in Germany and we like them) and some year long passes purchased from Merlin Entertainment. (Legoland, Heide Park, aqua park, etc.) for a week of relaxation and fun.

    I had to decide what was most important. For us, the chance to go to some fun places was far more important than where we sleep. What we eat will be of much less importance than if were a vacation designed for “me”. It is all about deciding priorities. We did go to Legoland in ’97 but my 11-year-old was not yet born, so he specifically requested going there so he can remember it. My oldest sons have that memory and my youngest one wants it as well.

    We’ve heard that the campgrounds in western Europe are pretty developed as well. Instead of 160 euros a night, our family should be able to go for 35–50 euros a night (still high to me, but it’s what they charge).

  3. Hi, I love all the camping tips, I am new to camping
    and all your advice helps. I also enjoy your radio show frugalcoast2coast.
    Take care and have a good week:)

  4. Best camping breakfast: smoky links cooked over the fire with English muffins (can skewer and toast too if you’re a bit talented). Stick a slice of cheese on the 2-3 smoky links to melt it right at the end. With a flat surface grill, you can add a fried egg. Sooo delish!

  5. bob:

    My landlord gave me his old camper top which fits my truck perfectly. It lives under the deck most of the time, but when we go camping, we just put in on the truck and toss in an extra futon mattress we have, some old blankets, and whatever food and stuff we need. All we have to do is park and wallah-instant camper. Plus it stays warm.

  6. Tania:

    To make an inexpensive campfire starter, take a paper egg carton, fill each section half full with dryer lint and then cover with meltd paraffin wax. The wax coated paper lights quickly and it burns long enough to get your campfire started as long as the wood is not green. This is completely safe to cook over. Also, in addition to bug spray invest in a citronella candle– it helps to keep the bugs out of your camp.

  7. Rebecca in Michigan:

    Hi, I just received word from duraflame and this is what they wrote me about the firelogs.

    Thank you for your interest in our products. Our warning is placed on the firelog wrapper for the reason that the product was not designed to function as a cooking fuel. Generally, the types of solid fuel used for cooking produce coals, which emanate heat over a period of time, and cooking is conducted by exposing the food directly to the heat generated by the coals. Our product only burns with flames and does not generate coals which emanate heat in a satisfactory manner for cooking. We also had concerns about how the by-products of combustion of our firelogs would affect food products. As the product was not intended to be used as a cooking fuel, rather than conduct extensive analytical testing to determine the impact cooking over our products, we chose to advise consumers not to use the product as a cooking fuel. Our position remains that we will not advise people to cook over firelogs until such extensive scientific analysis is conducted and at the present time, we have no plans to initiate such testing.

  8. Rebecca in Michigan:

    We bring scrape wood for our wood. That way we don’t have to worry about purchasing wood. We have our own construction business and have lots of scrape wood around. We also take the nails out so there is nothing for us to worry about with the next camper and campground. Maybe stop by local homes that are being worked on and ask for their scrape wood.

    We also use our crockpot while camping. It is a great thing to use. Just need to plan ahead. If you are not using the crockpot for dinner you can warm up water for the dishes.

  9. Good tips! I agree with the bug spray from the previous commenter…we almost got eaten alive when we were camping earlier this year (even with bug spray!). The yurts sound like a great option for beginners. I’ve never seen them in MI, although there are rustic cabins available at most campgrounds.

    You might want to check the fireplace logs to make sure that you’re allowed to cook over them (open cooking like hot dogs on a stick). We were going to use them once and noticed you weren’t supposed to cook anything with them. We ended up going to the park in the campground and cooking our food over the charcoal grills. We’re also not allowed to transport firewood in MI, due to a bug disease, so everyone has to purchase firewood at the campground.

    I’ve never done it myself, but others we’ve camped with have made their dinners in their crockpots. All you need is electricity and an extension cord and dinner will be ready at the end of the day. We have a propane stove and grill that we use for cooking and heating water for the dishes.

    If you have small kids, check the campground map before you book to make sure you are fairly close to the bathrooms. Our last trip, we had no choice on sites, and we were about a 1/4 mile each way from the bathroom…at least I walked off the extra camping cookies I ate!

  10. Great tips. Unfortunately, I hate to be outside, so camping isn’t something I would enjoy doing. DD and dh often camp out in our back yard, which is even cheaper. :-)

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