Making a Thrifty Small Summer Vacation

charlie_imageWhen I was 14 years old my cousin took me on my first camping trip in lower Minnesota along the Des Moines River. It was an experience that changed my life significantly.

During my first trip we got to roast smores, cook Dinty Moore stew over the open flame, tell ghost stories, sleep in a cool tent, wake up and make pancakes, bacon, and fresh black coffee over the fire. By the end of our trip my clothes smelt like smoke, and I was sleep deprived and completely drained. The whole experience was hard to put into words how much fun it was, but all I can say it was about the experience and ambiance.
thrifty vacations

Fast forward 25 years, and now I’m a dad of three young boys (11, 7, and 6), and got to go camping with them this weekend! Even though I’m 39 years old I think enjoy the experience more than my kids, because it brings back memories and smells of my childhood experiences. It wasn’t about how much I received in terms of material possessions, but was more about the experience.




This past weekend I spent two days at two different KOA sites in Iowa and South Dakota. My boys and I (left mom at home to relax) ventured down the interstate about an hour away and setup camp. During the first night we got to cook hot dogs and smores over the camp fire and chill out away from the city lights. It was just nice to get away from all the distractions of city life and spend time with my boys. I spent a total of $63 for two nights at different KOAs and for me it wasn’t about being thrifty. It was about offering my kids a different experience that isn’t about things, but about quality time. I got a chance to show them that they matter to me, and I didn’t need to spend a ton of money on them to realize this.

Over the weekend I realized why I enjoyed camping so much. Here are a few of my reasons for going thrifty in camping with my kids:

Having real conversations

Camping time gives you a chance to sit around a campfire and just talk. You find yourselves just starring into the fire and joking, talking, and conversing about life. When else do you get to get away and do something like this?

Disconnecting from technology

Shutting off the electronics and disconnecting from the outside world feels so freeing! You wouldn’t think that it does, but shutting off my cell phone and not letting my kids play on their devices opens up so many conversations.

Waking up to 50 degrees

Love the chill of the air all around me in the morning! Love it!! I love snuggling up in my sleeping bag, on the hard ground, and clinging to every last blanket and pillow. It is like you are in your own little cocoon in the tent and you don’t want to come out!

Making breakfast over the fire

This weekend I made pancakes, bacon, eggs, and coffee over the fire. My first few pancakes I completely burnt, because the griddle was too hot, but all the kids were saying that “these are the best pancakes ever!” I had to laugh! I’d never seen so much burnt crust before on a pancake in my life, but my oldest gobbled down three large pancakes, and kept the praises coming! Plus I don’t know what it is about coffee over a campfire. It just tastes different, in a good way, after it has percolated over the fire. I can’t get enough of it!

Have you gone camping with your family? What do you like most about the experience? What thrifty vacation ideas do you have for this summer that is more about creating memories, then about gaining “things”? I’d love to hear from some of our readers on what you are doing to create memories for your family or your camping experiences. 

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