On Camping, or, A Lesson in Cost-Per-Use

A blended family can sometimes mean a big family, which means that everything, including vacations, is more expensive. So when Tyler joined the cub scouts, I was psyched when people told me that camping trips were a super-cheap way to vacation with the family.

Turns out those people are DIRTY, DIRTY LIARS.

We took our first family camping trip last November, with the Cub Scouts. We had neither the money nor the inclination to invest in camping gear before we knew whether it was something we really enjoyed. So we started small – sleeping bags. Cheap ones. But there are five of us, so even a $20 sleeping bag yields a $100 investment when you’re outfitting the whole family. We borrowed a tent, made do with two flashlights, and brought an air mattress we already owned. The air mattress lasted 20 whole minutes before puncturing and deflating. We’ve subsequently bought sleeping pads, a lantern, a cooler, and a few other items, but we still don’t own a tent or any cooking equipment. 

Grin and Rough It.

Even if you seek out deals and steals, the up-front investment for “comfortable” camping can be signficant. I’m not talking a portable Taj Mahal, but a camp stove and cookware, a folding table, a decent cooler, etc. can really add up if you try to buy all at once. Then there is upper-level camping, which involves trailers and canopies and full kitchens and lots and lots and lots of money.  

Most definitely not our kitchen.

The cost-per-use of these items over time is a factor, certainly. And I feel we’ve been pretty smart about buying only what we need, a bit at a time. But there’s still a bit of sticker-shock from these “super-cheap” vacations.   


Last weekend we took the kids camping with the Cub Scouts in Pensacola, Florida. We were over there for the Blue Angels Homecoming air show. Both the air show and admission to the (absolutely spectacular) Naval Aviation Museum are free that day, and the scouts got to use a campsite free of charge as well. Even so, the “free” vacation ended up costing us a couple hundred dollars in gas and food. Grrrr.

Go ahead. Hum the theme to "Top Gun."

All three of the kids love these Cub Scout camping trips – this is our third – but for very different reasons.

Hollyn, the oldest, loves camping trips because it means an extended play date with two of her friends (who are scout siblings). She spent most of last weekend attached at the hip to D____, whose status as Queen Bee of the Campsite was secured by the fact that she had an iPhone, which was always out and playing YouTube videos, and drank coffee. D___ is in fifth grade. She also wears leggings as pants. Soooo, yeah.

Jensen loves following Hollyn around like a puppy, getting filthy dirty, and running around the campsite. She is energized by other people – she takes their energy and somehow multiplies it, until she practically vibrates with excitement in groups.

Almost every time I saw Tyler last weekend, he was walking through the campsite with another scout, just talking. One time I overheard him discussing the relative advantages of each side during the Civil War. Seriously. He likes running around too, but only for short bursts. Of the three kids, he’s the only one who seems to enjoy hanging out with us for any length of time. The girls are more eager to play with their friends, which I think is pretty positive for them – they’re self-confident and not needy. (Downside – I hardly have any pictures of them from this trip!)

As for me, I think camping is… okay. I like sitting around a fire, and have gotten used to sleeping outside/on the ground. I’m learning to make tasty food (foil pack fajitas are my current favorite), and campfire coffee is perfectly acceptable. I don’t think I’ll ever be a Nature Girl, but I think I can make it work for me.

As with so much else in life, coffee helps:

My personal Juan Valdez.


1 Comment

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One response to “On Camping, or, A Lesson in Cost-Per-Use

  1. gail brent

    I wish we could unload all our camping stuff on you…..unfortunately, we gave it away years ago. I’m thinking about your Dad as I read this post.
    Think he could spice up your camp meal cuisine:)

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