How many summers do you have left with your kids at home? I’ve only got 5 summers with my oldest and not that many more with my youngest. I want to make the most of every moment. The clock is ticking away.
But I know how to slow it down! A meandering summer camping trip with nature-packed parks and wildlife spotting along the way. Spending time around the campfire. And road trips are the ultimate family bonding experience.
So when our #playoutdoors friend, Mel, from YellowstoneTrips.com asked Debi’s family and my family to join her for camping in the San Juan Islands of Washington State — I answered “YES!”
But, wait. How are we gonna pull this off? Driving up the California and Oregon Coasts and to the Orcas Islands in Washington State AND back is going to be a 2700 mile journey! That’s like going from here to DC! Mel is the most experienced camper of our little group, but we’re only spending 3 nights with her after we’ve already spent 9 nights on the road.
Oh, and did I mention our husbands won’t be able to join us for the whole trip? All of our guys are super hard-working and can’t spend all their 2015 vacation time getting to and from our destination. So us moms and kids are on our own. (But we’ve called in reinforcements, so there will be a group of moms and kids caravaning our way north.) Then the guys will join us for the islands and the drive back.
The first step in planning was figuring out how to budget for a family camping trip from California to Washington.
Our budget for overnight stays and gas:
- Food costs will be the same as at home, but maybe a little more if we have some special restaurant stops.
- Campground reservations are $21 to $35 per night at mostly state parks with $8 to $11.50 booking fees. Estimated $500 on campsites over 17 nights. ($30/day)
- 2700 miles divided by 18mpg (conservative estimate – probably closer to 20/22 mpg highway) = 150 gallons of fuel divided by 15 gallon tanks = 10 full tanks of fuel +/- 2 tanks for sidetrips = Estimated $600 total on fuel. ($35/day)
- Right now we’re assuming we own — or can borrow — all the gear. But stay tuned for the nitty-gritty costs when it comes to gear. We’ll cover it in a future post.
So that comes out to about $1200-$1500 for a two and a half week tent camping trip. (I always like to pad my budget with a little extra.) Pretty much under $100/night! Especially since most campsites allow 2 cars and up to 8 people – so Debi and I can split the total nightly cost. If we do that, we can almost get away with under $1000 for the whole trip.
That still doesn’t answer “how” we’re going to pull this off.
Let the research begin! As far as I could tell – these are our options for camping:
Our trip is planned at the height of summer, so you have to realize the price ranges listed are during the most expensive season and might be appreciably less if you travel during the shoulder season.
- Tent camping. This is the way we’ve always done it – although we’re far from being experienced campers and we’ve NEVER camped this long with the kids. Did I mention my family never camped when I was a kid? It’s inexpensive — because we already have most of the gear or know who to borrow it from — and we know the tricks to make this fun. However, we’re changing campgrounds almost every night to cover the distance and it will take time to set up and break down camp every day. Again, it’s okay, because we’re only driving 3 to 4 hours each day since we’ll only have 1 adult driver per car for most of the trip. The car will definitely be stuffed with gear during the daytime.
- Traditional RVs and Camper Rentals. Gas guzzlers. It would add some expense to the trip. They only sleep 3 to 6 people and would cost $4000 to $6000. We’d need 2 RVs for our 2 families once the dads join us. That’s over $235/night each and doesn’t cover the gas, camping reservations, or food. The size will be challenging for us and not easy to park at friends’ houses.
- ShareMyRVRental.com. Same fuel cost issue – and all the issues of the traditional RVs/Campers except a bit lower cost. I feel a lot less confident in the reliability of the equipment since it’s personally maintained. And I feel like I’d be taking on more risk with my own insurance.
- Small Camper Van Rentals, like JUCY or Escape Campervans. Seats 4, but only sleeps 2-3. So we’d still need to bring a tent for the kids or the adults – or pay extra for a rooftop tent. Has the advantage of a kitchen set-up which would definitely make things easy on us. This comes out to about $2300-$2500 each for our trip which brings the nightly cost to about $135/night. Big savings over a bigger RV, but maybe not that much easier than tent camping for the cost difference to make sense?
- Borrow from a friend. A great idea! But we don’t have friends with RVs or campers. Darn! And it still wouldn’t solve the “don’t want to drive a BIG vehicle” and additional fuel cost issue.
TIP: Miles cost extra. Don’t forget to calculate miles when making reservations for a camper or RV. It can add up. And watch for other added costs to the “base rate.” Don’t make final arrangements or pay anything until you understand ALL the charges and add-ons.
Read Debi’s awesome post with her focus on the Solo Parenting Road Trip Adventure! Share your advice with us!