Rule Number Two
The morning we were staying at Ron and Val's, I took a walk bright and early. We had a somewhat slow morning with Val's family, sharing a cup of coffee after breakfast and a visit on the deck. Eventually we got moving and continued on our way. We already had one pair of broken flip-flops, so we stopped at a second hand store in Bozeman before continuing to West Yellowstone, MT. It's very hard to stop at a thrift store on vacation, because there is just so little room in the vehicle for anything extra. There were two pairs of flip-flops in the sizes we general need, so I bought both to have a spare. Flip-flops don't take up too much room and they do have a tendency to break at rather inconvenient times.
We arrived early enough to relaxedly set up our campsight.
This is rule number two for the Vacation on a Dime method. Tent camp. Camp cheap. Camp primitive. But buy tents with good rainflies. Trust me. Really. It can make all the difference in the world between a successful and unsuccessful camping experience.
You will have to develop a routine that works for you. Ours took several years to perfect, but I think we've got it now. You will need to spend a little money on camping equipment, but not all at once. As your family grows, you can add on to your equipment. You can find many things at yard sales, thrift stores, and end of season clearance. We've also gotten some things through the local radio classifieds if you have access to them where you live. We've done "wanted" ads through that venue several times, and almost always have more responses than we need.
Please understand that for us, a campsight involves quite a bit of setting up. This time, because we were in Bear Country, we only used three tents. Under less risky circumstances, we'd have put a couple more middle sized kids in their own tent, but we wanted the youngest middles with others this time. So we set up only three tents. We also decided against the screen tent this year, but sometimes we use that, too. Jeremy wasn't with us this year; he prefers to sleep in a screen rather than in a tent. We also use it if there is little shelter from the sun, or when mosquitoes are bad.
We have a rolling camp table, since we don't really all fit at most picnic tables anymore. This was purchased with a Cabela's gift card from someone who wanted to give our family a treat they knew we could use, but wouldn't really want to spend the money on regularly. We also drag along two small folding tables, one for a food prep table, or fireside cooking table; the other for a washing up station. Since we try to find the cheapest place possible to camp, this often means pit toilets. So I always have a bag of water on the washing up table, with bar soap along side, and a towel hanging above.
As far as other camping supplies, we have a camp stove that we use sometimes, and Joe's become an expert fire cooker. And for emergencies, we always have a sterno candle along for which we have a little frame that folds flat; but when set up, it is like a stove burner. We have a large aluminum stock pot we use for heating water. It's filled after each meal and sits on the fire grate almost all the time so we almost always have hot water for washing dishes after a meal.
As an aside, since we Americans don't often need to know this skill any more, I'm going to share this hot water tip. When water is boiling, it takes only a scant one part hot water to two parts cold, to be as hot as I can stand it for washing dishes. I can't tell you the number of times I've put in too much hot and have to dump some out to make room for enough cold.
We have a large tote bin in which we store all our camping supplies. It's quite a large bin and in some vehicles it's hard to find a place to stash it. I might opt for two smaller ones, were I to do it again. In this van, for instance, the cargo space is such that we have to put it between the two front seats, the long way. So there is no leg room in the middle seat behind. We just need to make sure the person sitting there is a carseat child who won't need the leg room.
Within the bin we have most everything we need to camp. Make a list of what you need, and look for those items second hand or on clearance. We have dishes, two sets of cooking pots, utensils, flatware, clothesline and pins, needle and thread, leather gloves, hatchet, dish soap, fly paper rolls, bungie cords, tarps and extra rope, salt and pepper and matches, and a bag of towels, kitchen towels, wash rags, and pot holders, ...each year when we're done camping, I make a note if anything needs to be replaced or if we've noticed anything else we could have used. I also make a note of those things we don't store with the camping supplies, but always need to remember, such as batteries for the air mattress inflater thing.
One warning on the tightwad camping system...it may seem to be a good idea to camp along the way to somewhere, and it probably works for some people. But we have found it immensely frustrating to try to break camp, pack away all the dewy stuff, and get everyone on the road in enough time to make it worth the money saved. Also rolling into a campsight late at night, having to set up three or four tents, and maybe even fix supper as it's dark or getting dark, is kind of a bummer.
On the other hand, when visiting others who may not have the patience or space for a group of visitors the size of our family, we've found it works well to find a campsight nearby and use it as a homebase when visiting. We like to invite friends or relatives over to "our place" for an evening of camp supper and s'mores and story telling.