Traveling on a tight budget : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

This summer we will be taking our 2 kids to the Black Hills to see mount Rushmore, have fun, and sneak in a little education while we are at it. The trouble is, the pickup is getting to old to make the trip so we will be taking the Honda Civic. That means we will be able to take a tent, a couple of changes of clothes, some pans, an ax, and not much more. Any advice on doing it cheaply?

I figure I won't take food: I can hit a grocery store once the camp is up. It also means I will be doing without the conveniences I have come to rely on in our trips: no ice chest, no spice assortment, no pad under the sleeping bags, no folding chairs (not an essential but they sure feel good when I'm tired: I'm not quite as young as I used to be - we're pushing 50), and a severe shortage of books and toys for the 8 & 9 year old for when they want to keep going and we don't. Any suggestions as to what we should bring in the very limited space left after we pack the essentials???????

-- Terri (, April 01, 2002


Gosh, Terri, could you rent or borrow a small tow behind trailer to stow some of the camping gear in?

-- Elizabeth (, April 01, 2002.

I know what you mean about no pad under your sleepiing bag when we all get a bit older !! Is there any way at all that you could borrow or maybe rent a bigger car or even a camper ?? If you can't get a goods nights sleep and be comfortable you will be miserable the next day and not fun on a vacation for sure !! I never found it a good idea to shop once you have arrived at your vacation spot. Food is usually higher in cost, you use half of your vacation time driving around looking for the cheapest grocery stores etc. I would take as much of my own foods as possible. I use to make menus up at home and use them for meals. Make extra bacon at breakfast for the BTL's at lunch. Take dessert already baked and goodies for the children so not to buy at toursists prices. I did always find a way to take a few extra dollars for a special treat or one dinner out. The best vacation we ever took with our girls was the time when we ended up with only $50 to use to camp with for an entire week and that included camp fees !! We needed repairs on the truck the day we left. We had it so planned out there were no decesions to make and the girls knew their would be no extra money for the souveniers too. They were a big part of planning the meals and activites we would do. ( you can find a lot of free things to do if you look and ask). We still talk about that trip 20 years later !! The most important thing to remember is to enjoy yourselves and your family. The years go by so quickly that you don't remember what you didn't have in money...just the great times !! Good Luck !!!

-- Helena (, April 01, 2002.

A small pack of dehydrated "essentials" such as ramen noodles and home veggies as a bit of home and a few magnetic travel versions of board games for a little tent front quiet time. Even though your "getting away", a game of chess or chinese checkers in the non- conventional environment is very refreshing.

-- Jay Blair in N. AL (, April 01, 2002.


Check out some of the backpacking websites and magazines ( and Backpacker magazine). Not that you are going backpacking, but those folks have got camping with limited cargo space down to a science. Like with all hobbies, some people are real gear-heads and think we all should spend tons of money for the latest toys. But a little bit of searching will find some great "make-do" tips.

We use a lot of dehyrdrated food (home made and store-bought)for all our travel. A few cans of tuna, roast beef and ham can go a long way. Way back when, I also made up our own travel boards and game pieces. Used fabric for the game board so it would fold up into a nice little carry pouch. We used local thrift stores to keep us stocked in fresh reading material. Could always find something to read that usually cost about a quarter. Next stop--donate the already read paperbacks and purchase a couple more.

If it were me, I'd figure out some way to bring some sort of pad for sleeping on. That ground is darn hard--no matter how young any of us used to be, lol.

-- Dee from Illinois (, April 01, 2002.

roll your clothes when you pack, they'll take less space (army training) don't forget the "hidden spaces"-under the seats, glove box, beside the back seat. don't know how a civic is built, pack the clothes in an ice chest, or get a styrofoam (i know-waste, etc.) one when you get there. roll the pad with the sleeping bag? there's ways. dollar general and similar stores have small books and puzzle books etc that travel small. think "outside the box" and you'll find places to take "needed" stuff. enjoy your trip!!!

-- laura (, April 01, 2002.

Don't forget the bug spray! I went up there a few years ago and found a nice camp area near Sherman Lake that charged $9.00 a night. The camp area was closed to traffic at night so you were'nt bothered with noise. The Badlands are close and the Wind Cave is to the south. Seems to be a lot to do when you get there. Have fun!

-- cowgirlone in OK (, April 01, 2002.

I don't see any mention of a car top rack. Is that a possibility? It wouldn't cut the gas mileage as much as anything you could tow-behind would it?

-- Dianne Wood (, April 01, 2002.

Dianne, I agree. There are soft-top cartop carriers now, and even new are worth the price. I've seen discounted ones in the Campmor and Sierra Trading Post catalogs (they are online too). You might be able to borrow one from a friend.

I would really consider at least a small soft-sided collapsible cooler for taking cold drinks and cheese sandwiches to those parks where the cold drinks will be tempting. When you aren't using it it can be tucked away, but when you want it for brief storage, there it will be. It has some real money saving possibilities. Stores aren't always that convenient and when you have two hungry kids.....waiting for dinner can be a cranky time.

You can still take spices/blends by putting them in flat ziplocs to take up minimal room. Place them in among the pans. Limit your personal cleansing items to liquid soap. You can use it to wash your dishes, hair or laundry.

I have had a Civic and it will certainly save you on gas mileage. This will definitely be a test of what is really 'essential' for your family! Good luck.

-- Anne (, April 01, 2002.

legoes!, absolutely , they take up some space, but better than whining kids, ,think inflatable , the inflatable air mattresses for swimming will work under your sleeping bag, and they are cheap , make sure to hit a grocery store before you get too close to rushmore, the tourism industry does jack up prices, have you given any tohught to advertising on here for a camp out at someones place? , or would that not interest you ?

-- Beth Van Stiphout (, April 01, 2002.

hi terri how about putting your sleeping pads and sleeping bags flat on the back seat and let the kids sit on them instead of rolling up can get more cover and pads that away. put everthing else in the floor and around them. as far as the spices pack them in your pots and pans. infact pack everything you can in the pans including clothes or what ever.put something in every little corner and you will be surprised how much you can carry. my husband used to wonder how i could get so much in such a little space.

-- gail akins (, April 01, 2002.

Absolute best tip for traveling with kids: sunflower seeds! Give the kids a big bag and let them spit the hulls at you....entertainment and giggling for hours on end(be sure and shake yourself good when you stop). I make lots and lots of long trip with my kids. Now that they are older the sunflower seed thing has lost it's interest and we have gone to a tape player with headphones. Cushioning for sleeping bags....pine needles.

-- Amanda (, April 01, 2002.

I am a biker so packing everything into as small a place as posible is something I am used to. I use a pool raft for something to put under the sleeping bags they fold flat. Also take canned food square cans pack best. The Black Hills have all kinds of cheap campsites just don't go around Sturgis Bike week eveything goes way up and it takes forever to get anywhere. I would also only take enough clothes for 4 days then go to the laundrymat it will give you more room. Sleepingbags laying on the back seat saves allot of space and you can put the rafts inside them. Don't forget to take a small tarp to put under your tent it will save you from getting soaked if it rains. A cooler would be a good idea to pack your clothes in just put everyones clothes in a different colored bag then you know who's is who's. If you roll clothes you can put in 4 days worth into a gallon and half zip lock bag. I carry all this stuff on a motorcycle so a civic shouldn't be as bad. Also carry 2 pots and one pan in your supplies paper plates don't brake and real spoons and forks save space. Also carry some tools just in case you need them put them in someplace under the hood in a nylon bag zip tied to a fender out of the way. A 8-17 mm wrench set a few screwdrivers, plyers, and vicegrips all fit into a pack 4" round by 8" long and will fit almost anywhere. I do carry all this on a motorcycle and it gets easier everytime you pack it so try it a few times before you leave.

-- Swifty (, April 01, 2002.

How long are you going to be gone? I usually take one large coffe can (to boil water in) and a large plastic 20 oz insulated mug (the little metal sierra cups are cute, but lose heat rapidly) and live mostly on stuff like instant mashed potatoes, soup, ramen, tea, etc., all of which is available at your grocery store. Even some of the things that aren't quite instant you can make in the cup because of its insulating abilities.

Any food tastes better when camping, and a little 6-part spice container (or just spoon some of each spice into a baggie, or save some packages of salt/pepper/ketchup/mayo from a visit to a fast-food place) can perk up ordinary fare.

-- GT (, April 01, 2002.

Pack up your lightweight, but bulky, neccessities and mail them to the PO where you're going (call the postmaster there to find out the correct way to address the box). You can do the same again when it's time to go. Shipping a light box rarely costs much, and even a biggish one reasonably weighty rearely costs more than $20-$30 (if my past Christmas gift boxes are any clue - and those were sometimes on the high-end of things to get them there on time).

-- Soni (, April 01, 2002.

If extra storage space would be a help, I have 2 words for you, Turtle Top. I have used them in the past and they seem to work well for me.

-- Arnold (, April 01, 2002.

For the kids I'd suggest a couple of decks of cards-for playing and building with, a frisbee, a couple of notebooks and crayons or pens or pencils. Lots can be done with the pen and paper.

I remember when we were young mom packing up a shoe box for each of us with paper small toys and snacks to help keep us occupied and the never-ending driving games-I spy, the license plate game, the alphabet game etc...

Have fun on your trip. I want to visit that area someday.

-- Terri in WV (, April 02, 2002.

Big hint on Mt. Rushmore. Been there several times. When you visit the monument, go in the morning. The sun will be on their faces then and it makes for better pictures. While in the area, another good side trip is Devil's Tower (Close Encounters of the Third Kind). If you do go, visit there in the afternoon. From the visitor's center, the sun will be on the "tower" and that also makes for better pictures. I really like that part of the country. The "Badlands" are about an hour east of Rapid City. You should visit Wall's drugstore too.

Hope this helps. Rickstir

-- Rickstir (, April 02, 2002.

For the kids - are they boys or girls? We usually took a friend of my daughter's along with us on vacations; the girls loved jump ropes, jacks, a beach ball to blow up and bat back and forth, and bubble soap and wands for the rest areas and campgrounds. How about a larger book for you to read aloud? Some car games that we all enjoyed included: Aunt Agatha's Cat - you take turns and go all the way through the alphabet, using adjectives to describe Aunt (letter)'s cat; for instance: Aunt Agatha's cat is an angry cat, Aunt Beatrice's cat is a beautiful cat, and so on. Another good game that tests the memory is the picnic game - You start out with the letter A, and go to Z again; I'm going on a picnic and I'm taking apples, the next person would say: I'm going on a picnic and I'm taking apples and bananas - you have to remember all the things that everyone else has said before you. Somehow, Grandpa always managed to get R or T and put in Rolaids or Tums! We also kept track of license plates from the various states, played 20 questions, I Spy and sang innumerable goofy songs. Gee, can I borrow your kids for a trip - I miss all the fun!!

-- Polly (, April 02, 2002.

Terri my wife says. Forget pads get one of the $29 air beds from wal- mart. She had back surgery a bit back. We rolled the bed up and it fit in a pop-corn Christmas Tin can. Sure feels better than our military pads. We changed over to the Dunlop Grand Teton pop-up tents. You can tie them to the roof of a Datsun 310. we bought 2 sleeps 6. Weighs less than 15 pounds. You really can set them up in 2 minutes and take them down in 5 minutes. AS for games ask the kids their imaginations will always surprise you. My seven year old opted for a pair of binoculars over her video games. She traveled well on our trip from NC to Pioneer Villege in Nebraska.

Sheesh all this talk of camping and travel is making me get travel fever.

Thanks Terri..... :o)

-- Kenneth in N.C. (, April 02, 2002.

My 7 year old just finished reading this thread. Now she wants to go Terri. She wants to know where do you guys live and when your going. Nosey ain't she. lol Well that's what I get for teaching her to read. :o)

-- Kenneth in N.C. (, April 02, 2002.

If your car has a trunk you can use it kinda like a luggage rack. Put your sleeping bag pad on it to prevent scrathes and lay your folding chairs on top. use nylon webbing to strap them down. It will make the trip lots more fun for the kids if you are not tired and uncomfortable! Do it for their sakes! LOL kim

-- kim in CO (, April 02, 2002.

I wouldn't go with the cheapie inflatable air matresses--I think you'd be better off with a Therm-a-Rest type pad--they are much sturdier because the inflation area is between the two pads.

Being grouchy/tired from lack of sleep, especially if you're doing the driving, is not worth saving a few bucks.

Also, you don't necessarily need a tent per se, a tarp over your head will work just as well.

-- GT (, April 02, 2002.

I'd advise air mattresses. They are soft and comfortable and insulating and water-proof. You can get a hand-pump, but you really don't need one - you can blow them up enough by mouth. You don't want them hard - you want them soft. Blow them up hard and they're hard. Blow them up 50-67% and they're marvellously comfortable - like water beds except they don't need heating. Air mattresses, a sleeping bag, and a sheet. If it turns cold, use the sheet as an extra layer over the sleeping bag. If it's hot, sleep on top of the bag, with just the sheet as a cover.

Breakfast - mix up instant dried milk, or have fairly new bought milk, and cereal - ideally muesli. Buy a loaf of bread either the previous evening, or that morning. If you have a fire, you can have toast. If not bread is available anyway - put a spread on it (jam, jelly, peanut butter, Vegemite if you should be so privileged as to be able to get it). Follow by fresh fruit (say oranges). For lunch, use the bread to make sandwiches. Some sort of sauce - ketchup or tomato or mustard or whatever. You don't need to put grease on your bread, and that means you don't need to worry about it melting. Maybe boiled eggs, or a can of tuna or corned beef or ham. Tomatoes. Maybe lettuce, or better still something like a small bunch of parsley or basil you'll use up all at once - no waste. Or work your way steadily through a bunch of eschallots or spring onions or chives. For evening meal I'd go with the instant noodles and a can or two of something stirred through - best maybe some sort of canned stew (say braised steak and onions) and canned peas. Even mashed Spam. Some grated parmesan cheese sprinkled over. Maybe canned tuna or salmon, but not too often. Or pasta with a sauce - carbonara or even macaroni and cheese as examples. Eat your main course out of a bowl, rinse it then have dessert out of it. Canned fruit slices for dessert - pineapple or peaches or pears or apricot halves or chopped mango or fruit salad or whatever you've got there. Maybe even keep a mix in a bag and make it a lucky dip - different child each night reaches in and pulls out an unseen tin - that's dessert. Fresh fruit always available all day every day. Don't do this cold - expose the family to the possibilities often enough beforehand that they're habituated in advance, and it's nothing new to them. Use your judgement - I'd be inclined to tell them "it's holiday food, and we're practising - we need to be able to eat this to go on holidays"; but everyone is different.

Don't forget the footwells as luggage space. This is where you keep the food and spare clothes. The idea about spreading stuff (mattresses, sleeping bags) on the back seat is great; but if your kids have short legs and small feet you can put stuff on the floor under their feet, and beside their legs as well; particularly if they've been raised up because of all the extras they're sitting on.

And finally, Terri, I agree with GT - you don't need walls - just a roof. Much more entertaining for the bystanders as well. Just let me know when and where you'll be putting on your show.

-- Don Armstrong (from Australia) (, April 03, 2002.

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