Camping Can Be Fun and Affordable Travel for Seniors, Retirees

By Kimberly Blaker

Camping is not only the ultimate in fun and relaxation for many people, but it also provides opportunities for adventure, outdoor experiences, and even visits to historical landmarks. It’s also an affordable way to vacation.

What’s the best way to camp?

There are a variety of camping options. If you love the idea of roughing it, then simply pitch a tent, and haul the bare necessities. Tents come in many sizes and styles, some with dividers for separate quarters. When purchasing a tent, remember that capacity doesn’t include luggage space. If you plan to keep belongings in your tent, opt for a larger capacity. Most importantly, don’t forget padding or a blow-up mattress to insulate against the cold, hard ground.

If you the notion of roughing it is somewhat appealing, but yet you want some of the comforts of home, a pop-up camper offers the best of both worlds. The canvas sides and pullout sections of pop-ups are surrounded by screens and give the feeling of sleeping in the fresh outdoors. Pop-ups come in several sizes and often include an icebox or mini-refrigerator, heater, air-conditioning, portable toilet, shower, kitchen sink, stove, cabinets and storage space, dining table, and other necessities.

For camping in style, travel trailers and motor homes provide a luxurious nighttime retreat after a day of enjoying the outdoors. The ease of loading and unloading these shelters makes moving from campsite to campsite a breeze for anyone wishing to do some cross-country camping. Motorhomes and travel trailers often have a full-size kitchen, a living room complete with sofa and chairs, and separate bedrooms for comfort and privacy.

Also, don’t overlook the option of a cozy cabin in the woods. Cabin rentals are sometimes found at campgrounds or in national forests at cabin resorts. Cabins range from basic single-room shelters containing only beds, to completely furnished three- or four-room units that have kitchenettes. When reserving a cabin, ask what is furnished before you go so that you’ll arrive prepared and avoid unnecessary packing. Don’t forget to ask about the availability of electricity, lights, and water.

Experienced campers might try a hike-in shelter for a true wilderness experience. Check with state and national parks for shelters that are sometimes set up along extended trails. After a day of hiking, roll out your sleeping bags under one of these small shelters for a night’s sleep under the stars.

Camping costs

The cost of travel can make vacations a rare treat. However, the affordability of camping can allow for more frequent getaways. Overnight fees range from a free night’s stay at some state park rustic sites (no showers, toilets, electricity, or water) to $50 or more per night at many of the top KOA and Jellystone Camp Park-Resorts. These campgrounds are loaded with amenities, from built-in swimming pools to live entertainment.

State park campgrounds vary from state to state. Still, these are often the best deal if you’re interested in experiencing all nature has to offer. Fees for overnight accommodations in state parks typically range from $15 to $35. Many have modern facilities, including flush toilets, showers, grassy or gravel sites, park stores for firewood and ice, and more. Furthermore, state parks frequently offer miles of wooded hiking or biking trails, natural wonders, historic sites, and much more that may not be found at private camp resorts.

Camping also helps keep other vacation expenses to a minimum. Many campers prefer cooking over a campfire to eating out, for example. Additionally, most outdoor camping activities are free or available at a minimal cost.

Fun camping activities

Whatever your interests, there’s plenty to see and do. Trails offer ample chances to be active, such as hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, fishing and canoeing; discovering interesting plants and trees; practicing survival skills; and collecting rocks, leaves, or insects. Note that state and federal parks may have laws against removing anything, so be sure to educate yourself on park rules.

Wildlife viewing is often a highlight. Look for animals early in the morning or at dusk on dirt roads and trails, in open fields surrounded by woods, and near water. Be patient, walk slowly and quietly, and don’t forget binoculars.

Some parks will also offer nature programs at designated times.

When you’re ready to relax, light a campfire and enjoy reading or storytelling, play cards or board games, watch the sunset, stargaze, and roast marshmallows.

What to take

Buy a couple of large plastic totes with lids to carry and store your camping supplies. These are some of the basics you’ll want to take: plastic cups (labeled with each person’s name for reusing), as well as plasticware, paper plates and bowls; paper towels, food storage bags, and tinfoil; a cooking source, such as a one- or two-burner stove; an aluminum pot and skillet; cooking utensils and can opener; coffee pot; tablecloth; ice chest; drinking water and large water container; dish soap and dishcloths; insect repellent and sunscreen; folding chairs; backpack; radio, flashlight, and batteries; lantern and matches; firewood (unless available near your campground); knife and hatchet; rope and twine; first-aid kit; sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows; air mattress or padding; personal hygiene items and toilet paper; towels and washcloths; bikes, fishing gear, and other sports equipment; camera and binoculars; clothing for all types of weather; and walking shoes or hiking boots.

What not to take

Don’t get carried away with packing, or camping will become a chore. Make a list, then weed out items you don’t really need. Portable televisions detract from outdoor fun, for instance, so leave yours at home.

Think it through and do some research before taking your pet. Some campgrounds don’t allow pets, and even if they do, they don’t allow pets to be left unattended. A pet can hinder many activities, including going to beaches where dogs often aren’t allowed.

Easy camp foods

There are many ways to cook. You can purchase a gas or liquid-fuel camping stove, or if electricity is available, a crock-pot or electric griddle works well. You can also carry a charcoal or small gas grill or cook over an open fire.

Keep meals simple to minimize packing, preparation, and cleanup. Easy choices include hamburgers; hot dogs; chicken; steak; sandwiches; eggs; bacon; sausage; crockpot meals; sweet corn; baked potatoes; and canned foods, such as baked beans, tuna, chicken, soup, fruits, and vegetables.

Camping tips

Camping is often a learn-as-you-go experience, but the following can alleviate hassles and keep you safe.

Protect your food from animals and animals from your food by blocking access. Animals can find their way into nearly anything. Raccoons are known to lift lids right off coolers to snatch hot dogs and other treats. A cooler that latches is usually a safe bet. Any food that isn’t tightly contained should be stored in your vehicle overnight.

Poor weather can strike at any time, and insect infestations can also make for a miserable experience. Make additional shelter, such as a screen tent or tarps and rope, part of your camping gear.

Arrive at your camp destination ahead of the crowd. Every campsite is unique, and early arrival can assure a site that satisfies your needs.

When selecting a site, look for proximity to restrooms, electricity, and water. The amount of shade you’ll want will depend on the weather forecast. To avoid mud, a grassy or rock site may be preferred. Also, avoid a site that is near outhouses, which can smell in the heat and wind.

Know what animals are found in the area. Wild animals usually want to avoid humans as much as we want to avoid them. Still, they can pose risks. In the West, mountain lions have been known to snag children and even small women. In bear country, those accustomed to people sometimes get too close and result in injury. Even small animals that feel threatened may attack.

Just the right campground

Try one of these sources to find the perfect campground for your trip.

  • Contact the travel or visitor’s bureau in the state you plan to visit.
  • If you’re a AAA member, pick up one of its regional Camp Books at your local branch office.
  • Visit the website for Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts at, or call (800) 558-2954.
  • Call for your KOA Directory at (406) 248-7444, or go to make your online reservation.
  • Visit the National Park Service at


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