How to Find Free Campsites and Keep Costs Down on a Road Trip

Don’t let a tight budget hold you back from traveling. Learn the secrets for finding free places to camp and tips for saving money on the road.

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Photo by: Alison Turner

Alison Turner

It’s true. I’m that person who fills out a form and sends it away for a $1 cash back (even though I have to pay for my own stamp), and I have been known to park my car miles away from somewhere I need to be, just so I don’t have to pay for parking.

I can’t recall any of my friends who would be willing to camp the way Max (my dog) and I camp, but they will never know the feeling of waking up at a campsite you didn’t have to pay for. Believe me, it all adds up on a road trip so the more you can save, the further you’ll be able to go.

Here are a few tips that I have used on the road to save cash. Also, there are some things that you should splurge on every now and then. A shower is #1 on my list. 

Camp on Public Lands

The United States has 250 million acres of lands that are free to roam on and most are free to stay overnight. Since not all camps are free, you’ll need to look it up as you go.  Check out BLM.gov to plan your trip.

Photo by: Alison Turner

Alison Turner

Camp in a WalMart Parking Lot

You might be a little nervous at first but once you get the hang of it, it’s a great resource.  Make sure to check with the manager to see if you are allowed to camp. Most likely if you see other campers there, say hello and park near them for extra security. Remember to trust your gut. A bathroom is just a few steps inside.

Camp in National Forests

You can sleep overnight in most national forests. Be sure to check with the local forest ranger before you do. They will offer insights to the area and might uncover a secret spot for you.  

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Photo by: Alison Turner

Alison Turner

Camp Resources

If you have a smart phone, my #1 go to app is Allstays Camp and RV. You can search nearby wherever you land to see where the closest camp is and even search for free camps on BLM or forest land.  If you want to plan ahead and don’t have a smart phone, check out www.freecampsites.net

Family or Friends

Tell everyone what you are planning to do and I guarantee that people will want to support you by offering a hot shower or a place to sleep.  

Photo by: Alison Turner

Alison Turner

Make Your Own Meals

On the road, I cook all of my meals. When I say “cook”, it’s usually what I can add hot water to or heat up. I don’t like to spend money on ice (when my fridge is not working) so I eat oatmeal, soup or anything I can make with water. Speaking of water, this is another essential I don’t like to pay for. I have a few gallon containers in the van that I fill up whenever there is a faucet somewhere. You don’t need to pay for water or eating out. This will save you money for more important things, like a shower every now and then.

Now, I might sounds cheap but in order to stay on the road, you need to watch everything you spend money on. My biggest expense on the road is fuel. I could cut my costs down even further if I stayed in one place but I get bored easily and need to move around. Because I do that, I save money in the ways I’ve outlined above. Just remember to have fun and if you want to splurge on something, it’s all up to you.

Follow Alison and her rescue dog Max on their adventures on Instagram @alisontravels or their travel blog at www.AlisonTurnerPhoto.com

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