The last 3 trips have been the last 3 years with our friends and neighbors. The first time, I felt like a newbie and relied on them a lot for guidance. This last time, I felt like an old pro - in part because we went camping last summer to the Grand Canyon. Practice does make perfect!
To start, my camping food tends to be cold or "just add water". Simple things like PB&J, carrots and apples, granola bars, nuts, chocolate. The just add water list includes instant oatmeal or cup o noodles (yes, I know they have MSG, but it's not a staple in my diet I swear). People have different ideas of "camping food", and it will depend on your experience, location, and gear. People who have campers, RV's or vans with stoves and fridges might have to make very few adjustments to their regular diet (only the amount they can store). In fact, I'd wager that 1/2 of the campsites had RV's, and 90% of them did not even use the picnic table, grill, or campfire. People who only have a cooler and no way to cook, are going cold.
We fall in the middle. We have a cooler, and a thermoelectric cooler (this was a new purchase). And it was butt cold. So this expanded our repertoire to other foods like eggs, bacon, milk, and cheese. The fact that it was butt cold means that I could take potatoes and onions and bread, and they would keep well in the car (no cooler). We also have a propane grill (very small one).
On this trip, we tried some new things. I tried my hand at "foil packet cooking" over the campfire. I must say that it turned out very well. It helps that my husband had to camp out for work a few weeks before and had some tips. I cooked up some potatoes, onions, rosemary, peppers, and tofurkey sausages, with spices. Lots of olive oil. Would have been better without the sausages.
After (with some cheese on top)
I also tried cooking bacon and eggs on the propane grill. I learned that these cook better directly on the lower rack, but at a low temp. This also goes for stovetop rice or noodles - which we cooked on the fire also. I threw some fresh broccoli from the CSA in with the cheesy rice, and it was delish.
I also made a lot of hot cocoa and hot tea, and discovered these instant packets of Starbucks coffee. We had a night of noodles, veggies, and hot dogs (not for me, but for the rest).
All in all, it was quite a good experience, despite the upper 20's weather in a tent at night. Camping can be a frugal and fun adventure. This trip itself involved:
Entrance to the park: $15
- 3 nights camping one site: $10x3
- 2 nights camping 2nd site: $10x2
- Minus cost of sharing: $20 (we shared our 2nd site with others the last 2 nights. We needed a space to put the Taj Mahal tent for the visiting family - they needed a place to pop up a tent and the fire pit/table).
Total cost of 3 nights: $30. Which is what it would cost if we went by ourselves.
Water: $15 (you have to take in all your water in JT)
Firewood: $40 (definitely needed on this trip!)
Lunch on the way there: $20
Total: $213 for 4 days, 3 nights. A pretty cheap vacation!
Sometime later, I hope to go over the summary of the "gear" that we have/used. We bought a few things in preparation for this trip. I'll have to calculate "cost per use". A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation shows we have spent about $1080 on camping gear (a lot of our gear came as gifts), and more than half of that is the Thule box/rack system for on top of our car.