Cheap camping – it is still an option?

Saturday’s Guardian Money supplement held a reader’s question: A camping condundrum – is a tent still worthwhile? so I thought I’d add up some figures to find out.

I started with a few assumptions, taking a two-adult, two-child family who are looking for a few creature comforts and a fortnight’s holiday. I'll go for a campsite rather than wild camping, so there are some physical site boundaries for the children and perhaps a few new friends to play with, giving the grown-ups a bit of time to relax.

To keep costs to a minimum for the first season, I’d suggest borrowing a family-size tent with decent headroom and living space. Really cheap tents can be fine for perfect sunny weeks, but with more basic materials they can be a challenge to pitch, have been known to leak and there may not be much space if you need to spend a wet afternoon inside.

The people who lend you their tent probably have airbeds and a camping stove you could use, so I’m allocating £20 for a ‘thank you’ gift for them after your holiday.

There’s plenty of stuff you can take from home, such as bedding, cutlery and washing kit. Sleeping bags are easy, but sheets with duvets or blankets do the job just as well – and can be more comfortable.

A Temporary Holiday Site (THS) in CornwallFor meals outside you’ll probably want unbreakable kit, so I’ll allocate £7 for a basic picnic set. The base of a standard saucepan can be a bit thick for use on a camping stove so it will cost £8 for a cheap set of pans with thin bases. A £1 washing-up bowl will suffice for cleaning (both people and kit) and the adults could probably do with a chair each - £12. Top this up to a total of £27 with a couple of basic torches for night-time trips to the toilet.

For a route to cheap campsite pitches you’ll need to splash out from only £40 for a year’s membership of The Camping and Caravanning Club. This gives you access to hundreds of Temporary Holiday Sites (THSs) and more than a thousand Certificated Sites (CSs) where you can stay for a few pounds a night. For example, there’s a THS near Colyton, Devon where a pitch will cost you £8.50 per night between 20 June to July 18, though you’ll need your own toilet facilities (a product like PopALoo costs around £118 new, though there are cheaper options). Some similar campsites have toilet facilities though, like the THS at Hunstanton, Norfolk, where you’ll pay £10 a night.

By my calculation, this comes in at just under £240 for a fortnight’s holiday for four at the seaside in the school holidays - or £330 if you choose a cheaper campsite and take your own facilities.

And assuming this gets you hooked, you can invest in next year’s camping kit (tent, airbeds, camping stove and anything else you’ve fallen for) at the end of the camping season, when tents often come up on websites such as Freecycle and in classified ads or you can look for end-of-season bargains at a camping dealership or online.

So, is camping still a cheap holiday in the UK? I’d challenge you to find another fortnight’s family holiday at less than £250 all in!


Candy Evans Candy Evans is Test Editor for Camping & Caravanning. She took a less conventional path into magazine journalism via physics and a decade in computer consultancy, turning to caravanning and writing during a career break as a full-time mum. Her interests are wide and include the Club’s Archive – though she’s careful to wash her hands after checking 1919 editions of the Club’s magazine to avoid lurking traces of influenza. Read other posts by this author