Sure, Marge and I like to live it up, flying around the world in first class. Champagne, five star hotels, complimentary bottles of water and usually soap. That’s all thanks to our collection of frequent flyer miles, so it doesn’t cost us much of anything. But truly, although our jetset lifestyle might have you believe otherwise, we are frugal at heart. You know those tiny bars of soap and mini shampoos at those fancy hotels?
We steal as many as we can, fly home with them, and take them camping.
Yes, Marge and I have gone camping every year every since moving in together here in beautiful upstate NY. We take the car, load it up with camping gear, cover it in bikes and kayaks and head out. And we’ve got tiny travel size shampoos and soaps for days.
Over the years, we’ve been to numerous campgrounds in New York and Vermont. Some stunk, some were okay, some are very nice but not in a great location, but one was perfect. So year after year we have been returning to our home away from home, a single campsite in the Thousand Islands. We just got back from our latest trip, and I’m going to tell you how we make this trip super fun and super frugal.
It’s in the Thousand Islands, but I will not reveal its exact location. Unless you want to come along! Maybe we can throw a big Ridinkulous get together and have a grand old time. I’ll reserve the sites. But for now, since it’s gotten so hard to reserve this very prime spot, I’m hesitant to tell anyone else exactly where it is, lest it become impossible to book.
Just by coincidence some years, I end up taking the same photo at the road above the camp site. This is a little eerie, but check out these pictures from 2005, 2008, and 2015.
No really, those are really all different years. Geez, I even park exactly the same way! And yes, there are other people at this campground, even though it looks like we could be the only souls there. And yes, the first photo is on film.
Most people have never visited the Thousand Islands, and if they’ve heard of it, usually it’s because of the salad dressing. YES, IT’S A SALAD DRESSING. AND IF YOU WANT TO READ MORE ABOUT THAT CONTROVERSIAL HISTORY, GO HERE.
What makes this site great? For one, it is a “tent-only” site, like the ones around it. That means you can’t pull up in an RV. The terrain is steep and you’re only allowed to bring a tent.
Secondly, and this is key, it’s right on the water. This means you can launch your kayaks right there. Incidentally, there is a granite rock slope which makes this very easy. And you know you want to kayak! Forget motorboats. Taking a serene paddle around the islands and letting your hands dip into the water is the way to go.
Being located on the water also means you can go swimming whenever you want. And right across from our site is one of the 1,864 titular islands. Since it is less than 50 feet offshore, this creates a shallow lagoon for taking a nice dip in water that stays warmer than the surrounding river.
The site is grass with large granite peeking through. The rocks warm up during the day and feel nice to walk on in bare feet and lie down on for reading. There are trees, but only a few. Enough to provide some shade and tie up a clothesline. But not so many that the shade prevents the site from drying out after a storm. We found this to be a recurring problem at Adirondack campgrounds. If it rained, your stuff would stay wet for the entire day, and maybe the next, because the sun just can’t penetrate the tree cover.
“But Norm, what about bathrooms? Do you have to dig a hole?” No way. Thousand Islands camping keeps things super civilized. They have a brand new bathroom building which includes individual private bathrooms with toilets, sinks, and showers! I was pretty amazed at this development this year. The same building even has a laundry room. A laundry room!
Animals? We’ve run into a few at other campgrounds. Things moving around at night that could’ve been a bear or could’ve been a raccoon. But the wildlife at this Thousand Islands campground is strictly cute and harmless. Herons, ducks, hamsters, squirrels, and a mink we like to call the “water weasel.”
And the park rangers are the most helpful we’ve come across. They take away your garbage and recyclables twice a day, mow the lawns, and just generally keep the place pristine. An old man even rakes up the fire pits after people leave to clean that up for the next people. I still remember the first time we pulled into this campground. The sun was shining, the lawns were lush and I thought, “This is a campground?”
But all these amenities must come at a price. Hot showers, clean grounds, a spot on the water, gorgeous scenery.
Being on the waterfront makes this what the park calls a “prime” spot, which means it commands the premium price of $25 a night.
I thought of this unbelievable bargain while I was sitting in our bed, with the tent’s ceiling zipped down, in the sun by the water. How much would you pay for this same experience at a hotel? How much do those pool gazebos go for again?
OK, so there are other expenses to camping. You need gear! We don’t have much. As you can tell, we pack it all into a Honda Civic, and even then it’s mostly in the trunk. Nowhere is the minimalist frugal philosophy more convenient than when camping. Less stuff means less time setting up and breaking down.
I see other families show up with their pop-up trailers or RVs, set up a full kitchen with gas grills and condiments, huge tents for sleeping, pavillions for eating under. Sometimes a tent just for the dog. The motorized home thing has to be taken care of like a baby. Maybe there’s a motorboat, that also has to be taken care of like a baby. You have to tow it all around, find a place to park it, check the fluids, wash the bilge or whatever.
You know where we keep our kayaks? The basement.
I love the little girl who, while her father was struggling to winch up their motorboat onto a trailer, saw Marge and I carrying a kayak down the ramp, said, “Daddy, we should get boats like those.” Your kid has a point, sir!
Aaaanyway, what exactly do we bring camping and how much does it cost?
|Tent (Hammerhead 3)||Wedding gift (I think it cost $250)|
|Coleman Sleeping Bag||$30.00|
|Overhead tent light||$12.00|
|Clamping cooking cage thing||$15.00|
|Hot dog skewers||$10.00|
|Rubbermaid containers (24 & 8 Gallon)||$85.00|
|Collapsible water carrier||$8.00|
|Coleman Extreme Cooler||$55.00|
Forgive my memory. We bought some of this stuff so long ago, I barely remember what it cost, so I’m looking at present cost of some of them and reverse engineering them.
Of course, that’s not all we bring, but that is basically it for all of the camping specific gear. Everything else we bring is stuff that we would have around the house anyway: Blanket, sheets, pillows, a bucket, matches, blah blah blah. We bought the kayaks used for $250 each ten years ago, if you’re curious.
By the way, here is the Ridinkulous method for making a comfortable airbed for two people camping: Take one sleeping bag and unfold it to cover an entire queen size air mattress. Put a fitted sheet over the sleeping bag and the air mattress. Now bring your regular sheet and blanket for on top, and you might just forget this isn’t a real bed.
What about food? Since our camping is a pretty bare bones operation, it is pretty basic. We cook everything over a fire, the way you’re supposed to. So usually we get extravagant and purchase some meat to cook every night, and try to find some vegetable. For instance, we cooked Italian sausages over the fire and put them in buns, then put a red pepper in foil on the fire and roasted that. After dinner, it’s smores. Hey, I didn’t say we ate healthy.
FYI, here is the new Ridinkulous tip for making perfect smores: Use Nutella or some other spread instead of a chocolate bar. There are many problems with smores and I haven’t engineered the perfect one yet, but our newest strategy to avoid hard chocolate helping smoosh out the marshmallow is to use a spread instead.
Cooking over a fire probably isn’t the most frugal method. We buy our own firewood which ranges from $4.50 to $5.25 a bundle. We used two, so that’s over $10 just took cook food for three days. But whatever, right? FIRE!
So $585 for a lifetime of summer fun is a pretty good price, but there are other things you can do while camping to save money:
- Scavenge for food. Do you know the difference between safe berries and poison berries? Are you adept with a bow and arrow? Then you could probably leave the food at home and find your own food for free!
- Sleep on a rock like a maniac. Who needs a tent or a comfortable air mattress? If you can get your hands on a cheap piece of rollout foam, you could sleep on a rock like a crazy person, right out there in nature!
- Don’t buy firewood. Make firewood. Take a hatchet to some fallen trees and spend a whole day turning it into firewood. By the time you’re done chopping, you probably won’t even want to make a fire because you’d rather just sleep! That saves money and firewood, and builds up those precious muscles MMM is always going on about.