Our Semi Frugal Summer Vacation- Camping During a Meteor Shower!

The last two years my kids and I camped together on the beach for a few days, and it was great. But my kids requested that this year we go camping in a place with water and trees, and not on a beach. So I told them I'd try to find a place. 

Then about two weeks ago a single mom friend of mine contacted me and asked me if I wanted to go with her to see the Perseid meteor shower. To do that, she recommended that we drive down to a location in the desert, a few hours drive from my home, and go camp there. Only she didn't have experience camping or have the equipment, so we agreed that I'd take care of the camping stuff and she'd pay for a stargazing tour.

Because previous times we camped on the beach, we only had sponge mats, which I didn't think would be soft enough on the hard ground of the desert, so I decided to invest in a bit more camping equipment- I bought some air mattresses to use for this. I also bought another two person tent so that we wouldn't be as squished. Additionally, I purchased some folding camping chairs, because with my body hurting the way it has lately, I didn't want to put extra strain on it by sitting on the ground.

This trip was somewhat frugal. Since we drove there, we needed to pay for the car rental and the gas, which wasn't so cheap. But then again, I didn't pay for busing there, which I paid for my previous camping trips, which also added up.

Then there was food. I bought food from a frugal grocery store near me, and overbought food, but what I overbought was all shelf stable so nothing is wasted. The food just came out of my normal grocery budget.

The new camping equipment did cost more, but I consider that an investment for future camping trips, so it wasn't just an expense for this trip. If I'd planned the trip earlier I could have bought the equipment cheaper and not just at the closest camping store to me, but it is what it is.

The camping site itself was free, and we were worried that because of the meteor shower, it would get filled up early, so we arrived early, but there was absolutely no one there.

So we didn't set up our tents immediately, because it was hot, and no need to grab a place early. Instead, we went to see the other things in the area.

There was an area with refreshing water and a nice view, so we hung out there for some time.

Since we hadn't unpacked the tents yet, we couldn't take our swimsuits out of the car, so we just waded. But it was still great and a nice way to spend the time.

After some time there we went back, set up our tents, had a barbecue for supper, and the kids hiked around a bit in the desert.

Then we loaded into the car and drove to the stargazing location. 

The whole thing was amazing, but unfortunately I don't have any pictures of it because that's not the type of thing you can photograph. It was also unreal. I couldn't imagine anything like that before experiencing. I'd been star gazing in nature before, but this was the desert, so there were no trees blocking anything- you could see stars all the way down to the horizon, and all over, and so bright. It felt like I was in a planetarium, but with the entire world being the planetarium. I don't think I've ever experienced something quite as spectacular. We were able to see the milky way with the naked eye.

Because it wasn't the peak of the meteor shower, we didn't see so many, but we saw something like 5 or 6 during the class. We learned so much about the stars and planets, and how to identify them in the night sky. The teacher had this lazer that allowed him to point to the stars, which was something really cool. Then we were able to look through telescopes and got to see saturn with its rings, and jupiter with three of its moons. 

This part was expensive, but my friend paid for it.

That night we all slept amazingly under the stars. Eventually we saw more people pull in to the camp ground but no one camped close to us, so we had lots of privacy. At night before we went to sleep we were able to see even more meteors and the sky was amazing.

In the morning, we packed up our tents and headed to the next location we were camping.

But along the way I saw a sign for a national park I'd heard of before, and figured that we might as well stop there for a hike.  

This wasn't free- it cost $25 for my family to go, but it was beautiful and we enjoyed it.

We walked along a river that went through a canyon.

It ended at a really pretty pool in the rocks, under a waterfall.

Ever since learning cattails were edible, I've tried to keep my eye out for them to be able to try foraging them, and this was the first time I saw some that were accessible. I picked one to try, and then got caught by a park ranger who told me I wasn't allowed to pick it since it was a nature reserve, but he let me eat the one I picked as long as I through all the roots and the outer layers back into the water. It had an interesting taste, I shared it with my kids, but they thought it tasted gross. I've been told it tastes like cucumber but I didn't see that at all. It left my throat feeling a bit itchy. I'm glad I tried it, but now I don't think I'm interested in trying to again. At least not this part.

Once we were done hiking, we drove to the second camping location. As I mentioned, my kids wanted something with trees and water (they ideally wanted a forest, but I don't know of any forests with water locally), and all those cost money. This place cost $62 for the night for us. We arrived too early to go to the camp site, so we went to the "springs" that were advertised.

Except it was a bummer. They had these man made natural looking "pools" that were basically a wading pool, next to a river. No one was allowed to enter the river, and the wading pools were tiny and not something you could actually swim in. The kids enjoyed splashing around there and we had lunch there and then later on, I took the kids to check out the camp site and set up tents. The camp site was on a grassy area with trees, well set up, but there was no water there. The only water was in the pools in another section of the park.

So we set up the tents, intending to go back to the pools after we did that and were able to take out our swim suits, only to find out that they close and drain the pools at 5 pm.

We then had a barbecue for supper and just chilled out before going to bed. My daughter managed to see a meteor from the camp ground but no one else was looking up to catch it.

In the morning we packed up and went home.

The expenses of the trip were as follows:
Stargazing tour, not paid by me.
Camping equipment- a total of $250 but they are an investment towards future camping trips.
Food, out of my grocery budget, so not counted.
$25 for the hike in the national park.
$62 for the camping spot the second night.
And approximately $250 for the car and the gas. No, not cheap!

Could we have done a camping trip cheaper? Yes, we have in the past. But, this was worth every cent. Ok, almost every cent. Next time I won't bother paying for a campsite like we did the second night, because it didn't have what I wanted, and I might as well use a free camp ground like I did in the past.

This was also the perfect vacation during corona, because it was great regarding social distancing, no one was close to one another, there was plenty of room and wide open spaces and nature and it was just wonderful.

I'm so glad we got to do this, and even happier that we got to do this with a close friend.

Are you able to do any family vacations this summer? What have you done as a family?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Sounds like a fulfilling trip that all enjoyed. I rather envy you as you were able to get away from all the light pollution to see the night display and even the milky way! But the price to camp overnight really seems excessive although a good lesson learned. Really enjoy these types of posts so thanks for sharing!

  2. That sounds fantastic. No deserts here I'm afraid. We live on the edge of a town so countryside nearby. My son and his wife took their 2 year old daughter down to the river at 1 am to see the comet. They all loved it. Your blog has made me want to go to a dark sky park to see the stars. Your children will never forget this experience. You can't put a price on that.

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