I grew up camping. My family went on camping trips each year, all over the state and region, when I was young. First, we started with a tent. Soon we had a pop-up camper, and then we graduated to a traditional camper. It was a great bonding experience. However, for some reason over the past twenty years, I didn’t take my own kids camping much. It just didn’t come up as a way to travel. Until a year ago.

My brother was visiting on his way up to New York. He invited us to a cabin he had rented in Lake Placid. Although the trip didn’t fit our schedule that week, we vowed to buy and tent and take the family camping. The following weekend, with our Walmart tent in hand, we went camping in the Pisgah National Forest. It was an eye-opening experience. We had no stove, no camping-appropriate bedding, and no idea what we were doing. What we did have was a blast. The kids loved it. And my wife and I discovered a new way to travel.

Over the past 14 months, we have done our fair share of camping. We have gone on numerous weekend camping trips, spent 9 days camping in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, and spent a week camping in the Florida Keys. At this point we have a little experience, and can honestly say that camping has opened up travel opportunities that we simply never had before.

Forty years ago the middle class, and my family, began to cling to camping as a way to spend time together. The equipment wasn’t great. And many of the places available to camp were even less desirable. But, it was a great time. Today camping has matured. The equipment is sophisticated. And the locales available are amazing.

Great equipment and locations are great. But these are not the real benefits. Rather, camping is an equalizer. The foundational values, inexpensive quality time, haven’t changed at all. Camping makes extensive travel available to those that might not otherwise be able to afford it. And for those who can afford to travel, it provides a method that allows them to extend their trips even longer.

Traditionally the two largest expenses associated with extensive travel are the cost of housing and the cost of food. Both can get very expensive even on a short trip. Camping sharply cuts these expenses. We have camped at National Parks for as low as $15 per night. Granted, a camper can drive the housing cost up. But, a tent that sleeps 8 people can be purchased for less than $100, and in most instances is a great experience (Suggestion: Don’t tent camp in the Florida Keys in August). You simply can’t beat that.

Camping has also cut the cost of food while traveling. We have also been able to feed our family for about the same amount as we do at home, while on camping trips,. Sometimes less. We cook most of our meals at the campsite, and have refined our traveling meals and often find that they are better tasting, and more healthy, than what we eat at home. For the first year we used the fire pits located at the campsite. This summer we bought a Coleman Grill ($42.88 from Walmart), and use the fire pits for ambience and smores.

While we still stay in hotels on many of our trips each year, camping has changed how we view family travel. We find ourselves planning longer and more frequent trips because it simply doesn’t cost as much to travel as it used to. In the short time since my brother inspired us to start camping, it has opened up a whole new world of adventure.