Since Covid, there has been a dramatic increase in outdoor recreation. From people rushing to buy their first RV to retailers selling out of tents, America (and the world) is on a quest to rediscover the Great Outdoors.
And I love it! I really do. Camping is a great way to save money on hotels and Airbnbs when traveling and seeing the world. What do I not like about 2021 camping?
This past year, I’ve encountered the issue that everyone has decided to take up camping as their new favorite weekend adventure. State park campgrounds are booked months in advance, national park campgrounds are booked within seconds of availability, and even the remote Chickees Huts in the middle of the Florida swamp have become the hottest item for weekend warriors.
My favorite adventure has become everyone’s favorite adventure, and it makes sense. Most countries continue to have their borders closed, people are still timid about Covid, and outdoor recreation just screams “social distancing-friendly”.
And it’s not just me. Campers, Rv’ers, and outdoor enthusiasts all throughout the United States are reporting fully-booked campgrounds and no availability. My family recently did an RV trip across the west, and struggled to find campgrounds that were available or affordable— spending over $100 a night for certain sites.
However, the world of camping has not quite caught-up. Getting permits for a new campground is a long and slow process, so demand is outpacing the supply (and that drives up prices). For us outdoor-lovers, this is a sad fate for our favorite pastime. Campgrounds are at capacity, and there is no sign of this slowing down as we head into the peak of 2021 travel.
For those of us new to Hipcamp, this is booking service similar to Airbnb. However, instead of booking rooms or houses, you can book RV spots, tent spots, cabins, glamping options, or even the random treehouse. It is designed as a perfect solution to the lack of campgrounds problem.
So how does it work? When I say Hipcamp is like Airbnb, I mean it is just like Airbnb. By visiting the homepage (or the app), you can select the area where you want to camp. Put in your dates and number of guests, and you are given an interactive map with a list of options.
Instead of booking a traditional campground, you are booking sites owned by individuals. Sometimes, it can be a full-service RV pad in the woods behind someone’s house or other times, it can be a 1-acre lot of land near a national park perfect for boondocking or primitive camping.
Just like Airbnb, prices range depending on the location, dates, and services. To give you a picture of how awesome this site can be, I put in dates for July 12-14 near Yosemite National Park.
Reservable campsites in Yosemite have been booked for months, however Hipcamp offers great alternative to last-minute planners. 30 minutes outside of Yosemite was an RV site with water and electric going for $40 a night. Seeing that the average campsite in an established campground now ranges around $50 a night, this is a great deal for families scrambling to secure a spot for that brand-new Class A motorhome. This is just an example of several sites available within an hour of the park’s entrance.
If you’re lacking inspiration, you can also cruise available camping options located within certain criteria–such as, pet friendly, lake stays, beach stays, top locations, and instagrammable glamping tents (okay, so I made up that last one).
Why am I pushing this site so hard? Because it saved my butt a few weeks ago when I really wanted to visit Rainbow River State Park, but the campgrounds were fully book and I wasn’t willing to shell out $300 a night for an Airbnb.
Instead of nixing our weekend, we were able to secure a great, primitive campsite just down the road from the park’s entrance. Our site was the bare minimum of Hipcamp stays– just an empty, wooded lot off a county road surrounded by pines and oak trees. For $10 a night, we had a quiet place in the woods to pitch our tent, have a fire, and enjoy the peaceful sounds of Florida’s summer around us.
Hipcamp follows a similar system to Airbnb where you “request” to book a location, and the host approves you. We got instant booking for our site, had great communication with the land owner on the messaging platform, and were able to find our site (relatively) easily, save a lot of money on a hotel stay, and do what we enjoy most– being out in nature.
While I would love to see this site expand even further in the future (host-led trips or experiences?), Hipcamp provides a great solution to our 2021 camping woes. Even if you’re not a hardcore tenter or own an RV, this site has great options for glamping and cabin stays. If you happen to own land and want to make an easy dollar, Hipcamp also is a great option for landowners to easily rent out spaces for us lonely travelers.
And I promise, Hipcamp didn’t have to pay me for raving about how great it is. I’m just a Type-A person who loves knowing I have a place to pitch my tent at the end of a long day of adventuring.
Happy trails, everyone!
Bonus Round: Other great resources for campers/rv’ers/outdoor adventurers
TheDyrt– great site for finding campsites, cabins, rv sites, and boondock locations
FreeRoam– boondock-focused, this is a great app for scoring that free camp spot!
AllTrails– Hiking site (and app) with detailed trails and reviews. Perfect for finding things to do after you find a place to park your camper.
Forest Maps– A comprehensive app with detailed national forest areas. For those new to camping, it is free to camp on national forest lands (maximum 14 night stay).
Recently, my boyfriend and I did an extended weekend trip to Nassau. We flew in on a Thursday and out on a Sunday, giving us four days on the island (including our travel days). While the trip wasn’t slated as a budget trip (we splurged majorly on a Friday full of diving), we wanted to save as much as we could elsewhere on the adventure so we could continue to go places in the future (no one likes the credit card hangover at the end of a trip).
The first thing I realized about Nassau is that what I hear from lot of travelers is true– the Bahamas are expensive. And not in that “you might spend a couple dollars more at dinner” expensive, but in the “a dinner for two will be about $100” expensive. Judging by the amount of drool-worthy yachts moored off the coast, maybe most visitors don’t mind these extra costs. But for two frugal adventurers who want to keep on adventuring, some prices came as a shock. Fortunately, I picked up a few tricks and tips for any of my fellow frugalees who want to explore the world, but not have to live off ramen for months to pay for it.
Opt for an AirBnb
This is probably an obvious tip for most seasoned travellers, but I am a solid believer in the Airbnb. Not only is it the most Covid-friendly of accomodations (usually you’re in your own unit with limited interaction with other guests), but you also get the added bonus of supporting a smaller business (we can rage against corporate resorts on a later day) and you get to experience life more as a local. The biggest perk of an Airbnb, though? The kitchen.
Eating out is expensive in the Bahamas. We dined at a lovely restaurant on the western edge of the island. Two dinners, a couple of drinks, and an ocean view came with the hefty total of $110. While the food was delicious and I would do it again (see the photo section for more information on this great restaurant), most adventurers can’t afford that price tag for every meal. That’s where having a kitchen in your residence comes in handy.
As far as prices, we opted for a “mid-range” airbnb. We were located West Bay Street, not far from Chateau Del Mar. About 10 minutes from the airport and 25 minutes from the heart of Nassau, it was the perfect location to access our dive sites and the other points of interest we wanted to hit on the island. For a studio apartment, with a shared pool and an ocean view, we paid $370 for 3 nights. There are cheaper studio options in the center of the island around $280. The cheapest option I found in the heart of Nassau around $250.
Another option for larger groups would be to rent a house. Originally, we planned on going with a larger group, and an entire house (with a pool and ocean view) would’ve been about $700. Split that four or six ways, and you got yourself more space than a hotel room, a kitchen when those midnight munchies kick in, and outdoor space if you hauled over your dive gear (and in case you want to hear the ocean at night, not smell it).
To add a bit of perspective, you can get a hotel room (in a budget hotel) for as low as $200. With more fancy amenities and more perks, this can go as high as $800 (or even higher for those super bougie people out there). So while Airbnb may not be the super cheap option it can be elsewhere (looking at you, Malta), having a kitchen will help you cut costs in the long run. As long as you know where to shop, which brings me to point numero duos…
Pick Your Stores Wisely
Picture this… two bleary-eyed divers are scheduled for an 8am dive departure on a Friday morning. They’re hungry, in need of coffee, and will definitely need further sustenance for the day (unless they get eaten by a shark). They pull into the first grocery store they find, only to walk in and find that a loaf of bread is over $5. (That might be an exaggeration. The loaf I saw was $5, but maybe it was super special somehow. As well as all the loaves around it.)
Grocery stores vary drastically on New Providence (the island Nassau is located on for those still struggling with a map). The first store we went into was Solomon’s Fresh Market, located on the northwestern side of the island and one of the first stores those departing the airport will see. Think Fresh Market or Whole Foods and you’ve got a solid mental picture of this store. It’s beautiful and exceptionally organized, but you won’t be saving much money here. However, if you have a food allergy or special diet, this is the place for you.
Option number two we came across later in the day (Solomon has the extra perk of being one of the few stores open before 8am on the west side). Super Value Food Store (super inventive name) can be found closer to Nassau, and it is definitely cheaper in price. Most of the items we picked up were still about 1.5 times what we would pay in the states but only about half of the price of what we found in Solomon’s. What you pay in price, you trade in overall store presentation and food choices. The inside reflects the interior of most budget stores in the US, and those with a special diet might struggle to find choices (though I did see a solid selection of gluten-free choices). But it is cheaper than Solomon’s, so it does speak to the difference in stores one could come across on the island. Just be sure to bring your own bags, or you’ll be spending $5 in beer money for a cute, reusable bag. Groceries are not allowed to leave the store without being in a bag.
There are other chains and stores (including smaller neighborhood markets in the town), but this was the sampling we experienced. So my advice to the dollar-weary traveler: spend a few extra minutes studying your google maps when selecting a grocery store. A few more miles could end up cutting your bill by $50. Replace eating out a few meals with home-cooked meals in your Airbnb? You can easily save yourself hundreds of dollars at the end of the day. And before you start thinking about those massive bar tabs- alcohol is more expensive, but opting for a local bottle of rum to enjoy on your balcony is always a good option. However, I didn’t think the drinks were too bad (about $10-$15 for a cocktail). So maybe skip the meal and enjoy a mojito in town instead?
I love food as much as the next person, so I always make it a point to eat out at least once everywhere I go. I believe that food is a crucial part of experiencing a place and a culture, however, I don’t always have the budget to eat out for every meal. Cooking allows for you to explore the local lifestyle, maybe test out the odd fruit or vegetable in the store, and keep some money left aside for that extra dive or sailing adventure.
Be Your Own Taxi
I read countless blogs and forums before our trip about the pros and cons of renting a car in the Bahamas. Travelers’ fears ran everywhere from driving on the left side of the road to being scammed by shady rental agencies. Since we weren’t staying in Nassau and had plans on diving and seeing the island, we needed transportation. Nassau has a bus system but it isn’t the best at going everywhere or even following a true schedule (island time is the time). Taxis are expensive if you plan on seeing anything (especially if you get adventurous and make it out somewhere remote like Jaws Beach) and aren’t the most practical if you don’t like being on a schedule (me! me! me!). Sidewalks are a thing of mystery on the island, and the roads are way too narrow to brave a bike.
So, renting a car it is. Even with the higher rental prices (Covid has increased rental prices everywhere), we paid $230 for the four days, had our own transportation, and never had to worry about taxi prices. Our car was the world’s smallest hatchback, fit two people and their giant dive bags, and only used about $15 in gas driving around the entire island for four days (I never figured out how it burned so little gas). We rented through Budget and it was by-far the easiest rental I’ve ever gone through. When leaving the airport on New Providence, you just walk right across the street from departures and the rental car building is in front of you. Walk in, grab your key, use a credit card for rental insurance (check your policy), and BAM! You’re a free agent on the road in under five minutes. Just remember… stay left.
And if you’re concerned about driving, the average speed limit is 35 mph on the island. You have plenty of time to get used to the endless roundabouts and the opposite side of the road. Having a car cuts the expense of a taxi and allows you limitless freedom as you explore this beautiful island.
This one is an easy tip, since you’re in the Bahamas to enjoy the beautiful weather. As most travelers know, outside activities are usually the cheapest when it comes to saving costs and exploring a new place. With a rental car, you can spend an entire day basking in the sun on the western beaches. Jaws Beach was a tropical paradise, full of drifting palms, turquoise water, and sandy coves. The best part? It was completely free.
New Providence has lots of little beaches that can be explored while keeping the credit card spending low. Opt for the sleepy beaches instead of the ones in the heart of Nassau to get some added privacy and the freedom to enjoy a nice picnic with an oceanfront view. If you’re like me and love the ocean, the diving cannot be beat (See my post on Shark Diving for more information: https://everythinginacarryon.com/2021/05/07/shark-diving-in-the-bahamas-mollie-breese/), but diving comes with a higher price tag. Snorkeling is free (if you have your gear) and easily accessible along West Bay Road and Clifton Bay. We had the added perk of being able to walk to great snorkeling spots straight from our Airbnb. A full day of basking in the sun, enjoying the crystal clear water, and not constantly worrying about how expensive it all is? My kind of day!
If none of these options tickle your pickle, there are also free hiking trails available in Bonefish National Park (access a free parking area on Coral Harbour Road). Nassau offers a wealth of free activities, my favorites being a stroll through Parliament Square or the markets on Bay Street. There are other great places on the island to see (such as the Versailles Gardens on Paradise Island or Fort Montagu on New Providence), but these all cost an entrance fee. It’s great to support local businesses or historic associations, so always feel free to stop in and check them out. We paid about $15 a person to visit Clifton Heritage National Park (a historic park featuring beautiful cliffs, gardens, and original establishments from the slavery era), but the focus here is budget-friendly, so do some research into what fits best. I enjoy splurging on activities I know will make a memory, so my big expense was my day of diving.
In the end, the Bahamas can be costly, but a little research and planning make it an affordable destination. If you plan on eating out every day, raging until dawn, and catching those beautiful sailboats to chase the sunset the trip will be more expensive than what many may be used to (especially compared to a cheaper tropical destination such as Mexico). But the islands are gorgeous, the people are some of the friendliest I’ve ever met, and the diving is unreal. Traveling is all about balance, especially if you’re trying to do multiple trips in one year (or one season or one month…). I love cutting loose and enjoying a place without worrying about the cost, but I also love knowing that a little smart planning allows for me to afford that next trip that’s right around the corner!
Price Breakdown (4 days, 3 nights)
Car rental: $230
4-Dives with Stuart’s Cove (optional) $450 (per person)
First Night Dinner Out: $110
Entrance to National Park: $15 (per person)
Alcohol (bottle of wine and a bottle of vodka): $45
Snorkeling, Beach Bumming, Touring the Island: Free!