If you've never spent a night sleeping in a tent as a gentle, cool breeze slips through the trees and a placid lake laps softly along a rock-strewn shore, you've been missing out. Of course, camping isn't for everyone: Campers deal with bugs, rodents, and the occasional torrential downpour, any of which can turn a peaceful sojourn in the woods into a soggy, itchy nightmare.
But if you have camped before, you know two things: It doesn't have to be a primitive experience, and it can be really, really cheap. And just because you're camping doesn't mean you have to be in the middle of nowhere. The State Parks systems of California, Massachusetts, New York, and Illinois all have parks within an hour or so of major metropolitan areas (San Francisco, Boston, even the Big Apple) with rates ranging from around $10 to $35 per night.
Some state park campsites come with a surprising wealth of perks, such as Wi-Fi, not to mention well-maintained and easily accessible sites. Privately owned campgrounds sometimes have even more to offer, such as pools, game rooms, and organized activities. Of course, a city hotel will provide numerous amenities not generally found at any campsite (namely a roof over your head), but if you're willing to rough it, you'll save big.
But if tent camping isn't your thing, there's always an RV rental. While much pricier than tent or even cabin camping (and in some cases more expensive than hotels), RVs have the obvious advantage of being traveling homes, complete with kitchens, multiple beds, and restroom facilities.
We priced a two-week rental from CruiseAmerica for 14 nights out of Salem, Massachusetts. We were quoted $1,911 for a standard RV that sleeps five, and the price covers 1,400 miles. RVs tend to do poorly on gas—expect around six to eight miles per gallon—so 1,400 miles at current gas prices would add about $520 to your total. Altogether that breaks down to $173 per night before campsite fees. So again, while not exactly a cheap option, there's value to be found in the flexibility and convenience of an RV, and you can save by cooking your own meals.