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When you think frugal family vacations, camping comes to mind. How much can a tent and some bug spray cost compared to airfare and hotel accommodations, right? Unfortunately, if you’re a novice camper and don’t plan ahead, it can be far more expensive than you anticipated.

Here are a few ideas to keep your camping expenses to a minimum.

GEAR: You can get by with a tent and tarp, sleeping bags, toiletries, clothing, a cooler for food/water and dinnerware, but you might want to consider additional items such as a cook stove or Dutch oven (for campfire cooking), sleeping pads, pillows or air mattresses, flashlights, first-aid kit and a plethora of items to make your trip more comfortable. Visit www.lovetheoutdoors.com/camping/checklists.htm for a handy camping checklist.

Check with the campground on their prices, availability (some accept reservations, while others are first-come, first served) and amenities. If you don’t own camping gear, see whether you can borrow any from friends or family, or possibly chip in together to buy gear and ask them to join you. Window shop at sporting-goods stores. Check prices and make a list of items you are interested in buying. You can also check other sources such as Army surplus stores, garage sales, eBay classifieds, Freecycle and thrift stores for equipment or consider renting equipment to try before you buy.

FOOD: Prepare your food as much as possible ahead of time. For example, it’s easier to reheat pancakes you made at home than it is to make pancakes when camping. Foods such as fruit, raw vegetables, cereal, cookies, muffins, granola bars, nuts, crackers, instant oatmeal, popcorn, canned or instant soup, hot dogs and sandwiches are easy foods to pack. Remember you can bring along a skillet, and aluminum foil (foil-packet meals are tasty), and if you have electricity available, bring a slow cooker. Remember food safety. Put food away so it doesn’t attract animals. Keep your cooler packed with ice.

ADDITIONAL TIPS: Have a separate cooler for drinks and snacks because they get opened more often.

* Large plastic bins help organize everything and give some protection from rain.

* Consider how you pack your vehicle. What will you need first?

* Remember to pack jackets, warmer clothing and a spare pair of shoes.

* Bring garbage bags. They’re helpful for dirty clothes, too.

* Pack cards, books or board games in case it rains.

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To send tips, comments or questions, write to Sara Noel, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., fourth floor, New York, NY 10016, or e-mail sara@frugalvillage.com.