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SMART CONSUMER: Camp it up with a trip the kids will love at a nice price


Camperfan: Michelle O'Leary from Cork

Camperfan: Michelle O'Leary from Cork

Camperfan: Michelle O'Leary from Cork

For most of us, childhood holiday memories involve staying out in the fresh air until at least dinner time, endless days filled with adventures and, if we're lucky, a bit of sun.

Now, with people having less to spend, there's been a surge in camping holidays with people indulging in the simple pleasures of outdoor cooking, campfires and bedding down in their sleeping bags under the stars .

The biggest draw is definitely the price. When jobs started going and levies started hurting, one of the first things to go was the annual holiday.

Whereas many people were enjoying not only a fortnight in the sun but a couple of glamorous city breaks, now people are questioning whether they can manage Bundoran, not to mention Benidorm.

Of course, holidays are the one time to splurge a little and enjoy yourself, and the notion of cold baked beans in perma-drizzle is hardly inviting. But with a few clever choices, a week's camping can be as idyllic as your rose-tinted memory of your childhood.

1 With cheap flights and packages abroad, how can a staycation work out cheaper?

A European holiday can cost a small fortune, before you've even thought about food or entertainment. In contrast, hikers and backpackers can pay as little as €10 a night for a single tent, with pitch prices plus electricity for family tents about €30 a night. In contrast, a week in Sicily in July in a five-star hotel can cost up to €1,900. The Irish Caravan and Camping Council offers advice and deals on its website, camping-ireland.ie.

Saving: Up to €1,800 for a family of four

2 But isn't the equipment pricey?

A tent for a family of four can cost anything up to €600. If you are a regular camper it may be worth investing, but novices can pick up a decent family tent for less than €200. Other essentials can really edge up the bill, so look out for deals and packages.

But don't skimp too much on quality -- it will cost you more in the long run when your tent blows away or you wake up in an inch of water.

"The fundamentals are having a solid, waterproof tent and a good sleeping bag and mattress," says Robbie Lawless from Great Outdoors.

"The market is awash with some very questionable quality tents that are just not going to stand up to the often unreliable Irish climate; we only stock tents and camping equipment that we know will perform time after time and are durable.

"All the staff here go camping so we know what cuts it and what doesn't! The same goes for sleeping bags and mats."

Great Outdoors offers a Luxury Family Camping Pack. It features a Vango Icarus 400 Tent, two Vango Atlantic 200 Sleeping Bags, two Atlantic Junior Sleeping Bags, one folding gas stove, a four-person stainless-steel cookset, one deluxe tent lantern, one Easycamp folding table, four Easycamp chairs and two double airbeds for €520, with a saving of around €100.

Compare all that to the cost of a hotel abroad, and you'll have made your money back on the camping equipment in no time.

Saving: €100

3 A festival is my first brush with camping -- will I need all the gear?

As much as possible to make you comfortable -- and a decent tent, sleeping bag and foam/air mattress are essential to make sure you're not miserable. If you have an Oxegen ticket, show it at a Great Outdoors store and they'll give you 20% off your camping purchases and 10% off tents.

Saving: Up to €100

4 What about food?

Most sites have fridge-freezers -- so you can bring a week's worth of groceries if you want. The odd splurge on a restaurant meal won't break the bank, but you might find the barbecue tastier and cheaper -- and more popular with the kids.

Saving: Up to €500

5 Keeping yourself amused in Ireland is surely more expensive, though?

Yes, on a holiday abroad you may have beaches and budget booze, but the beauty of camping is that you have a world of free entertainment at your feet. Get outdoors and try hiking, and Irish beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world.

Whereas a night in the pub will set you back a few quid, a cheeky glass of wine al fresco with your barbecue is a cheaper option. A one-day pass to PortAventura in Salou, Spain would set you back €160 for a family of four, but a trip to beautiful Glendalough only costs the price of petrol, and entrance to the nearby Clara Lara adventure park is €40.

Saving: €120

6 I'd love an Irish adventure, but I'm not the outdoorsy type -- are there any other options?

It can cost more than €300 a week to rent a house in your desired location -- but why not try house swapping? A three-month membership of swaplocation.com costs €50, and if you swap with someone whose house is around the same value the rest is free. Or if you're not not fussy, try couch surfing, but prepare to surrender your sofa in return at some point.

Saving: €250