Camping always used to be one of the most affordable ways to holiday – and the financial and psychological pressures of the cost of living crisis means cheap breaks are now more in demand needed than ever.
But i research reveals that even the simple act of pitching your own tent is moving out of some people’s reach this year as campsites introduce their own price hikes.
One farm-based site near the coast in Lancashire, for example, is charging £235.40 to rent a patch of grass for three nights in August. That covers four people bringing their own tent, and works out at £19.62 per person a night.
But the same party could rent out a whole holiday flat complete with its own private bathroom, fitted kitchen and lounge with TV for much less. Four adults staying in a standard apartment at Pontins on Camber Sands in East Sussex works out at £159 over the same three nights – £13.25 per person a night.
Yes, you’ll have to pay extra for bed linen and electricity. But you won’t get those at the campsite either – using a firepit there will costs you an extra £20 and they will also charge you more for your dog. It is one example of a wider trend that is alarming seasoned campers.
Data from campsite booking website Pitchup, compiled for i, shows that average prices have risen by more than 40 per cent since 2021.
In the UK in January 2021, the average per night price to pitch a tent with no electric hook-up based on two adults, according to Pitchup, was £16.34, in 2022 it was £20.88 and in 2023 it is £23.
Dan Yates, founder and managing director of Pitchup, said campsites like other businesses have had to increase their prices but outdoor accommodation still represents exceptional value.
“All businesses are seeing their costs rise and campsites, like everyone, are experiencing hikes in their electricity bills,” he said.
“However, outdoor accommodation is better placed to weather these costs and the increases we have seen at Pitchup’s 5,000 plus sites are far lower than for other types of accommodation such as hotels.”
But for those who opt for camping because it is cheap, the increases are significant in the context of rising energy bills and food prices.
Tianna Johnson, who created Black Girls Camping Trip (BGCT), an event for black women and non-binary people to experience the great outdoors, tweeted last month that she had seen prices rise by 265 per cent at one campsite since 2018. She told i she is having to shut the group down because of prohibitive prices.
To cover her costs, Ms Johnson, who does not run BGCT for profit, charges campers £60 for the most basic package – base rate entry fee. The price has increased from £15 when the group started in 2018 and can go up to as much as £120 in 2023 with activity add-ons.
“I wanted it to be a financially accessible trip,” Ms Johnson said. “It was for black women like me who didn’t have [any] money to go anywhere, couldn’t afford to go out to nice dinners or go to the theatre or go on holidays to take care of our mental wellbeing.”
But the significant increase in cost, which Ms Johnson said she is having to pass down from facilitators, has prompted her to announce this year will be the last camping trip she will organise.
Ticket sales for entry and activities have been slower this year and Ms Johnson also introduced a ClearPay payment option for the first time to help struggling campers spread the costs over an extended period.
“We never had this before – we never needed it,” she said. But the uptake figures suggest campers now do need to stagger their payments. “We’ve sold 26 pay-down option tickets and we’ve sold 42 regular entry tickets,” Ms Johnson said.
Even with the option to pay £15 each month for four months, some campers have had to forego this year’s trip because of financial difficulties.
Ms Johnson said it was something she related to. “I can barely afford it… as somebody who runs this trip, who’s has watched my energy bills have increased every single quarter for the past two years.” she said.
Camping enthusiast Breanne Lovatt, who documents her trips at Family Camping Europe, said people who had taken “staycations” during the pandemic were now going abroad again because of rising prices in the UK.
“In the past year, prices on UK campsites have significantly risen,” she said. “While there are still some bargains to be had, people are actually finding it cheaper to, once again, book holidays abroad.”
Lower costs for camping on the continent drove Ms Lovatt and her family to switch their 2023 summer holiday from the UK to France.
“We have booked to stay on a big campsite in France, for a week during the school holidays for £359,” she said. “For a similar style campsite in the UK you’d be looking at more than a thousand pounds for the week. It’s understandable, with energy costs rising, campsites have to up their prices, especially for all-frills campsites with heated swimming pools and arcades.
“If you’re willing, basic campsites are definitely the best way to go if you’re looking for a budget holiday and a return to nature. Pitches with no electric on rustic campsites are still well-priced and are a perfect escape for many families.”
Mr Yates of Pitchup also argues that camping is still the best value option for holidaymakers: “It is easily the most affordable way for a break away from home, but has the added benefit of being close to nature.”