With summer fast approaching, and the weather finally turning pleasant, thoughts inevitably turn to the summer holidays.
If you’ve not already got a fancy foreign holiday booked, you may well be thinking about a staycation or two. Not only are they a way to really appreciate our beautiful British countryside, they’re also a much cheaper alternative to package holidays.
One of my personal favourite ways to ‘staycate’ is camping. Ever since our children were born, my wife and I have been doing several camping trips each year as a nice way to get away for a short break.
We’ve had weekends in Devon and Dorset, a week in Wales on the Gower, a number of trips to the Cotswolds and we’ve even ventured as far as North West France. Sometimes we go on our own, sometimes with friends. The real beauty of camping is that you’re only limited by the size of the field – so when we camp with 4 or 5 other families, we can all stay together without the need for hiring an expensive group property.
If you’re not a seasoned camper, though, the prospect of your first trip might be a little daunting. Sure, it’s easy enough to buy the basic equipment – you might even bag a bargain if you shop at the end of the season – but the prospect of fending for yourself under canvas can be a worrying one for a first timer.
So, if that sounds like you, I’ve put together some top tips – allow me to share some of my camping expertise with you, in the hope that your first trip will be as successful as possible!
Get a good cool box
This is an important one – particularly if you’ve got small children. Our first camping trip (which involved our 18-month old son) was almost ruined by our sub-standard cool box, which we were relying on to store our food (and more importantly, milk) for the duration. Whilst there are bound to be some good cheap boxes out there, it’s worth spending a little more to get one that keeps your stuff cool for longer.
Pre-cool your cooler
Following from number 1, you can make your cool box stay cold for longer by pre-cooling it before your trip. What that basically means, in a nutshell, is putting some cool packs (or – top tip – frozen bottles of water) in the box a few days before, rotating them daily. That way, when you fill your cooler before the trip, it’ll be nice and cold to begin with.
Prepare some meals beforehand
Obviously you might use the excuse of all that money saved on the holiday to justify a few meals out, but if you’re going to self-cater in the tent, it makes sense to prepare a few meals before you go – that way, you can just stick one (a bolognaise for example) in a pan and prepare it quickly and easily. Even more so if you’re eating on your first night, after putting the tent up. BONUS: If you freeze a meal, it acts as an extra “ice pack” for your cooler, and you simply wait for it to defrost before eating it.
You can never have too many lights
When you’re sat in your tent after sundown, having put the kids to bed, maybe enjoying a cheeky glass of wine, you’ll be glad of a few lights to see by. You’ll also want a light or two for any night-time trips to the toilet block. You can get some great solar lights these days (I usually stock up at the end of the season) which are ideal for camping. BONUS: if you replace the cheap rechargeable batteries the lights usually come with, you’ll find they stay lit for a lot longer.
Check the facilities beforehand
Every campsite is different, so it’s worth doing some research beforehand, to ensure you prepare for all eventualities. Do they have shower blocks? Will they let you have an open fire at night? Does the campsite have a “lights out” time, or a separate family area? Are there likely to be large groups (i.e. scouts, Duke of Edinburgh groups) using the site too? Are you allowed to park your car next to the tent, or will you have to drop off your stuff and park elsewhere? These are some of the questions you might ask of your campsite before heading off.
Take some chairs
The novelty of roughing-it on the floor of your tent will wear-off pretty quickly, so make sure you have some comfy outdoor seating to fall back on (literally!). Avoid the cheap camping chairs they sell at motorway service stations, as they’ll almost certainly fall apart after a couple of uses!
Take some stuff to do
Whilst camping can be massively relaxing, there will be times when you find yourself at a loose end – so take a book with you, or games for the kids to play. Our most frequently-used “fun” items are a frizbee, a packet of glow sticks and a football – they won’t take up a huge amount of room but they’ll keep the kids amused, if only while you put the tent up.
Take time putting your tent away
Once your trip is over, it can be very tempting to stuff everything back into the bags and tell yourself you’ll “sort it out next time” – which inevitably never happens. Spending a bit of time putting all your equipment back sensibly will save you a lot of hassle next time you camp. We always take a little dustpan and brush with us, to sweep out the tent before putting it away – inevitably it’ll be full of dry grass and mud, especially if the weather has been mixed.
So there are some tips to get you started – I’m sure there are many more, and Pinterest is chock-full of great camping craft and decoration ideas. But these should get you on your way!
Henry Elliss is a digital marketer by day and a pun-loving, dad-blogging, photo-taking, Lego-making, beard-wearing, child-caring father of two and husband of one by day, night, weekend and every other moment. For more family adventures, reviews and parenting hints and tips, visit Henry’s Fatherhood blog at http://www.henrysblog.co.uk/.