“We’re off camping at the weekend with friends. It will be so lovely to hang out all together on a wholesome break in the great outdoors with the kids!”
Actual translation: “The lurking feeling of dread that has been looming for months since we agreed to this (in gung-ho/possibly booze-filled fashion on a WhatsApp group) is finally being realised this weekend. Now I have to leave home comforts behind and pretend to enjoy parenting in the great outdoors under canvas, where each call of nature involves positioning myself/my kids over a darkened long drop, trying not to breath in in the process. HELP…”
If this sounds like you to any extent, rest assured you are not alone. While there are some parents who are only too happy to load their children and professional camping kit into the boot and stride happily into a sea of outdoorsy people at an actual FESTIVAL, others outright refuse. Some of us heroically accept invites, only to wake in the night with tent-tion headaches at the thought of a stay at even the most well-equipped campsite.
So let’s cut to the chase and do our best to prepare – and reassure – the latter, with a lessons learned list of how to survive… and possibly even enjoy a family camping trip. Disclaimer: Every family and destination are different – these are some tried and tested learnings designed to fill in the gaps wherever possible for the anxious parent.
#1 Camping in the UK before June will be very cold at night. May can actually be freezing. We’re not sponsored by an outdoors emporium, so this is not about recommending sub-zero gear. But if you’re nervous and feel the cold, be honest and opt for June/July/Aug. If breastfeeding and/or taking a little person for a wee in icy temps doesn’t phase you, brace yourselves and pack thick layers and appropriate sleeping bags for the average temperature.
#2 Choose a campsite with options for food, amenities and connections to civilisation close by. It can be a lifeline to pop for a hot shower and/or creamy latte while your friends or family defiantly persevere with the travel stove in the hope of a triumphantly tepid cuppa. Pack lots of familiar snacks for the kids and consider investing in a large cool box with good longevity (ie. stays cold for at least a few days) so your comforting essentials are always at the ready.
#3 There is no joy to be had from cutting corners with bedding. Air beds are key for all – there are some great inflatable options with raised sides for younger kids, and for the sake of your relationship (please see no.4) REMEMBER THE PUMP!
#4 Just one potential source of friction/devastation that can so easily be avoided. Personally ensure one is packed – and that the correct lead/tube is attached. And that you haven’t packed an electric pump if your car will not be parked nearby. Especially if you have an air tent (the swanky option where tent poles are replaced by blow-up sections). For the love of God though, pack a PUMP! Thank you).
#5 Packing cubes are a great way of organising everyone’s clothes during – and at each end – of the trip. Choosing fun colours for each family member can add an element of fun and ownership to an otherwise mundane, stressful part of the logistics.
#6 If you’re preoccupied by sleep and routine, and have been investing time and energy into preventing your child from being an “early riser” (as the sleep/routine apps so diplomatically call them), consider a tent with blackout sleep sections. Those enticing, ready-made beige bell tents with duvets and fairy lights will be LIGHT AT 4AM IN SUMMER. Nope.
#7 That ladybird themed, vacuum sealed travel potty could be a godsend at 2am when your child (whatever the age/size, quite frankly – it’s 2AM) needs a wee. Side note – remember it’s full in the morning so make sure it’s emptied first thing. Unless you like two inches’ worth of wee chasing you around your tent lining once the potty is inevitably upturned.
#8 Comfy chairs to sink in by the campfire are also key. Enough for one each if you can squeeze it in.
#9 If you enjoy a bracing swim on holiday, consider a campsite by the sea, so that you can channel all the motivational Wim Hof videos you’ve watched and dunk away bleary-eyed bleakness with a wholesome, salty plunge first thing. You could return to the tent triumphant and exhilarated by the whole trip, even though it’s only 8am and you were woken up at 5.46am by seagulls fighting over next door’s detritus. Or by the aforementioned early riser.
#10 Embrace all of the elements, issues, lows and long-drops, because you’re AMAZING for being there – and will be back at home before you know it. And whatever their age, the kids are likely to flop happily to sleep – both at night and the minute you’ve left the campsite. It will be ok.
Let us know how you get on – and share your camping survival tips with us on @happymumhappybaby