Camping with Your Family
When it comes to a budget holiday with the family there really isn’t anything as much fun or as affordable as going camping (if you do it right!). Did you go camping as a child? Have you got fond memories of being allowed to play football outside the tent until late, or toasting marshmallows to eat with hot chocolate? This article is all about helping you to plan and to enjoy a family camping trip so that you and your children may create new memories to hold dear.
A large part of camping is getting back to basics and while once upon a time a camping trip either meant popping the tent up in the garden, finding a random grassy clearing in a forest or visiting a pretty basic camping site. These days camping retains all of the joy that comes with outdoor camping with some modern extras thrown in.
Types of Pitch
There are various pitches to choose from when camping these days and you have to decide what type is best for you.
These are the most basic pitches. Generally speaking you are allocated a specific space or can pitch up in the next empty place on a row of your choice. Some pitches have size restrictions whereas some don’t.
Grass with Hook Up
Many campsites offer grass pitches (as above) with the added benefit of an electric hook-up. This means you can use an electric kettle, charge your phone or take advantage of any other electrical gadgetry you want to take yet couldn’t on a bog-standard pitch.
Glamping and Pods
If you want to be more comfortable and generally want more room it’s worth seeing if your campsite offers pods, wig-wams or other structures for camping in. More expensive than a tent pitch, with some accommodations (such as pods) you need everything but the tent and with others beds (camping beds) and other amenities might be included. You’ll have to do your research in advance to check what’s included.
One of the main benefits, other than space, electricity (for some, not all) and added luxuries of enjoying pods and similar is the fact that they are waterproof and already set up for you. Actual camping when it’s wet is something of a rite of passage, you just get on with it. Setting up a tent without the inside getting wet through while looking after young and excited children is about as much fun as it sounds.
Which pitch type you’ll go for will depend on where you want to go, your budget, availability and of course your own preferences. We love the humble tent here at ParentsNeed but have to admit the idea of rocking up to a cheap and cheerful wooden cabin, putting up air beds and cracking on with our holiday is an attractive option.
Choosing the Right Campsite
There are a vast number of campsites to choose from so how do you narrow down the options to find the right one for your family camping trip?
First of all, talk to others who have camped in your sought after area. Personal recommendations are worth their weight in gold. Then look at the site’s website and online reviews. TripAdvisor is a brilliant place to start if you are searching for a camp site, its ratings and reviews.
Check out what the campsite offers and ensure this meets your needs. For example:
- Is there a shop and a café (a cheap and cheerful full breakfast that someone else cooked for you can be a great bonus)?
- Are there laundry facilities, how many toilet and shower blocks are there, where can you get water from, is there a pot washing place / station?
- Consider whether or not there is a children’s play area, if there is a field away from the tents for Frisbee throwing, football and kit flying.
- Is there a dedicate family pitch area and separate adult one?
- Does this campsite offer entertainment and swimming?
- Consider what is nearby, i.e. are there attractions, points of interest, other places to eat nearby?
Having decided what services and extras you want (and those you don’t), check out those reviews and prices. Once you’ve done your research you’ll be ready to book the ideal place for your family trip.
Do a Dry Run
Before spending a small fortune on camping gear borrow a tent and pitch it up in the garden for a couple of nights. Sleep out there with your little ones to see if camping is for you, and more to the point if it is for them. A dry run if you haven’t been with the kids before might make you decide it would be best to wait another year or it might make you realise that this is the perfect way to holiday while working out what camping gear (etc) you’re going to need.
Talk to Them That Know
The best way to figure out the ins and outs of camping with kids before you go (and realise you really should have taken x, y and z, and done this and that first) is to talk to family and friends who have camped with kids before. This first-hand insight will smooth the road considerable!
What Size and Sort or Tent Will You Need?
How big a tent you need depends on how many people are going with you and your sleeping arrangements! When buying a tent, the berth information gives you an indication of how many people fit in. Some tents have a helpful “two children, two adults” or similar guide to give you an idea about space. Check out these details and specifications carefully. You don’t want to spend a long weekend or longer crammed like sardines in a very tight tin!
As well as the size of your tent, consider the quality. Anyone who has been camping before will advise you that the better quality the tent, the better the experience. Also look for tents that allow you, or at least the kids to stand up (this makes life a lot easier when it comes to moving about and getting dressed).
Also consider getting a tent with a communal area. Often tents have “rooms” for sleeping in and another section that leads onto the exit door for playing, eating if it’s wet and more. This allows you to zip up “bedrooms” and have a clear space for relaxing.
Do remember when buying a tent to go for one with the space you need and no more. Firstly, you have to get it into your car along with everything else so a monster of a tent is going to take up a fair amount of room. Secondly many campsites have size restrictions for their pitches so you could end up paying more for a “superpitch” if yours is larger than average.
Top Tip: Borrow a tent! A decent tent is not an inexpensive buy. It might be worthwhile borrowing a suitably sized tent the first time you go camping so that you can decide whether it’s right for you, rather than paying out then having a tent you’ll never use again.
Essential Camping Kit
We’ve covered the tent / accommodation aspect of camping kit already. This list makes a great starting point for essential camping items however remember that there may be other family-specific things you might want to pack.
Camping Beds / Blow Up Beds: Lying on the ground is harder than you might think, even with a groundsheet in place. Choose beds that are comfortable, easy to put up and if possible easy to shove to one side or stack when not in use to maximise space.
Foot Activate / Electric Pumps: If you have opted for blow up beds (these usually take up the smallest amount of room in your car!) don’t forget to pack a pump to blow them up! A foot pump is fine however electrical ones (they run off your car or the mains) are much quicker and easier to use.
Sleeping Bags: It might be hot and sunny during the day however the temperature drops quite swiftly when night comes. Make sure that everyone has a suitable-sized sleeping bag to keep them warm and cosy.
Cooking Equipment: The chances are you’ll be eating out for some of your meals while out and about however cooking your own food will save you a fortune (and is more convenient if you’re feeling lazy and can’t be bothered to get dressed and go off-site). Keep it simple with something like a camping stove and a couple of pans, perhaps a disposable BBQ or two if allowed and don’t forget to pack the essential cookery tools, plates, cutlery and so on!
Let There Be Light: Remember to pack a torch and plenty of batteries. Finding your way around the tent in the dark is one thing, making it safely to the loo block in the middle of the night without tripping over tent ropes is another!
Tables and Chairs: If you can, pack some fold up chairs at least (makes eating easier, less messy and if it’s wet on the ground a much drier experience). A camping table can be brilliant but isn’t absolutely essential.
An Extension Lead: If you’ve opted for a tent with an electric pitch you might find it useful to have an extension lead so you can plug in more than one item at a time and do it inside the tent rather than right next to the mains if it’s wet out. Be aware that you might be sharing the electrical point with the pitch next door so be courteous.
Top Tip: Take Walkie Talkies with you as there is a chance you’ll not have any phone reception where you are. This way you can keep in touch with each other if separated on the camp (or off but fairly nearby) and otherwise the kids will love using them to play with.
Water: Take something that you can use to fill up with water carry easily back to your pitch from the communal tap. This water will be used for cooking, cleaning, drinking, hand washing and more so choose the largest container you can comfortably carry.
A Kettle: Priorities! Make sure you have a kettle (stove or electric) and a way to power it. Besides cooking and washing you’ll need it for that all-important first brew of the day!
Don’t Forget the Can Opener: The majority of families take canned foods with them on camping trips for convenience and because they aren’t perishable. Beans and sausages and the like are the staple diet of many so don’t remember the food and forget the tin opener.
Washing Up Gear: Most campsites have either a dedicated washing up / pot washing area or at the very least free-running cold water. Make sure you take something to carry your dirty pots in as well as washing up cloths etc.
Bathroom Essentials: Take everything with you that you’d need for toilet runs and showers that you’d use at home, including towels and flannels. It might be worth-while taking toilet roll too, just in case!
Medication: If you or any of the children take regular medication make sure you take enough with you and keep these in a lock-box somewhere safe and discreet.
Clothing: Work out how many days and nights you’ll be away and pack enough clothes for everyone for that time plus two more outfits each. When camping people get wet, they get dirty and it isn’t as easy to throw things in the washer. Don’t forget to pack plenty of underwear, especially dry socks and also suitable footwear.
Rubbish Bags: It is your responsibility to leave your pitch as you found it so take bin bags with you and tidy as you go. Make sure the kids do their bit to keep the campsite clean and tidy too.
Entertainment: Hopefully the sun will shine, the grass will be dry and you’ll be able to spent every day out and about, enjoying exploring the local area. There are some great summer activities for families here if you are looking for inspiration. If it rains however you’ll be wishing you’d packed more to keep the little ones happy and entertained. Even if the sun does shine beautifully, you’ll need activities to keep them occupied early in the morning and before bedtime.
Food- Take Plenty of Food! You’ll no doubt have an idea about what meals you’ll have at the campsite and what meals you’ll be eating back at the tent but also remember to pack plenty of drinks and snacks. All that fresh air makes people hungry!
Pack the First Aid Kit: Scrapes, stings and bruises are all part of the great outdoors adventure. Make sure that you have a well-stocked first aid kit handy, just in case.
Top Tip: Let each child take a backpack each that is just for their favourite things. Pack teddy bears, favourite books, games and treats for those times when children might be missing home or simply want some of their own things to hand.
Camping can be a hugely enjoyable and relatively affordable way to take the kids away. The key to a successful trip is in the planning. Basically if you prepare for anything and everything you’ll be absolutely fine.
Have you taken your children away camping? How did you find it? If you have any top tips of your own to share with other readers, please comment below.