At first glance, camping is wonderful. It’s cheap, it’s simple, it fosters adventure and togetherness and – if photos are to be believed – everyone doing it is grinning like an idiot.
And, at some levels, this is true, but only if you do it right. Camping is incredibly complicated, stressful and unpleasant if you don’t.
Handily, I’m in a position to do a bit of public service blogging again and bring you some tips for a successful and smiley camp.
Understand that change is constant. Just because it’s daylight, dry and there are no flying pterodactyls doesn’t mean that situation will persist. Prepare for it to be dark, wet, windy and for biting beasts to appear, that way you can, at least, appear smugly organised.
Get a roof box. An early family camping prep went something like this: write list, assemble kit, open car boot, look in dismay from pile of kit to boot, drive to nearest Halfords and buy roof box. A trailer, camel caravan or articulated lorry would suffice too.
Practise. Might not make perfect, but certainly makes for not looking like an utter pillock who can’t put their tent up on a campsite. Likewise for anything that has instructions or requires some form of erecting.
Write good lists. For the want of a nail and all that. I have to sit in silence and think really hard step-by-step about all the things we might need in order to construct an effective list. That might just be me – I did have to use check lists to get kids ready for school in the morning.
Consider lavvy proximity. Close to the bogs is handy (especially in the middle of the night), but, then again, it might be noisy and smelly. Tough decision.
Keep it simple 1. Life, that is. Depends on the length of time you’re camping, but if you’re going to care a lot about maintaining toilette routines, bringing gadgets to play with, eating ‘proper’ food or looking a certain way, then you may as well stay at home. These things are possible, but part of the fun is that you’re off the hook for good hair or five-a-day.
Keep it simple 2. Your accommodation. There are tents with rooms, porches and all sorts of other nonsense. Not only will roughing it be pointless but few marriages will survive putting one of these things up. In this family, more smaller tents is a much happier combination than one vast one.
Know where corners must not be cut. A good sleeping bag and sufficiently self-inflating mat can be the difference between the worst night of your life ever (if yours is a fortunate and sheltered life) and a good enough one. Tents likewise.
Lower your expectations. Camping is like romance – if you fall for the popular portrayal of it as wonderful and life-enhancing (not to mention easy and comfortable) then you will be sadly disappointed – to the point of bitterness in some cases. Like romance, know that much of it will be mediocre, some even crap, but there will be enough moments of bliss to make it worthwhile.
And for some actual grown-up camping advice, try Halfords’ free camping guide.