Fatherhood²: 7 Lessons I’ve Learnt After Our First Summer of Camping

September 22, 2013 at 7:52 pm

As I’ve mentioned a few times over the summer, Sara and I recently invested in our first family tent, along with all the equipment needed for family camping trips galore.

Several months later, and as the last remnants of summer begin to leave us for the year, I’m pleased to report that we’ve made great use of it. Four camping trips later (not masses I know – but we started late!) and we’ve just about got this camping lark down to a fine art… well, we’ve got a little bit better anyway!

So, if you’re thinking of investing in some camping equipment in the sales this Winter, I thought I’d share some of the wisdom that I’ve gained over the past few months – hopefully it’ll help you to plan your own trips a little more thoroughly…

You can NEVER have too many lights…

This one is true whatever the weather or time of year, though it certainly gets more relevant at the end of the season. Remember to take as many sources of light as you can manage – torches, fairy lights, solar lanterns, wind-up thingys.

Once it gets dark and you’re desperately searching your tent for a cork screw or a nappy, you’ll realise how important it is to have lights to hand. Not to mention all those midnight trips to the toilet block… And if you’ve got a big party with you, glow sticks go down particularly well – and serve to light your tent up as well! Bonus.

Camping is not very relaxing

We chose to try out camping this year for many reasons; For starters, it’s generally a lot cheaper than a package holiday or long stay abroad; It’s also a lot easier to organise (no need to book, most of the time), good for supporting the British holiday industry, easy for travel and takes advantage of last-minute good weather.

One thing it ISN’T – or at least hasn’t been so far, for us – is relaxing. I had a hazy vision of long days in the sunshine, reading a book on a deckchair as the children frolicked on the grass. As it turns out, camping with young children is just as chaotic and tiring as any other holiday is – not that you should let that put you off, I hasten to add. You just have to make sure you make time to relax and wind-down each day, or the kids will be utterly exhausted by day three!

Research your camp sites first

Putting a bit of time in to researching your camping site can pay dividends. I’ve found a quick Google search for reviews can save you a lot of time – or if you want to go one step further, use a site like Campsite Chatter or Cool Camping to find out the inside track on the sites you’ve shortlisted.

Don’t just trust the description on the camp site website – for instance, “Family-friendly Camp Site” doesn’t necessarily mean YOUR family will find it suitable – after all, there are lots of crap families out there!

Make sure you know what the site’s policy is on noise and lights-out, for starters – you don’t want to find your little ones struggle to sleep because there’s a stag party camping right next door…

Guy Ropes Matter

Our tent came with brightly luminous guy ropes, which I wasn’t massively fond of when we first put it up. However, the moment you have to weave through fifty different tents in the dark, trying to find your way to the shower block, you’ll realise exactly why the bright guy ropes are there – and you’ll come to hate tents with black guy ropes in a way you never thought possible!

I’d swap a camp fire for a toilet…

While reading-up on the best camp sites in the UK recently, I came to realise that the ability to light a camp fire on your site is very appealing to a lot of campers – they flock to them like a moth to a flame, if you’ll excuse the pun. Having finally experienced one of these sites first-hand this weekend, I can say with some authority that a camp fire is fun – but it’s no match for a good toilet block or some showers.

The site we stayed at had amazing views, “fire pits” galore, lots to see around the area… but the toilets were pretty mediocre, consisting mainly of porta-loos in one corner of the field. Having stayed in a couple of sites with nicer toilet blocks, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d gladly swap the ability to light a fire near my tent with the luxury of nicer ‘facilities’ nearby!

Cool boxes are not all equal

There’s no doubt about the fact that having a cool box will make your camping trip easier, even if you’re just keeping your milk in there for the morning cup of tea/coffee. But not all cool boxes are equal – in fact, they vary wildly! The one we have, for instance, is pretty crap! I actually bought it a few years back to keep my beers cool during a summer BBQ – and it worked fine for that. But having taken it on 3 or 4 multi-day camping trips now, I know it doesn’t stand the test of time. I’m told it is lacking a good seal on the lid – and I’ve also been given dozens of tips and tricks to make the contents stay cold for longer. But try as I might, I can’t get anything in it to stay cool for longer than 18-24 hours. Still, at least I know one thing I’ll be adding on my letter to Santa this year…!

Camping is bloody brilliant for families

Whatever your feelings about camping, or your experiences to date, I can tell you one thing with some certainty – your children will absolutely love the experience. The benefits for them are countless – as are the benefits for you. To name but a few: It gets them outdoors, away from their TV/Computer, it teaches self-sufficiency, gets them close to nature, keeps them occupied for days on end, is largely cheap/free… I could go on for hours.

Both of my boys had a whale of a time on all of our camping trips – and I’m looking forward to taking them on many more next year. We’ve formed some brilliant memories, tried lots of new things and – most importantly – had way more holidays as a family than we ever would have if we’d been saving up for an expensive trip abroad. I can’t recommend it enough!