Planning a camping holiday
Camping holidays get the holiday-family-choice thumbs-up because they're cheap and informal and kind(ish) to the environment. Crucially, camping holidays also provide lots of ready-made playmates for your children, so you can sit in your picnic chair and drink beer.
Before you go
If you can, do a test weekend somewhere local with borrowed gear. Or, even simpler, do as several Mumsnetters have before you, and have a 'trial camp' in your back garden first:
"We put our tent up in the back garden for a week. It rained the whole time but we still lived in it. We treated it as a holiday, despite being only a few feet from the back door. It was really good fun and the kids slept so well... We rediscovered board games, reading books, puzzles and generally having family fun!"
Where to go
This obviously depends on your budget and whether or not you're seasoned campers. Thankfully, Mumsnetters have done the hard work for you and we've compiled this handy list of the top UK family campsites.
Decide whether you want a site with lots of facilities - and probably lots of other families - or something less organised. How gregarious/misanthropic you are will determine your attitude to other campers who are within earshot at all times (remember: nylon is not soundproof). But bear in mind that the upside of all those other people (rowdy or not) is the potential for holiday playmates.
Campers fall into different, well, camps. Hardy souls regard anything beyond a tent, a sleeping bag, a penknife and a box of matches as somehow not 'proper' camping. But, if you're camping with children and don't want to forsake all home comforts, you'll quickly amass a dizzying amount of gear.
To help you whittle things down to roof-rack-friendly proportions, we've started a camping packing list for you.
Whether you're on an established campsite or a field in the middle of nowhere, your tent is the only protection between you, the elements and the insects. So it pays to choose with care - again, our family tent buying guide should be your first stop.
Cooking on a camping stove can be a culinary challenge. Popular solutions include taking a picnic or fish n chip supper for night one (saves faffing around setting up the cooker), a pre-made frozen dinner from home (spag bol, curry etc) for night two, plus a disposable BBQ and even <whispers> tinned curries for the rest of the trip. You can normally buy milk, eggs, bacon and butter from the site shop, or a local farm.
Keeping perishable foods cool is another issue. There are coolboxes that work off car batteries (but beware of getting so into the idea that you drain the battery and can't actually drive home when the holiday's over) and the mains. And lots of campsite wardens will re-freeze your cool packs if you ask.
"Take a proper non-stick frying pan (for cooked breakies - much easier to clean than camping cookware) and a three-tier steamer saucepan set. I cook on the two saucepans and strain stuff or keep stuff warm in the steamer."
Shivering from dusk till dawn does not a pleasant holiday make, so take lots of bedding, fleeces, warm PJs and hot water bottles. "Once you get cold of a night you will not get warm again," warns one experienced camper. "Hats, socks and fleeces should go on as soon as the sun goes down - then you can stay up warmly much later."
The combination of bored children, particularly young ones, and rain is a whole new type of holiday misery. So good waterproofs are an essential - even if it isn't raining, they're useful for early mornings when the grass around your tent is still wet with dew.
Most seasoned campers impose a no-shoes-in-tent rule to prevent living quarters getting covered in muddy bits of grass. And you need to assume the worst and take plenty of dry clothes and lots of plastic bags for wet and muddy clothing.
Or just let them play in the rain. If they're in wellies and waterproofs, they'll be fine. You can watch from the tent window.
Most campsites have shower blocks, but toddlers (and some older children) are notoriously shower-phobic, so alternatives are the shower block sink, going swimming a lot, or washing them in an inflatable dinghy or small paddling pool next to your tent. Alternatively, stand young children in a washing-up bowl and sponge 'em down. Fill it from the shower block, or use water from a standpipe with boiling water added from your kettle. One Mner says: "Showergel all over and voila - clean kids. Much easier than traipsing to and from the showers."
Failing that, if you're only camping for a few days, let them get gleefully grubby.
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Last updated: 2 months ago