Planning a camping holiday

Tent openingCamping 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.

Plus, if your children are of an age where they regard 5.30am as normal getting-up time, then at least camping chimes in with their bodyclocks: it's light; you get up (not exactly a joyous prospect, admittedly, but better than having to shush them frantically in some cramped hotel room).

Potential thumbs-down scenarios? Uncomfortable, sleeping-bag-hampered nights. Prolonged bad weather (particularly if you're in the UK). Camping is suck it and see: some people go once and swear never to repeat the torture; others love it and rarely holiday sans tents-and-sleeping-bags again.

Before you go | Planning a camping trip | Where to go | What you need for camping | Don't leave home withoutCooking | Keeping warm | Keeping dry | Keeping clean

Before you go camping

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:

Tips for planning a camping holiday
  • Look at weather forecast.
  • Decide, depending on the weather forecast, where you want to go.
  • Read reviews, then ring to see if they have a space and book.
  • Write a list of all the things you need (very important to include wellies and waterproofs and warm clothes).
  • Plan what you will eat, depending on budget and what's available locally.
  • Freeze milk and any food that you can in the freezer, ready to go in the coolbox so it will keep longer.
  • Make sure all lamps have batteries and are working, and all gas cannisters are full and ready to go.
  • Organise clothes for everyone.
  • Pack.
  • Load car.
  • GO!
  • Get to site, find the flattest pitch you can - with nice view, if possible.
  • Put up tent, make up beds (make sure heads go and feet downhill, even if it is a very slight slope) and put PJs on beds ready so less hassle trying to find them later.
  • Get table and chairs set out.
  • Feed the children.
  • Open wine and relax! sallystrawberry

"My children didn't settle, my husband was shouting 'I'm so angry I'm going to shatter into a thousand pieces' and it rained. I awoke to the sound of my daughter vomiting and it took five minutes of struggling and cursing to free myself from my sleeping bag." Slubberdegullion

"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!" whispywhisp

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 got scores of reviews of campsites in the UK and overseas. So, once you know the area you'd like to visit, just search to see which campsites Mumsnetters recommend.

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.

Camping clobber

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. A roof rack will become an indispensable purchase - or maybe a trailer.

Tent - and then what? Check out the Mumsnet packing checklist for campers

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, Mumsnet family tent reviews should be your first stop.

Before you buy, decide the following:

  • What is your budget?
  • Do you want to be able to stand up in it?
  • Do you want a bit of living space inside it or just somewhere to sleep?
  • Do you want to be next to your kids in a bedroom or at opposite ends of the tent/at a diagonal to them?

If you've already got a collapsible garden gazebo, take it with you, so that, if it rains, there's somewhere dry to sit/play outside the tent.

And then accept that, whatever it says on the label about ease of assembly, tempers will probably fray around the tent pegs. As one mum puts it: "The putting up the tent argument is a given, much like the putting up the Christmas tree argument."

What you lie on can also make the difference between sleeping in paradise or purgatory. Mumsnetters recommend airbeds that elevate you off the (cold, damp) ground. You can get double ones for the kids to share. Old-fashioned rubber airbeds are less prone to punctures than the velvety-textured flock ones. And double sleeping bags are a must if you are a couple.

Essential camping kit
  • Kelly kettle
  • Sleeping bags and fleece blankets
  • Waterproof trousers, coat and hat
  • Windbreak
  • Wind-up torch
  • A Trangia
  • Good camping beds
  • Head torch
  • A flag and a flag pole
  • A potty - great for kids (or adults who don't fancy going outside)
  • Delta pegs
  • Bottle opener
  • Insect repellant/spray/lotion
  • Camping coffee pot/cafetiere
  • Pee bucket
  • Ear plugs
  • A strong bladder
  • Prebooked receipt for nearest hotel
  • Screwtop bottle of wine and a straw. Job done

Camping cooking

Cooking on a camping stove can be a culinary challenge. One mum suggests taking a picnic for the first night so "you don't have to get the cooker out before you can eat".

Food such as tinned curry (M&S tinned curries get the thumbs-up from Mumsnetters) and tinned sweet and sour chicken only need warming up and can be served with boiled rice or bread. Anything that can be skewered on a kebab is a good camping standby. And you could always pack a few tupperware boxes with skewer-sized ingredients.

If you're not too far off the beaten track, you can get pizza delivered to the site, which could be a good final-night treat.

Barbecues are also popular, particularly the small disposable sort.

Cold dinners of baguettes and cheese or ham can be easier than faffing about with chopped peppers of an evening. And you'll probably eat out a fair bit, particularly if there's a campsite diner.

Seasoned camper sallystrawberry says: "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."

Mumsnetters also recommend taking a windbreak to stop "summer breezes" blowing the cooking gas out, or a separate, sheltered gazebo for cooking in.

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.

You can normally buy milk, eggs, bacon and butter from the site shop, or a local farm.

Keeping warm

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."

This thread about how to get a good's night sleep while camping has useful tips. And, for adults, there's always the time-honoured way of keeping warm. As one mum says: "Some of the best sex I've had has been under canvas while trying not to alert the whole field what we were up to!"

Keeping dry

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.

Remember, though, that it's your holiday, not an endurance test, so, if it rains solidly for days and the campsite is a miserable swamp, there's no shame in bailing out early and going home, or to a nearby B&B, which will probably feel like the height of warm, dry luxury.

But if hope springs eternal and you're waiting for the sun, here are some suggestions for coping with the rain:

  • Portable DVD player
  • Laptop computer ("We play a movie and have a family showing, snuggled up in sleeping bags.")
  • Playdough, stickers, colouring books and lovely new colouring pens or crayons
  • Games/puzzles/cards
  • Books
  • Pubs and cafes
  • Indoor amusement arcades/play centres
  • Indoor swimming pool - might as well get properly wet

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.

Keeping clean

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
  • Washing them in an inflatable dinghy or small paddling pool next to your tent
  • Making a makeshift bath out of a large plastic packing box

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 mum 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.

And, finally...

Please share your tips and recommendations with other MNetters when you get back on the Camping Talk board. And if the site you stayed at doesn't have a Mumsnet review yet, please add one.

Choosing a holiday | Surviving the journey | Packing checklists | Surviving the holiday | Mumsnet travel reviews | Camping homepage

Last updated: 18-Aug-2014 at 10:20 AM