As the credit crunch threatens tighter times ahead and as cheap flights no longer seem so cheap, more and more people are turning to camping as a way to spend their summer holidays.
If your childhood memories of camping are a heavy tent that takes several hours and a degree in engineering to construct, and a cold night spent under dripping canvas, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how different camping is in an age of modern materials and lightweight frames.
Camping can be an incredibly low cost way to explore the great British countryside. A family of four can buy a modern tent and all the equipment they need for a couple of hundred pounds and site fees start from only a few pounds per night. Add the price of a ferry crossing and you could be waking up to a breakfast of “croissants et pains au chocolat” each morning.
Choosing the right tent is the first step to a happy holiday. The choice can be bewildering, with ridge tents, dome tents, tunnel tents, mountain tents, 3 second tents and more. In our opinion though there are only two types of tent – those with a living room area and those without. Smaller tents without may be your only choice if you are planning to arrive by foot or by bicycle and it’s true they do offer the authentic camping experience. However, our advice is if you’ve got room to bring something big enough for a sit down living area then do. You’ll never use it when the sun shines but when it rains, you’ll be glad of somewhere to go to sit in shelter. And let’s face it ? if you’re camping in the UK it’s bound to rain at least once!
Other things to bear in mind are, does it have a sewn in ground sheet (essential for bedrooms, not so much for living areas), is it light inside (makes rainy day camping a little more pleasant), is there enough room for your gear (a three person tent won’t have enough room for three people AND their gear), is it easy to put up (3 second tents go up easily but you’ll need to master the art of folding it down again. They’re also too bulky to consider for backpacking or biking.), and is it up to the conditions (tunnel tents are light and spacious, but don’t perform so well in high winds or heavy rain).
In an age of mobile phones, computers, consoles and iPods, camping offers a great escape from the hi-tech clutter of daily life. Therefore, the simpler you can keep it the better. The essentials are a tent, a sleeping bag, something to cook on and something to eat out of. A table and chairs will make things far more comfortable for longer stays, and a good blow up bed finishes our list of luxury options. What is out of bounds is any form of electrical hook up. Cutting this umbilical cord to the family’s electronic habit will offer a refreshing return to a simpler life (see “Keeping the kids on side” below).
The Camp Site
The best camp sites generally fall into one of two categories. The first category aim to provide all the entertainment facilities you need on your holiday. This might include a swimming pool, crazy golf, tennis, a bar, even entertainment during the day and the evening. They may also offer things to do indoors, either on site or nearby, should the weather let you down. They tend to be busy places, full of activity, lots of noise, and great for kids.
The second category aim to offer a more ‘natural’ experience. The best of these are set in a forest, by a secluded beach or a river, and offer a great way to experience nature first hand, wind down and relax. These places can also be great for kids but for completely different reasons as it offers them a chance to spend some time living in the countryside, a world far removed from today’s urban living. Here though you will need to get creative if you are going to keep them entertained (see below).
A word of warning ? it is worth checking out the camp site’s rules on noise. Some sites have strict rules on noise (even specifying that your activities should be inaubible at 50 metres) and often rules on lots more besides. This is great if you want a week away from screaming kids. However, if you happen to be the owner of a couple of screaming kids, keeping them under control in this kind of environment can be a stressful experience that is best avoided.
Keeping the Kids On Side
Keeping the kids entertained is the key to a successful holiday. This will be easy on a site with lots of facilities and lots of other kids to meet and play with. But if you have chosen one of the wilder camp sites you will need to be more creative. That said, creating activities that get them out in the fresh air, discovering nature and providing enough physical exercise to wear them out for a good nights sleep can be extremely rewarding. Why not:
- Go cycling
- Go fishing
- Go kayaking
- Be a Nature Detective
- Create a treasure hunt
- Visit a local farm or zoo
- Shop for local food at a farmers market
- Cook outdoors
Finally (and most importantly)
There’s nothing worse than turning up at a camp site to find that vital bit of equipment is missing, or that a mouse moved into your shed in the winter and nibbled itself a nest in your tent. Therefore, a quick trial run in the garden is well worth the effort.
This is the first in a series of posts looking at how to get started in camping. In later posts we’ll turn up the luxury with a look at caravans and camper vans.