Sure we love to travel and visit new cultures, try out different languages, discover amazing new vistas.
But we do love to camp.
Drop out, switch off from the grid and sleep under the stars.
I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I can honestly say you should at least try it for the sake of your kids. For that freedom to run wild and free, be dirty, discover Mother Nature, chill out, and flop into bed utterly exhausted is the stuff of powerful childhood memories.
And with the school holidays in full swing, it’s time to start thinking about it seriously.
So how do you do it? How do you go camping with children and not lose your sanity?
We’ve camped since Mia was 6 months old, so nearly nine years now, and there’s no sign of us stopping.
We’ve put tents up in the rain, sat in searing sunshine and started a newly-invented game of basketball rugby on the land in front of our tent that saw pretty much every child (and many adults) from the campsite join in, like an experiment in osmosis.
Granted my children are older now, which makes this a while lot easier. But I’ve done the breastfeeding on a director’s chair years. I’ve changed nappies on the floor, tried to keep the tent pod dark for a sleeping baby. And we survived.
So, here are my top tips for camping with kids:
1. Travel with friends
It’s number one for a reason; if you can camp with others who have kids you instantly take away many of your problems by giving your children someone to hang out with. And when the kids are happy and off playing, mum and dad can drink beer. Or in my case, Pimms.
2. Camp local
You really don’t need to travel far to get that ‘in a valley in the middle of nowhere’ feeling.
One of our very favourite sites is a 30 minute drive from our home so we take two cars, the dog and everything we probably don’t need.
Once you’re on the site you could be anywhere, and if you’re not far away you can always pop back if you’ve forgotten the tent poles (oh, yes, we’ve been there too. It was the husband’s fault, obviously).
3. Word of mouth is king
Ask around for recommendations of camp sites people have stayed at and enjoyed. Many times the site looks wonderful online but you can’t beat someone who has actually been there for first hand feedback.
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you to travel light and be a ‘proper camper’. Rubbish, take everything you need to make your stay comfortable and enjoyable. And it that means packing your slippers or your duvet or a solar-powered electric blanket, then so be it.
I’ve had eye rolls from people when I tell them I take an electric kettle and a mini fridge. They’re looking on with envious eyes when I make a cup of tea and can store my bacon safely in the searing sunshine.
It’s your camping trip, you enjoy it. So overpack. Take luxuries.
5. Embrace dirt
Mother Nature is dirty. Very dirty. Mia spends her whole weekend with toes so black I despair they will never be clean again. So what.
Leave the grime, don’t worry about getting them to shower every day and let them chill out and be mucky.
There’s plenty of time to scrub them clean when you’re home and think of the fun they’ll have.
Now if I could just get my 11 year old to take his damn socks off when he’s running around outside because scrubbing feet is infinitely easier than scrubbing the ground-in mud on the bottom of socks.
6. Plan for rain
Just assume it’s going to rain. Then if it doesn’t it’s a big ole bonus. If it does, you’re prepared.
Changes of clothes, towels to throw down on the floor, things to do if you’re stuck inside for a while.
Or, if you’re camping in the summer and it rains, just go outside and enjoy it and have some nice warm clothes to come back and get changed into.
7. Invent games
One of the best games we played that had everyone giggling – old and young alike – was welly wanging. You’ve got your wellies there anyway in case it rains (see point above) so make use of them.
Rounders is a brilliant game that everyone can join in with, and you’ll usually find that other kids end up asking if they can join in and voila, you’re meeting new friends.
Another favourite if there are only a few of you, is a scavenger hunt. Give them a paper bag each, with a list of items to find written on the front (straight twig, round leaf, rough stone, unusual leaf, feather etc) and every time they find one of them, they add it to the bag and tick it off the list.
Use Mother Nature; let her guide you.
8. Pack wisely
If you pack nothing else make sure you at least have these things: Wipes, dry shampoo, bug spray, eye mask (unless you like waking up at 4am when the sun rises), lots and lots of snacks, mini torches for the kids (you can pick them up really reasonably in supermarkets or DIY stores)
9. Stay warm
It can get chilly at night – even when you’re sat out under the stars with your toes in front of a fire. So pack everything you’ll need to stay warm. Bed socks are a must to keep your toes warm at night as you get into bed and you can always slip them off if you get too toasty.
And take fleecy blankets to throw over your knees, round shoulders or over the end of your bed.
10. Chill. Out
Accept that it’s going to be hard work, putting up and taking down the tent. Accept that the kids are going to eat junk, be dirty and go to bed at ridiculous times.
Then kick back, switch off and chill out.