9 Pitfalls to Avoid when Camping as a Family. Because I care for your mental health.
Over the years we have been camping as a family in all sorts of places, from the baking heat of the Pilanesberg in South Africa, or the Vendée region of France (see header image), to the rainy chilliness of Galway in Ireland. We have made plenty of mistakes on every trip and have gathered heaps of wisdom as we have gone along. Each time we have hoped, as would be expected, to improve on our previous experience.
Just three days ago we returned from our most recent camping trip to the utterly gorgeous Dorset countryside in England. You couldn’t get more picture book or Hollywood film-set. At one point I had to remind myself that the higgledy piggledy closely clustered, grey stone, thick thatched cottages with blooming gardens filled with pale blues, pinks and purples were actually real, and that I may as well pick my jaw up off the floor. Even I got a little tired of my constant expressions of delight and arm waving over another quaint village church, stately home or castle.
The coastline is known as the Jurassic coast and contains multiple hidden coves filled with fossils or sandy beaches filled with people. It truly is a beautiful spot to visit and I highly recommend it.
We camped with two of my sisters, their families, plus two other families who are friends of one of my sisters. There were 10 adults and 11 children and it was lots of fun and extremely social.
They are also all extremely fit, which you would need to be if you are planning on hiking for an hour with your wetsuits and picnic to get to a hidden cove so that you can swim in a heaving sea. We would easily be the oldest and the fattest of the bunch. Therefore also the slowest and least adventurous, albeit helpful for taking back-of-the-pack photographs.
So anyway, back to camping tips and wisdom. And pitfalls to avoid.
I have to say that we have gathered so much wisdom through the years that we have finally reached this conclusion. We are NOT camping people. Not really.
I think I am in fact an ex-camping person.
When I was growing up we went on lots of camping holidays. My parents insisted on it, either all the way over in exotic Wales when I was very small, or later in South Africa. I think they were cured of camping after one epic trip to Glen Reenen in the Drakensburg, when it poured with rain (subsequently discovered that Reenen means rain) my baby sister walked over hot coals (unintentionally) and my Dad ended up in hospital with kidney stones – my Mum declared it nice and dry and comfortable for him at least!
Then thankfully my Dad got a better paid job and he bought us a cosy holiday cottage by the seaside. Nice for all of us at last!
Now I have to make a shameful admission. When we first arrived in Ireland I was taken aback by the fact the Irish people don’t camp in tents. Let me clarify, they DO camp, just not in tents but rather in mobile homes/permanent caravans. I ask you, how can you actually call it camping if you’re staying in a house??? I mean, how tame! You see, returning from South Africa I considered myself tough and had no idea why four walls and a roof would be useful accoutrements to an outdoors living experience.
Now that I’m older and only slightly wiser, and acclimatized, I can see that my lovely Irish friends make a very good point.
Camping in a tent can be fun, at times. We did have a wonderful trip in France, once. We spent a week in Brittany on a lovely (albeit expensive) campsite with ideal – read moderately warm – weather. All day we bobbed around in the pools and all night we slept like logs. We had a slight bit of drizzle one night which just made our tent feel lovely and cosy.
But it can also be filled with terrible pitfalls – like ALL the other camping trips we’ve had. You would think that by now we would have learned through past experience that one good example out of many does not set an ideal precedent.
We could go away for a week and come back feeling utterly exhausted and needing a holiday at the end of our holiday. But we can’t go on holiday as we still have to unpack all the camping gear, clean out the manky cooler box, air out the tent and sleeping bags and do about fifty loads of laundry. Besides, we’ve just had our holiday.
9 Camping Pitfalls we have fallen into that you should Avoid:
- Don’t camp in the hot sun – the interior of your tent will be equivalent to what I imagine the inner circle of hell would feel like. Heat makes me extremely gumpy (so well suited for hell).
- Don’t sleep in a tent at night if you’re the type of person who feels the cold, you will definitely feel the cold. (You may be praying for a bit of hell.)
- Don’t camp in the pouring rain – you will get the stuck-inside-my-tent-all-day-with-four-kids blues. Athol is still traumatized over his experience of this in Galway nearly ten magical summers with our children ago.
- Don’t camp in the howling wind – unless you love to spend a portion of the night dashing laps around the outside of your tent with a mallet. Although the other portion of the night is spent lying down, bear in mind that you won’t be asleep. Your fierce determination to stay in your warm sleeping bag will be playing chicken with the increasingly noisy and mysterious flapping racket of unidentified exterior portions of your tent. It’s amazing how much arguing you can do in your own head inside a windy tent.
- If you are the type of people to camp lightly, i.e. with a tent plus a few inflatable mattresses thrown in, one kitchen box, (see image above) a fold up barbeque (and maybe also a couple of tables and chairs), don’t go camping together with a group of Keen and Seasoned campers. K and S campers have all the bells and whistles. You may suffer from bell and whistle envy. They have things like carpets, kitchen sink units, interior electric lights and front porches you could pop a tent into.
- Don’t be among the first groups to arrive if you are camping with previously mentioned group of Keen and Seasoned campers. Because it feels churlish to sit back sipping a cold frosty watching them while they pitch their sites, even though you did yours the previous day, unassisted, already in about 10 minutes. You may have to spend at least 30 – 45 minutes helping assemble their kitchen sink unit alone.
- Don’t camp with fit friends who do happy jumping jack and burpee sessions with their kids, unless, with steely resolve, you are able to observe without any pangs of guilt while you drink a glass of chilled white wine and nibble on a packet of crisps. (Similar to previous two points, and it would seem that either envy or guilt are camping by-products and therefore very unhealthy).
- Don’t camp close to other families (NOT our particular aforementioned friends) whose kids are at a different life stage to your own. i.e. if you have teens who love a lie in, be cautious about camping close to families whose kids like to play French cricket at 6am – I find it quite difficult to smile in the morning even when I’m not camping, however, I’m conflicted when my neighbours are waving a friendly hello while I’m entertaining thoughts of throwing their children over the hedge. (More guilt).
- And finally, don’t camp in a tent, full stop. (Envy over neighbouring caravan).
I hope that helps. You’re welcome, I’m only here to make sure you avoid ever feeling guilty or envious when you go on holidays.
Now you’ve had the Camping DON’TS, what about the Camping DO’s?
- The one major advantage of camping is that it is possibly the cheapest way to have a holiday. The campsite we stayed on in Dorset, called East Creech Farm, had good clean facilities and only cost us £22 per night for a large family tent (sleeping potentially six of us). You couldn’t beat that at an AirBnB.
- Sorry that’s it.
- Unless you consider an upgrade to a caravan.
- Oh wait! Camp somewhere lovely, with lovely people – this will definitely make up for the pitfalls of staying in a tent.
So now we are in a bit of a quandary as we have decided that although we are not the camping type, we have a camping type of budget for holidays. Our future plan, as you might have guessed, is to investigate upgrading to a caravan. (If you are currently a caravan user, please send me ALL of your tips and recommendations, as well as pitfalls too! Yes, I’m eager to hear them.)
SO IF you are a caravan supplier who is looking for a family to try out one of your lovely caravans, even better – I would LOVE to hear from you. I would happily write one of my epic reviews after trialling one of your beatifully cosy caravans on a family holiday!
Tales from Mamaville