Since the whole of the UK has swapped their summer beach holiday for sitting in a field this year, I thought I might share some of my camping advice for those about to list their tent on eBay next week. Just in case, you know, the whole not being able to travel thing stretches out a bit longer than planned.
Holidays as a kid were spent camping in Yorkshire. It sounds all magical and Famous Five-esque, but I am from Yorkshire.
My mum had this long, yellowed sheet of paper that she used as the annual checklist for emptying the contents of our small 3-bed house into our even smaller car and trailer before driving us 30 minutes up the road and emptying it into a tent.
We’d then spend the week in wellies and the rain, playing with our cousins and washing in the equivalent of a nuclear bunker, filled with spiders and moths. And little hot water.
But that was the 80s. Camping in the age of coronavirus has a few more luxuries if you know where to look for them.
Choose your campsite wisely
If your camping holiday sucks, then I can guarantee it all started when you chose the wrong campsite for you.
The first year we went camping with our kids, we rocked up, and I thought “Ooo this is nice, the showers are single units and look clean”. My husband, the uninitiated camper, was instead thinking: “Dear God, this is a bit basic.”
We then spent five hours pitching the tent up backwards in gale force winds while those camping around us chanted a pep talk about how much we’d love it by the end of the week.
We didn’t. We booked into a hotel and swore never to do it again.
Or there was the year we went to a holiday park: evening entertainment, cheesy-chips and bad beer. The site wasn’t built for our kind of camping, and the kids fell asleep listening to the films of fellow campers who’d brought their TVs with them.
There was nothing wrong with either of these sites. They just weren’t right for us. We’re not the hardened wild campers and nor are we the electrical hook-up home away from home types either.
We’re somewhere in between.
And thankfully, we’ve found a few sites that are just right.
Camping is for kids
Okay, there is no sane reason why any adult would go camping without kids unless it’s to go to a festival.
We camp so our kids can stay up late running around a field while we drink beer by the campfire and congratulate ourselves on being outdoorsy.
So while you’re clearing up your tent for the twentieth time that hour, or telling yourself that washing up pots in the middle of a field is exactly how you saw your relaxing summer holiday going, remember that you’re kids are having the time of their lives.
But remember, your parenting skills are being judged. Those tents are not sound-proofed, and we all know that come day three of late nights and awake at daylight, our kids have descended into Gremlins that ate after midnight.
On the other hand, you can feel better when the next tent hits this point, and you can judge someone else’s parenting.
It’s always fun when you chat to someone at the washing up point, and they know your kids’ names because you’ve spent the afternoon shouting them back to the tent.
The weather will always be better the week before
Or after. It’s the rule of camping.
We’ve yet to go camping and there not be some heinous downpour or apocalyptic weather. But at least we’re braced for it now.
This year, it was a week of glorious uninterrupted sunshine the week before we arrived. Then Storm Ellen hit the day after we pitched up. Within half a day our gazebo was in bits. The next morning it rained inside our tent. And then the 50mph were on their way. At which point, our tent reached the end of its life, and we packed up and headed home.
You definitely need more stuff.
Even though you’ve packed half your house into the car and the kids are carefully wedged in like a Tetris brick.
The first year we went camping, we had a small camp stove and a couple of sleeping bags. The ridiculous 12-man dome tent filled the boot, so we didn’t have room to take anything else.
This year we were equally as packed to the rafters but had airbeds, kitchen unit, foam floor, outdoor toys, gazebo (RIP), and still, we had to ‘nip out for a couple of essentials’.
I refused to replace the gazebo mid-camp because there’s about to be a bunch online which are used once by ‘never again’ campers. So when you inevitably need more stuff to make camping as comfortable as your tent-neighbours made it look (hint: they were thinking the same about you), buy it all second-hand in September.
Take the camping-juice
Camping may well be delightful holiday memories for the kids, but for you, it is nothing more than a test of your endurance. Make it easy; take the camping juice. Boxes of red wine last longer and store better than bottles.
Is it a wonder that sales have sky-rocketed this year?
You’ll be amazed at your home comforts
If you get home and don’t think: “Ooo, eating off crockery from an actual cupboard, this is nice,” then you’ve not actually camped.
You want to get home and sink into your bed, feeling a mattress of something, anything other than air. Enjoy a shower from indoor plumbing. And a meal that does not consist of either re-heating or re-hydrating.
And you’ll swear ‘never again.’
If you’ve survived your first time camping thinking, “I’ll never do this again,” don’t be so sure. Give it a few weeks when you’ve got through your mountain of washing, and you’ll get those rose-tinted memories of star-gazing, the joy of truly being screen-free and of all the damp, cramped, endless things to do will fade. Before you know it, you’ll be booking your next year’s trip and searching eBay for that car roof rack to fit more stuff in.
Before you know it, you’ll be lending your mallet to the newbie campers who are putting up their tent back-to-front in a storm and telling them they’ll love it by the end of the week.