The first time we went Camping, the boys were 6 and 3 years old, and we had never camped before! Well that’s not strictly true; I had been with the guides once and I’d been on a caravan holiday with my parents in my teens, but I’m not sure they count!
Sensible people would have tried it out closer to home for a weekend first, but no, not us. We bought a tent, we put it up for one day in the garden (so at least we had some sense) and we then embarked on a 3 week holiday across France and Spain in our tent. Stupid, probably, but luckily for us it went really well and we had a fantastic time. We are now big fans of camping holidays and weekend camping trips.
Camping makes for a great family holiday. You’re away from the TV, away from the laptop and you end up spending some serious quality time with the kids. The kids love the whole adventure of it, they make new friends, play outdoors all day, get ridiculously dirty and go to bed shattered. Result!
I’m not professing to be an expert on camping in anyway, but I thought I would share some of the things we’ve learnt along the way while camping with little ones. It’s quite a long list, but its by no means an exhaustive list. Please do leave any camping tips you have in the comments.
Our top tips for camping with kids
1. Test it out first!
The first tip, is don’t do what we did! Make sure you test it out first. Have you been camping before? Do you even like camping? If no to the first question and a not sure to the second, it is worth trying it out for a weekend before you embark on it for your summer holiday.
Why not borrow or rent a tent for a weekend and see whether you like it before buying all the gear. Or, at the very least have a dry run of setting up your tent, even if it is in the back garden before you go!
2. Plan Ahead
Pick your camp site wisely. Depending on the ages of your kiddies you may want to stay away from sites with streams or lakes. There are plenty of campsites that are child friendly which have activities geared for children like a park, gated pools and even onsite petting farms.
Be sure to check what the entertainment is, nothing worse than having late night discos going when you’re trying to get little ones to sleep or lots of teenagers walking past your tent late at night so pick your pitch wisely.
Also to get what you want, you should try and book early. The best camp sites fill up fast with many campers going back year after year. If you plan about six months ahead you’ll have much more choice.
3. Don’t be over ambitious on day one
By the time you have travelled there, after playing endless games of I Spy and listening to countless ‘are we nearly there yet?’ you’re patience will already be wearing thin. Then of course when you eventually arrive you’ll have to wrestle with putting the tent up.
Make life easier by eating at the site restaurant or take away, making sure you check the opening times. If planning on eating out, book ahead so you can guarantee that you get a table, especially for larger groups.
If you really want to cook and get straight into the camping experience, make sure you cook something super easy like a barbecue or pizza pitta breads.
Also make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to get there, with sufficient time to put up the tent in the day light. I can’t count how many people I have seen trying to finish putting up their tent with the help of the car headlights!
4. Plan your exit
Same goes for the last night or day depending on where you are staying. Don’t leave dismantling your tent till the last minute, it always takes longer than you think. And fitting everything back into your car is a lot harder than unpacking it on arrival.
If you are camping in Europe and catching a Ferry, look at the return time of the Ferry and factor this in. How long will it take you to pack everything away, will you realistically have time to pack up and drive and make the Ferry?
We have often stayed in a B&B on the last night because of the Ferry times. It’s a nice way to end the holiday and provides a bit of luxury and adventure on the last night.
5. Pack for the weather
Take plenty of layers. Even if where you are going tends to be warm in the day, it’s surprising at how cold it can be at night. When we’ve camped in France, by the end of the evening I tend to look like a Michelin man as I have so many layers on.
Also make sure you take flip flops, a must for the shower block. Trainers or boots are also good for keeping your feet warm later on.
6. Be realistic about the cost
Don’t be naive, camping is not necessarily the budget option you might first think it is. When you first start out there is a lot of stuff to get. Family sized tents, cooking equipment, roof boxes, picnic sets, table and chairs ….. they all mount up.
Shop around. We’ve got some of our best camping buys in Aldi and Lidl where they often have some good deals on. Also see what you can borrow. The first year we went, a good friend lent us their roof box which was a massive help. We’ve since bought one ourselves, but it certainly saved us the first time we went and meant we got to test out whether we needed one.
7. Remember lighting
Most campsites are not well lit at night. Take a torch, batteries and spare batteries. Headlamps are pretty good too for late night trips to the loo. Also take some lantern lights for the tent.
8. Pick your tent wisely
Personally I’m a big fan of the blow up tents. We have a Vango which is super quick and easy to put up (a must when you have kiddies running about). It also fits into one bag, with the awning in the other, which means that you have more space in the boot for other things. When buying your tent ask to see how it packs away. Some have to be packed in huge bags, which uses up a lot of vital space when packing.
Remember to take extra tent pegs, they’re always handy. Also in France and Spain we’ve found that you need extra strong pegs as the ground is much harder.
We love having the extra space that an awning gives, it means we can put most of the shoes and wet clothes etc in it and then it doesn’t clutter the space within the actual tent.
Always pack away your tent properly or you’ll regret it next time. If it’s wet make sure you dry it out. A wet tent will stink when you get it out next time.
9. Don’t forget..
The wet wipes, I don’t think I need to say anymore on this, it’s a given. Also a first aid kit is a handy thing to have. Kids tend to fall a lot and end up with grazed knees, so plasters and antiseptic cream is a must. I also would never go camping without my insect repellent.
Remember a box of toys and their favourite cuddly toy if they have one. We tend to pack up a load of cheap toys that we don’t mind getting dirty along with plenty of colouring books and reading books. Playing cards and Trump cards are also great as they’re small to pack. We also pack board games like Scrabble or Articulate for some evening fun.
Also remember to take a tin opener and a bottle opener. There’s nothing more frustrating on the first night than not being able to open a bottle of wine!
10. Pack in Boxes
I wish someone had shared this piece of advice with us the first time we went. Packing your stuff in plastic boxes provides easier storage for when you are there as you can stack them.
It also makes it easier every time you go if you keep your camping stuff in boxes as then you’re not hunting round for your camping things before you go.
11. Make cooking easy
Take some handy cooking essentials with you. Taking some herbs and spices along with curry powder and chilli powder makes cooking easier and provides some flavour options.
A good set of travel cooking pans that are lightweight and fit inside each other will save on packing space.
See if the campsite hires out fridges. If it does, hire one!
Remember don’t ever cook in your tent, even it it’s raining due to risks of carbon monoxide poisoning.
12. Sleep like a baby
We use blow-up airbeds which need an electric pump to blow up. We tend to take a duvet for ourselves and good quality sleeping bags for the kids. We also use camping mats underneath to give an extra level of comfort and insulation as it gets cold in the night. It also pays to put an extra blanket under the sheet so the cold from the airbed doesn’t get to you. For really little ones, you may even want to take a woolly hat for them so they don’t get too cold.
It’s also a good idea to put a bell on the zip to the kiddies room, that way when they unzip they tend to wake you and alert you to the fact that they are awake. Ours wake us anyway but I know others have found this really useful.
13. Choose a night crossing
If you choose one of the longer crossings to St Malo or Le Harve it is worth investing in a cabin. Not only do the kids find it really exciting sleeping on the boat but it means some of your travel time is spent while you’re asleep.
In our view, anything that cuts out on time in the car is a serious plus point. So whilst these crossings tend to be more expensive than the one to Calais, we think it’s worth every penny. But it depends on how good your kids are on a car journey.
Would love to hear from you about your top tips for camping with kids, please add them to the comments or drop us a line.
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