But my kids want to go camping! So I turned for advice to my friend and fellow Spiker Cindy V – who is verily the soi distant deputy editor, spirit, raison d’être and pain au chocolat of what I’m trying to do here.
Because Cindy goes camping. WITH HER CHILDREN! FOR FUN! Jesus.
I asked her to explain herself.
I was at a wedding recently with a group of friends and we were arranging the next get together, when someone mentioned the c-word.
“Camping?! But how do you bath the children? No. No. NO.”
We all stood there in our nice new dresses, talking about how camping requires you to tip everything that makes life smooth, and clean, and bearable, out of the (plastic zippy) window, and I could see her calculating the ratio of fun to hard work involved and deciding to cut her losses and make some new friends instead.
I don’t blame her. I hate the whole idea of camping too. I hate the cramped quarters, the shared facilities, the constant fight against the cold, the creeping dirt and discomfort, the way my hair looks like it’s been blow-dried in an oven by the end – not to mention the spiders so wicked looking you should probably drop a house on them before they send their flying monkeys after you.
Then the packing, oh god, the PACKING, of absolutely everything and yet, nothing really, when you actually get there and look at it all.
And then when you get there, is it all worthwhile? Well no, because you’ve got nowhere to sleep until you’ve built it, have you?
Your kids cry with hunger while your husband drives circuit after circuit of the field in search of the perfect pitch, finally depositing you next to Bongs, Bongos, and Bunting, with their suspicious-smelling campfire, and you want to cry as well. And sometimes do.
Anyway, I’m going again next week, for half term, like I do every year.
In fact I am the one who insists on it. Yes, even after that time a deflated airbed triggered a migraine SO hellish that my husband had to drive me around Lyme Regis like a newborn baby in order to get me to sleep. It’s hard to explain why I go.
All I can say is it makes me think of this homework my son had once, that asked him to make a list of good and bad reasons for having a cup made out of chocolate. He came up with a ton of reasons for it being a grand idea, and only one against.
When he finished it he said he thought it didn’t really matter how many reasons you could think of, because one reason might just be more important than the rest.
That’s how it is for me with camping. I can come up with a list as long as my arm, and yours too, as to why it’s a terrible idea, but in the end, there is one compelling reason for going and it’s this: time spent with your children on a campsite is the slowest moving time there is, in the best way.
There’s time for long walks milking the hedgerows for berries, for conversations about butterflies, and The Beano, and all the things you can’t fit in on the school run, when time shrinks and pinches and you have to say to them “later, later, later”.
There’s time for barbecues and marshmallows and silliness, and still time, after all that, for you to sit and look at the stars, and think you realise why Van Gogh painted them the way he did, all big and swirly – when you go camping you can really see them.
CINDY’S LISTS FOR CAMPING “SUCCESS”:
1. Torches and led lanterns – head-torches are fun and useful for kids
3. Something to put shoes in so they don’t take over your life
4. First Aid kit – take Piriton! There will be stings and unexplained rashes.
5. Tin foil and bin bags. Don’t cook your jacket potato in the wrong one.
1. Self-inflating mats are better than airbeds. They take less space in the car, and less time to put up. Better still is booking a hotel.
2. Take more warm clothes than you think you might need. It’s hard to get warm again once you’ve got cold, even using a small child as a hot water bottle.
3. Remember to take proper pillows
4. Some sort of mat at the door to stop the outside coming too far in.
5. Box of Lego and colouring books for children. It will rain.
I have heard people suggest cat litter and a bucket is useful at night if you’re a long way from the toilet block and have young children. I’ll leave that up to your discretion. Camping is awful isn’t it?
Cindy likes Deepdale Backpackers and Camping for “independent shops, a cafe and bike hire etc nearby” and High Sand Creek for “minimum facilities, maximum stars”.
I am hugely grateful to Cindy for sharing this with us.
Cindy, this is amazing! So beautifully written and useful too. I bloody wish I could go camping, but the husband point blank refuse. I made him stay in a caravan once and he was borderline traumatised.
Thanks Leona. Campsites tend to be more chill than caravan sites in my experience, but more work for a cup of tea. It is weirdly addictive though, like Twiglets.
I’m tempted… wondering at what age to start this with kids? Youngest is less than a year so I’m assuming not for a few years?
I took my youngest when she was 6 months BUT she was still just about fully breastfed so no bottles and we were visiting friends so could go and hang out there whenever. My son was around 2 and was a nightmare toddler anywhere else, but fine with loads of space to run around. I would recommend starting small and close to home so you can beat a retreat if it all goes pear. Mine both slept better camping than at home (dreadful sleepers) but they’re all different. Definitely easier now they’re older; they were 6 and 3 last year and it was almost enjoyable x
Thank you – excellent advice re starting close to home!
Sarah B says
Cat litter! I’m going to be laughing all year about that.
My son’s school did a family camp out for ONE night and I was half dead the day after.
Cindy and Esther this is great thank you! My husband takes my daughter on a Dads and daughters camping trip every summer with a few of his friends and it is the highlight of her year. So much so that I got jealous and now have agreed to go camping as a family this summer when I will be 7 months pregnant! Not sure this was the most sensible decision but to his credit my husband is very canny at finding campsites that have nice cooking areas, play barns and proper clean loos. Like this: canvasandstars.co.uk. I feel like a bit of a lightweight compared to Cindy but figure you don’t have to go full on DofE first time. My mum also suggested this (instead of the cat litter) given that I need the loo literally every 10 minutes at the moment. All glamour!
Cate, I am such a lightweight! You learn a little each time I find so it gets progressively better. We’re the ones who walk past all the amazing kitchen set ups with our fish and chips. It is lovely for the kids though. Good luck xx
Can I suggest something with a little more give than the self inflating/thermarest style mattress suggested here if you’re going to be 7 months pregnant? My partner and I traveled around New Zealand in a camper van when I was 7 months pregnant and it was all great except my hips really could have done with a little more padding. I didn’t bother with pissing in anything, just a cheeky bush wee when needed, but the camping set up may be a bit different in the UK.
Yes do what is most comfortable for you especially when pregnant. Airbeds are fine if you get something reliable and quick to get up. I have a hip problem and I’m very susceptible to migraines (just call me Bear Grylls) and found being on a flatter more stable surface better for me. My SIM is the Outwell Dreamcatcher (!) and was on the pricier end but the kids have basic ones. My daughter hates going back to her own bed after.
“We catch your dreams and then turn them into nightmares and then put them back in your frontal lobes you’re welcome”
I camp too, though I often have no idea why. It’s probably because the kids really like it. And YOU’RE OUTSIDE ALL DAY. So no fights about ‘we really need to go outside’. There’s just no choice. You read a lot because there is no TV. You move a lot because you have to walk very far to get to the bathroom. You get incredibly tan and fit. Also, your own house feels like such a huge luxury hotel after 5 weeks of camping in summer (yes, we really do that). And it’s cheap; that’s handy, with 4 kids. And I have the idea (hope it’s true) that my children will form really good, happy, sort of spartan in a nice way memories of all this. Or else…
PS I buy everything for camping in one go at Decathlon each year (stuff breaks a lot when you use it so intensively). No need for super expensive gear. Always get extra air mattresses.
Yes, to all this. You can be there five minutes and suddenly your kids are roped into a game of cricket with some new friends and your husband is happy pottering about and you’re reading a book and it’s all pretty good stuff. But 5 weeks! Hats. Off.
Fab stuff Cindy. We are embarking on our annual trip this weekend (with half the village) and I am accumulating camping paraphenalia around me. This year, we are doing the opposite of what you suggest and instead of small mattresses are going for the massive two foot high blow up ones in the hope of being less cold/not needing chiropractic treatment on waking. I feel the dread right now, but am reminding myself that it is all worth it.
You have to do what works for you – it is trial and (in my case lots of) error.
Thank you, both. Feeling inspired by this post! Maybe we will have a practice night in the garden .. the “unexplained rashes” bit made me laugh. Cindy, do you also have a blog?
No I’ve just attached myself to this one for the day like that thing in Alien
Rachel Williams says
I just know I’m going to have to give in to the camping thing in a year or so when the youngest has turned 3
BUT FUCKING CAT LITTER 🙀
I am on the verge of booking a glamping tent (don’t judge, I need my own loo) so thank you for reminding me why I should be going.
CINDY WHERE IS YOUR BLOG???
No children and my husband would literally divorce me if I made him go camping again, but a few adult tips (Iused to camp every other weekend all summmer for years doing old car stuff):
A tent you can stand up in. Buy the best you can afford – you can always sell it on Ebay afterwards if you think you will never use it again (or buy it on Ebay to start with). One with a ‘porch’ compartment is great for dumping the muddy shoes in the tent but not in the sleeping bit.
Really good sleeping bags, or just take duvets. This took me a long time to figure out. It is bliss waking up almost properly in bed.
A gas stove, even if just one ring, for instant cooking. You will need this for …
the espresso pot:
I only drink coffee. Eventually I realised that it was taking longer to boil a kettle of water to make horrid instant coffee than it would to fill the stovetop espresso pot with water and real coffee and boil it. Words cannot express fully the joy of sitting wrapped in you feather duvet, peering put of your tent, clutchng a mug of proper strong coffee.
Unless you’re allergic to feathers and drink only tea.
One pair of shoes that are really easy to take on and off for night visits to the loo. Grass is very dewy all year round in the morning unless you are somewhere properly hot.
Eye mask if your bedroom at home is dark. In high summer you will be awake at 4am because the sun is streaming onto the tent and it is as though you are in a torture cell about to be interrogated. Though it might just be your children with a head torch looking for the kitty litter …
Yes a big tent is a must – if you’re a 4 get 5/6 minimum. Thanks Sophie.
I know we will have to go at some stage we even have all the kit – but it fills me with horror…
I am naively super excited for my boys to be big enough to go camping! Maybe this summer, maybe next. I have amazing childhood memories of camping all over Scotland and Ireland with my family and I am hoping it’s (nearly) as much fun as a parent. Elaine x
You’ll love it Elaine x
LOVE this Cindy! Almost as much as I love camping. Thank you.
I always found the light issue and children sleeping the main problem with camping. So we bought a cheapo little festival tent and put it up inside our big tent, then put the child in there. We cover her tent with blankets to block out the light and it keeps her extra warm and snug too. Also cuts down on the noise, so you don’t get so much of the “WHY ARE YOU TALKING MUMMY?” when you’re having a muted conversation about where the bottle opener is…
Oh and a bathmat in the entrance to mop up any leaks that come in the door!
Decathlon have tents with black bedrooms now!!! No more 5 AM daylight. Just bought one.
Also, go to France. Loads of campings and much better weather.
Maybe try a posh yurt with a hard floor first, it’s nearly camping isn’t it?
Maybe a posh hard floored yurt as a starter? Or a caravan?
Sorry about me doing that twice. ⬆️
A great tip for camping with very small children who are walking age is to get a waterproof all in one – like a mini Hazchem suit that they can wear all day so you just have to hose them down at the end of the day. And a million bin bags. Oh! And don’t forget most online supermarkets will deliver to campsites. There is nothing as smug making as a Tesco van turning up full of wine and pringles about 30 minutes after you have arrived!
Laura the food delivery idea is genius – great tip x
It’s such a game changer. No more endless exchanges of emails asking who is taking the loo roll and has anyone remembered tonic water.
Bev Moore says
Go with an open mind and plenty of wet wipes
As for so much in life
a sharp knife is a must, take your 2nd best paring knife. 10 pegs, dont forget large bin bags – you can stuff almost everything in one. several lighters help. stop camping as soon as you hit 32-35 age range unless you do mattresses
That last sentence has rather pulled the rug out.
I am 43 and have no plans to stop camping anytime soon; my Thermorest mattress is 10 years old this year and still reliable for a very comfy night’s sleep!
We’re heading off on Friday for glamping – one of those safari tents they put up for you. We did it last Easter too. I’m only repeating the experience because the children (now 3&6) l-o-v-e-d it and, at one point, we were both reading the paper with a drink, with half an eye on the (then) 2 yr old scaling the play equipment with her sister and their new pals.
My objection is practical more than about comfort – why take *everything* needed for life only to set up a much less convenient/ good life? Why take dinky collapsible chairs and ridic gas burner stoves? Just hire a cottage/ villa/ house in the same area as the campsite. The glamping is a concession to me refusing to buy a tent.
But I am such a scrooge about single use equipment. One of our rare camping trips pre-kids I refused to buy proper hiking boots or an anorak…. for a trip to the Lake Districts. Yes, friends, I ended up with wet soggy feet and wearing a bin liner with holes punched out for my arms when it rained. And rained. And rained.
Anyway. Glamping may well be a gateway to ‘proper’ camping. Or, my preference, campervanning.
Thank you Cindy for the excellent tips.
Thank you Cindy. This had me in stitches, mainly because I’VE DONE MY TIME in the camping department and have made it very clear this will never happen again. And I feel completely at peace with that. Love everyone’s comments too. Many giggles this morning. x
Please make her your official deputy.
Please can Cindy fill in the days you can’t post because on those days I am BEREFT.
Love you both x
no no we love YOU Woowar
Woowar is spot on. I look forward to both your posts and Cindy’s comments with huge anticipation, you’re both brilliant. xx
I think you overestimate my abilities but you’ve made me feel like Norm from Cheers with that welcome so I will let you.
Thanks for the lovely comment
Cindy this was such an enjoyable read. Although unexplained rashes, piriton and crying kids are enough to reinforce the fact that it is sadly just not for me. My husband is obsessed, however, so I’m looking forward to the the day they go off camping for the weekend and I can pass on your tips then book myself into a luxury spa for the night! xx
Jesus, don’t buckle! Children want all sorts of random, impossible shit (a Shetland pony, a goose, a rollercoaster in the back garden…) and just because they want to do something, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
I took my children glamping once because they wore me down with their endless camping demands. Me, three children and no husband as he suddenly had some urgent work in Abu Dhabi.
We went to a Featherdown site as my compromise was that if we were going camping then it needed to be glamping, but there was zero glamour (the portmanteau is bullshit. No glamour anywhere!). We had the bathroom with hot shower, the bed making, the stove lighting and all the frills you could add but I still had to get up at 5am every morning to light the stove, like some serf ancestor. This enabled me to have a semi-hot cup of tea 2 1/2 hours later whilst wearing every piece of clothing I had with me.
Everything is a mega effort. Feeding children takes hours, even though they’ve gone instantly feral and just tear through packets of biscuits without using their hands. They fall into stinging nettles and get bored and want 100 mph entertainment. I’d have flogged a kidney for a plug socket and travel kettle.
We paid something bonkers like £800 for three days of this madness. Plus it pissed with rain for two days and Tiverton Castle was shut. My children whinged the whole time but now describe it as one of their favourite holidays.
The only way, if you really are going down this route of madness, is to go with friends and their children, a maglite torch and four cases of red wine. Dilute the horror.
I quite like camping. Quite like. But for three nights MAX. With an air mattress, duvet, pillows and a big tent. However, I have just done three nights. All good … until we got struck down with Norovirus on the last night. On a campsite with composting loos. There are no words to describe the horror.
Louise I think I speak for the group when I say: OMG