As still a relative newcomer to the world of camping and life in a small camper van I thought I’d put together my random thoughts of things to remember and watch out for when planning for and experiencing this slightly odd world of life on a campsite.
It should be noted that all this involves camping with kids. That’s our life right now. If you are camping without kids- go crazy, enjoy those blissful sounding sites that say no children allowed, oh and get a pitch far far away from the play park if you don’t…
Booking a site.
It seems to be best to book ahead, I’m sure some people just rock up but our island is small and camping is popular so why risk it? Look at the site online, check the facilities, does it have toilets, how ok are you with no showers/lovely shower blocks? Why are you going and what do you want? We love back to basics for a weekend, no showers and campfires allowed are brilliant when you know a shower is coming v soon. Longer trips, and we love a site with good showers and toilets close. We also love a site with a play park. We have boys who are 5 and 3. They fare better with a park and when we did our trip last year struggled more on sites without a park as a default to run off to. So research well, get advice from others and read reviews. If you don’t want to drive lots get a site within walking distance from pretty places/civilisation/a beach. Some of our best sites last year were across the road from the sea so there was always somewhere fun to hang out with the boys at whatever time of day or early morning. Equally if it’s a weekend escape get a site totally away from everything which has some woodland to build dens in and enjoy not leaving it for 48 hours.
Think through every weather and bring at least one thing to keep you dry/warm/cool. You’ll probably experience all temperatures in one trip so it’s good to be prepared (one or two things for each scenario is fine. Pack light, bring washing powder/tablets for emergencies (so annoyed that I forgot ours this trip…).
An activity box is your friend – paper, pens, craft, Lego, whatever will fit into a small box. Maybe get them to pack it the night before leaving.
Balls, frisbee, kite etc.
A good small storecupboard will help- especially when you can’t be bothered to cook much and pasta, beans and pesto win the day. We do have friends who plan every meal and bring the exact amount of spices and herbs needed which sounds v wise. (we just bought the jars along- that’s on advantage to vans over tents- way more storage). Buy local and don’t worry if you are buying food every couple of days. That’s presumably how they did it in the old days before fridges. Cool boxes are good, I’ve heard some campers bring electric fridge boxes along but I reckon you can get away with a cool box for milk and bits on a short trip (and I have no idea what people do on longer trips. That’s why we have a van with a fridge…)
Oh and bring snacks. Lots of snacks. Healthy ones if you can get away with it, but lots of them. We are all far more hungry when camping. The outdoors and much more physical work make for good appetites.
Fun for you.
A book/wine/cards/gin/whatever cheers you up when the kids are finally in bed.
A table and chairs will make you all fairly happy but good old picnic blankets work for small trips. If you have no awning then a tarp is a good investment to sort out some shade/shelter outdoors in the rain.
Really bring whatever makes you happy. If you need a roof box to fit in duvets and pillows then do it. There is nothing more miserable than bad sleep camping. Sleep makes it all possible. That’s why we have a van. I’ve heard sleep can be possible in tents, just don’t try and rough it if you don’t sleep in rough.
Getting settled on site.
We are still getting used to figuring out which bit of land is allotted to us at the mysterious ‘pitch’. Sometimes it is clear, sometimes it isn’t. It’s ok to spend a bit of time figuring it all out and making sure you aren’t encroaching on others space. We then make sure we are level, plug in, put on the gas and boil the kettle for tea. Then we slowly start to unpack and sort out awnings etc (and encourage the boys to find out where the play park is). We find this all takes so much longer than we think. Which leads me to my next point.
This camping lark is slow.
There is no getting around it. Everything takes longer and is slower. It’s one of the reasons I love it. But it’s also one of the reasons it takes time to adjust to this way of doing things. Getting water, boiling a kettle, setting up camp, cooking, washing up all take much longer than normal. Take off your watch, leave the phone in the car and enjoy it. The tyranny of time is lovely to escape once in a while.
Lots of sites have washing up facilities. Bring a collapsible bowl, marigolds, sponge and liquid and you are sorted. Sometimes our boys even find it fun to help out :).
We like not bringing screens.
There, I’ve said it. We like not even having the option so there are no fights over when and where screens happen. We know that even if we just brought one for the journeys that the boys would argue us into it at other times. Cold turkey works for us. And I’m constantly reminding myself that we survived car journeys before screens were invented (and yes. When they were 3 and 1 we used a screen to get us over to Ireland. Now they are older we can cold turkey it more… and right now we are watching The Greatest Showman on the ferry crossing. We are ok with screens when available 🙂 I love us all disconnecting for a bit and have to remind myself to leave the phone in the van more. It helps us get into slow life more. You are different. Your kids are too. Do what works but don’t be afraid to try without screens being along for the ride. It’s lovely watching kids dig into their imaginations and face boredom (except when it isn’t and you want to kill them, but that too passes)
Be ok with some routines going out the window but keep the ones that help you stay sane.
We know the boys won’t go to sleep if they’ve had a late nap on a long car journey. So they go to bed when we go to bed (which we religiously avoid at home cos we know we need our 2 hours of space in the evening). We keep all their routines of bedtime though. Stories etc so they feel comfortable and whatever else works at bedtime. They have little concept of time right now so waiting until they seem a bit sleepy/overhyped works for us.
But when they have had a normal day we put them to bed at a vaguely sensible hour and have some grown up eating sugar and playing cards time.
Enjoy yourselves. Be yourselves.
Don’t worry about everyone else (although do walk around the campsite getting cool ideas and comparing tents and vans. It’s super fun to be nosey) but don’t be intimidated, probably no one else can tell you are a newbie and most people are pretty friendly on campsites. I love the random chats over washing up and wry smiles with other parents over melting down kids. It’s a weird kind of community but I like it.
Go with a growth mindset.
It’s all a learning experience. You will never have the perfect time, sometimes it will go wrong. Sometimes everything will fit wonderfully (but you and the kids will still have a grumpy moment or two). It’s all good experience for next time. That’s the beauty of camping. It’s cheap enough to be ok to quit if the rain doesn’t stop and you have to leave a night early. It’s ok if you have a crap time once in a while. You can change things up and try again. We stayed at a less than ideal site the first few days this trip. It was more built for motorhomes and caravans. But we learnt. We’ll book differently next time. We still had fun but it was harder than it could have been. We stayed at a very easy site last night. Lots of places for the boys to play and only a short walk to toilets/washing up etc unlike the previous one. We’ll see what next week brings. It might make sense to go back to sites you know work. I imagine as the years go on that’s what we’ll do, whilst not being afraid to try new things. It’s all a learning experience.