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Top tips for happy family camping

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Planning a family camping trip? Rebecca Lees offers her advice for a stress-free experience.

Green Tent

If you were a Scout or Girl Guide, your memories of camping might involve dawn hikes and soap dangling from washstands in tights.

Thankfully, camping has moved on to become a much more comfortable experience.

If you have kids, camping can be an attractive option.

Enthusiastic toddlers can charge around in the fresh air without risk of breakages and the cost is appealing to families on a budget.

Read all about it

It’s all very well impulse-buying a chic teepee, until you pitch up and find there’s no privacy and it leaks.

Read up about what’s on the market and spend time in camping shops asking questions.

Rob Ganley, senior communications officer at the Camping and Caravanning Club, says: "Choosing the right tent for you and your family is very important.

"Consider sleeping berths: in tents, children are often happier if they’ve each got their own sleeping compartment."

I’d recommend a combination of an outer flysheet and inner tent, with a sewn-in groundsheet at least in the sleeping areas.

Family gathered around a fire

A large, communal area is a must, with space for a table and chairs as well as storage for a pushchair.

If possible, borrow a tent and camp overnight in your garden or locally before booking a fortnight in France.

And note that many campsites have tent size restrictions, so whilst that 10-berth tunnel tent on eBay seems a bargain, you might end up paying for two pitches.

Choosing a campsite

Ganley says: "Research your campsite carefully: are play areas and on-site entertainment vital, or is proximity to a beach, theme park or the great outdoors most important to you?"

Usually, the smaller the site, the fewer the amenities, with a toilet and shower block about as much as you can hope for.

They can be perfect if you want peace and quiet, but prepare for cries of "I’m bored".

Medium sites might have a shop, games room and ball field, while campsites of 100+ pitches are likely to have a pool complex, family entertainment, restaurants and even a crèche.

Although brilliant fun for kids, large sites can be the exact opposite of getting away from it all.

Then again, if your baby decides to scream all night, you won’t feel as guilty.

Camping next to lake

Happy little campers

In 2013 Liverpool John Moores University found that countryside camping makes 87% of children feel "very happy", while 91% enjoy exploring outdoors with their parents.

Keep children entertained by holding a scavenger hunt for leaves, acorns, pine cones and other natural treasures.

If you’re organised enough to pack paper and glue, small children will love making a collage back at the tent.

Stock a plastic storage container with travel games, cards and felt pens for rainy days, and buy a couple of nature guidebooks: Michelin’s I-Spy range is excellent and very cheap.

And if older children really can’t cope without technology, many sites have electric hook-ups.

You'll need a 25 metre electric cable and a mains adapter, and it’s wise to ask for a pitch with electric at the time of booking.

What to take

"Essential equipment includes camping beds and bedding, cooking equipment and lanterns or torches," advises Ganley.

"Barbecues, bats and balls, bikes, camping chairs and tables all help toward a great family camping experience.

"Just be sure that your car is safely loaded for the road.

"Make sure every member of the family is kitted out for the unpredictable British weather, including wellies and waterproofs, and pack insect repellent.

"When it comes to camping, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad equipment!"

Other essentials include:

  • loo rolls and wet wipes
  • suncream
  • a well-stocked first aid kit
  • gas burners and matches 
  • tinned and dried food, such as packets of pasta and sauce
  • a large water carrier

Don't let a baby stop you

Finally, don’t be put off camping if you have a baby.

There are lots of travel items on the market, such as travel sterilisers and pre-sterilised cups, and good family sites have immaculate baby changing facilities and even baby baths.


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