You may have already read my blog on Grown Up Camping – is it even a thing? If not, you can go and have a look or peruse my top 8 reasons why camping just isn’t for everyone.
My wife and I decided to embrace the whole ‘staycation’ idea, buy a tent and take our two boys on their first camping experience. We thought they’d love it, it would be character building and it would force them to be outside a bit more. We didn’t really think about the implications of no wi-fi for 6 days, and , in hindsight, 6 days was a little ambitious. We had a good time, sometimes, but there was also quite a bit of wailing and gnashing of teeth, and that was just my wife and I.
So, if you are a seasoned camper, you can sit back smugly, and read this while occasionally exclaiming ‘Idiots’ or ‘You’re doing it all wrong’. If you are quite new to camping, there might just be some points to consider before you click ‘Book’ on a few days, in a field, surrounded by strangers, canvas and grass.
1. Weather watching
You have to face facts when you live in the UK – the weather is a huge part of our national identity. Foreign tourists always comment on it. Hell, it must form about 40% of most social interactions. In fact, there are people that I talk to regularly with whom the weather is the only thing we talk about. ‘Turned out nice again’, ‘I’ll be glad when it breaks’, ‘Oh, but the garden needs it’.
This collective national obsession with weather fronts and what Tomasz Schafernaker tells us is going to happen over the next few days is compounded and multiplied when you go camping. It has such an impact on what you can do that I found myself getting irate when the BBC weather app and the Metcheck weather app were giving me two different forecasts. I found myself bumping into people and children and getting run over by those bloody electric scooters because I was constantly watching the skies to see which way the clouds were coming from and desperately trying to predict what they were going to do.
And let’s be honest, it’s completely pointless anyway because they often get it wrong and it changes quicker than you can say Schafernaker.
2. Stuff, stuff and more stuff
Chief Brody is often misquoted as saying ‘We’re going to need a bigger boat’ when in fact he says ‘You’re going to need a bigger boat’ to the grizzly Quint. He could have been saying it to me, but instead of ‘boat’ he meant ‘car’. And he was laughing when he said it.
When we bought the canvas bungalow and put it into the car I was shocked by how much room it took up, and that’s before we packed anything else. In the year that followed, as the holiday got ever closer, I began to panic. I thought about selling the car and buying an old Stagecoach – the alternative was that we all wore olympic skinsuits all week, one each, and rinsed them out at the end of each day. I finally settled on a roof box – I thought my troubles were over.
Little did I realise, as we started to get everything together for our 6 days away, that I would spend countless hours in a weird game of Tetris, trying to get everything in the car. So much so that by the time we left, we considered our two boys’ mouths extra storage space, which would conveniently also keep them quiet on the journey down.
And under no circumstance could we buy anything, and I mean anything, while we were away. Yeah, like that was going to happen!
3. Camping etiquette
We Brits are a strange bunch at the best of times. Expert queuers, apologising when it isn’t our fault and having favourite car parking spots and motorway service stations (or is that just me?) On a campsite our oddness becomes that much more evident. On a campsite you feel obliged to say ‘Good Morning’ to everyone you pass by, even if you’ve just stumbled out of bed, needing a pee at dawn and looking like Stig of the Dump. You are still expected to smile like you are the luckiest people alive to be here, camping. It’s like a cult.
And then there’s the shorts. You’re camping, so you must wear shorts at all times. Even if it’s blowing a gale and the rain is coming down sideways. You’ve got your kagool on and a pair of shorts as if to say, ‘I’m on holiday and nothing will stop me from having a good time. And it might clear up this afternoon’. You can always spot the seasoned campers as well, as the dad always has his special camping hat on, a la Ray Mears in the outback. And you just know that he’s an accountant or something. What’s that all about?
Holidays are supposed to be relaxing, right? You get away to take a break from the frenetic hamster wheel of work, sleep repeat. And for me, like most people, sleep is one of my main sources of relaxation. Don’t get me wrong, I love to read. I love to people watch or just sit and admire a beautiful view doing pretty much nothing. But sleep, the sweet release of slipping into a deep comatose sleep is what it’s all about. With camping, you need to adjust your expectations.
The quality of sleep you’ll get and how much undisturbed sleep you can actually bank on is far from ideal. First, there’s going off to sleep. Now I’ve never heard any of my neighbours at home fart as they go off to sleep. Under canvas, that all changes. Once asleep, it is quite possible for my wife to get up numerous times in the night at home and for me to not notice. This just doesn’t happen when you are camping. Every movement is amplified, often accompanied by the loud, piercing Vrrrrrrrrrrrrr of a tent zip (There’s one for Dragon’s Den – silent zips).
Our trip was made worse by our son’s airbed. We had upgraded to a 10cm self-inflating mattress, which was heavenly comfortable, but my sons had airbeds. Our youngest’s conveniently had a slow puncture, but one I couldn’t find to repair, so it would go down very slowly overnight. Every night, at about 3am, I would have to get up, unzip the sleeping part of the tent, roll out awkwardly, and proceed to pump up his airbed so it would last until the morning. This nightly appointment, coupled with trips to the loo, which often involved getting half-dressed and stumbling, zombie-like across the campsite to a chorus of snoring and farting, was not conducive to getting a holiday-quality good night’s sleep.
5. Sharing facilities
Camping has its compromises, some of which I have explained in this blog. And they are compromises you are prepared to suck up because of the beautiful sunsets, evenings by the log fire etc. But sharing the facilities with all your fellow campers has to be the worst.
Luckily, the facilities at the campsite we stayed at were of a very high standard. However, despite the quality facilities, you still have to make your peace with the fact that showering, going to the loo and washing up on a campsite are, in one way or another, shared experiences. Experiences you share with strangers.
The novelty of washing up in a collective washing up area wears off quite quickly, and one camper we were chatting to summed it up. ‘It’s just washing up in someone else’s sink’.
Ablutions, are for me, solitary. They are quiet, contemplative times and I’m one of those people who just doesn’t want to engage in social interaction while I am standing holding a bundle of towels, pants and a toilet bag, waiting to have a shower. Nor do I want to chat when I have a case of campsite belly and I am willing a toilet to become free before I have a little accident. As far as I am concerned, lifelong friendships are not formed when you are holding a turd in.
6. Family arguments
We’re a normal family. No staged Instagram pictures of perfect family life for us. We argue, get things wrong, make regrettable judgement calls and give in too easily, I’ll admit. So, at times, there are moments of tension and friction in our household. Our boys are at an age where about 50% of our interactions seem to be arguments about what they can and can’t do or say, and how life just isn’t fair. But with camping, these family scenes play out a little differently when you are in a tent.
Have you ever tried laying down the law or dealing with confrontation in whispered tones? It’s comical and completely pointless. And if you do let your guard slip, your family’s faults are laid bare for all of your canvas bound neighbours to listen to and silently judge. Unplugging the boys from the wi-fi for the week only served to increase the tension and frequency of these arguments.
7. Packing up and packing down
Don’t you just love hotels and package holidays? I love that feeling of just arriving at your destination, dumping your bags in your room and thinking, ‘Right. Let’s go and explore’. Your holiday has started and you seize every moment. You might grab your Speedos and head for the pool, head straight for the bar, or a walk around the ‘Old Town’. Not with camping.
Our journey was fairly stress-free, apart from occasionally glancing nervously up at the top box, worried that it was going to burst open at any minute and spread our belongings all across the M4. But as we neared the campsite I found myself getting anxious – I knew what was about to happen.
After arriving, checking in and being shown to our pitch, the hard work begins. Two solid hours of unravelling, pitching the bungalow, pegging out, unloading, setting up and organising while the kids sat around updating us every two minutes on the stages of boredom they were going through is not my idea of a holiday. Luckily, this process didn’t result in my wife and I filing for divorce during this process, but that’s mainly because I observed the three Cs. Stay calm, communicate and don’t be a c……
Upon completion, we were spent, but at least we had finished and the prospect of a fantastic family holiday lay ahead of us like the promised land. So, it’s fair to say that packing everything away to go home is a slightly less fun-filled affair!
8. Little comforts
I have never appreciated a piece of toast as much as I have when camping. As home comforts are so few and far between, you find yourself delighting in the tiniest of things that we take for granted at home, even though they take an effort to replicate in a sodden field.
There’s the electric hookup, which was a game-changer, packing a camping fridge and a toaster, making sure the butter is in the fridge, finding a flat surface for the toaster and voila – we have toast. One day we added beans to the equation which felt like we had cooked a five-course meal with all the effort it had taken.
A cup of tea or coffee becomes an event, approached in the same way that you’d approach a day out at home. A sandwich tastes that much better because you are filled with pride at having the ingredients to hand and being able to construct them on a sloping table. A shower or washing some clothes is something you put in your diary and work your day around like an important presentation at work.
I suppose what I am saying is, that when you camp, throw your normal expectations out of the window and create yourself a whole new set, otherwise you will be disappointed.
You may think that I despise camping, and you’d be right. But I also love it. It really is a different kind of holiday, but when you have accepted that it’s different there is so much to love. Four days is more than enough, and take plenty of smores.
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