Top tips for family camping holidays
Posted on April 30 2021
There really is nothing like sleeping under canvas; enjoying the fresh air, twinkling stars and a chance to escape your hectic daily life. If you have children or teenagers, it can also be one of the most enjoyable and affordable holidays around. For those setting up camp for the first time, here’s the Party Pieces guide to an unforgettable holiday…
1. Choose your location
Word of mouth is the best way to find out about secret spots close to you: ask your adventurous friends and neighbours for their camping hotspots or use a website such as Campsites UK to search for a beautiful location with the facilities you need. Will you go for wild camping with minimal fuss or the chi-chi glamping experience with mini-bar and hot tub? The choice is yours!
Top tip: Read the site’s rules and regulations before you go so you know about noise, fire and rambling rights.
2. Packing hacks
Travel light but travel smart. Camping is about being comfortable so pack clothes for rain and shine, with plenty of thin layers for varying temperatures. One swimsuit each will do, hammam towels are lighter than bath towels, don’t forget the batteries, bin liners and first aid kit, and no white clothing! Pack your items into clear large ziplock bags to minimise rummaging and while you’re there, transport dirty clothing to the car boot to keep it out of the way. We like this simple checklist for packing camping essentials from the Camping and Caravan Club but don’t forget a few luxury items too: whether that be a hip flask of fine whisky, extra virgin olive oil for salads or super-soft bedsocks. It is a holiday, after all.
Top tip: Wrap cutlery in bandanas which are useful as napkins, neckties, pot-holders, or even eye-masks if you want to sleep past dawn!
3. Make yourselves at home
Whether you’re roughing it or glamping, nothing makes a camp more homely than adding some special touches. Hang up some fairy lights for night-time twinkle, take bunting for inside or outside the tent, make a wreath for your ‘door’ using fallen fir branches and twine, and drape picnic blankets over camping chairs to make a cosy nook for reading, cocktails or card games.
Top tip: Hot water bottles are a nice luxury, plant them inside sleeping bags early in the evening to keep them warm ahead of bedtime.
4. Den building
And once you’ve set up home, build another one! As far as outdoor activities for children go, not much beats den building, and the woods is the best place for it. Go old-school with tarp over a long branch, secured with leftover tent pegs or take a teepee for one that’s ready to go in seconds. However you do it, the den will be an excellent play area for the kids to retreat to for storytime or secret spy missions while you kick back by the campfire.
Top tip: Give your children a ‘camouflage challenge’ by asking them to disguise their camps with logs and fallen branches, then judge which one is the most discreet.
5. Devices down!
Chances are the signal will be terrible anyway, so why not use the holiday as a chance for you all to have a digital detox? Swap Fortnite for family games, and Reddit for reading with a headtorch. That said, phones come in handy for emergency directions, instructions and torch light, so take a fully-charged battery pack just in case you need it.
Top tip: Lead by example by making sure the adults in the party have their out-of-offices set to ‘on’ and notifications turned to ‘off’, and therefore aren’t tempted to be checking their own phones every few minutes.
6. Nature and nurture
Make the most of the great outdoors by taking binoculars, backpacks and a compass and setting out on a family nature trail. Don’t forget to encourage your mini adventurers to stop, look and listen as they go, and to take in the fragrance of ferns and flowers. Make a checklist of possible plants and animals they might see so they can tick off their discoveries. Inspire creative minds by setting a photography or art challenge too, for example ‘insects from above’, ‘light and dark’ or ‘on the water’. You can also collect fallen leaves, empty shells and feathers to make collages, or to use as alternative paint brushes and stamps to explore different prints and brush strokes. Little ones might also enjoy using simple materials to create a ‘bug hotel’ or bird feeder.
Top tip: Fallen leaves can also be used for ‘etchings’. Lay some paper over the foliage and rub using the sides of a crayon to create a skeletal picture of nature.
7. Games and activities for camping holidays
Get the blood pumping with a brisk early-morning hike (if you have very young children consider investing in a baby carrier so they can ride high), a swim in the sea or – if bikes are available to borrow or hire – a fact-finding mission exploring your new local area. Older teens might enjoy watersports or rock climbing if there’s organised activities close by, while you can re-energise your running routine with a change of scenery. During down times, simple card games such as Uno or Spoons will get the whole family giggling, while charades is fun any time, any place, and can easily be adapted for younger children, too. If you’re musical and there’s space in the car, bring along your guitar for campfire singalongs (if the campsite rules allow) or tell each other spooky night time ghost stories, if you dare!
Top tip: Make up ‘song sheets’ for favourites such as The Quartermaster’s Store so everyone knows the words when it’s time for a music session.
8. Fireside snacks
You could just do toasted marshmallows, but why not go all-American with ‘s’mores’ that kids will love filling with marshmallows, chocolate chunks and a few berries? Traditionally these are made with Graham crackers but Rich Tea biscuits are a good alternative. Here’s a good recipe to get cracking. We also love banana ‘canoes’: slit a banana lengthways, then fill with chocolate and wrap tightly in foil and cook in the embers for a gooey treat. For the adults in the group, take pre-mixed cocktails or these new-look ‘tinnies’, and smarten up the scene with these decorative plastic wine glasses, colourful plates and cooler bags. Meal-wise, prepare delicious one-pot dishes such as chilli con carne and sausage stew before you set off, so all you need to do is heat up and dish out when you’re there.
Top tip: If you’d rather not use an open fire for cooking, a portable stove or disposable barbecue can provide a more consistent heat source.
Take advantage of clear, dark skies and fill your young ones with wonder by gazing up at the stars and spotting constellations. The National Trust offers these top tips for star-gazing, while here’s a handy guide for star-spotting with children. The major patterns in the sky are easily identifiable when you get to know them.
Top tip: Wrap up the children warm then go for a pre-bed star hunt to give them sweet dreams and – hopefully – a sound sleep too.
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