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Camping breaks make great, inexpensive and memorable family holidays explains Alice Abel, but a bit of planning can make it easy too

First family camping trip tips - A Bumbo seat can come in handy if you want to keep 
your little ones in one place!
A Bumbo seat can come in handy if you want to keep your little ones in one place!

Camping with kids isn't for everyone. For many, the words children and camping uttered together are enough to cause a shudder, but if done right it can be a great and cheap family holiday. What often comes to mind are images of bored, cold and generally miserable children (and adults), or of more spirited youngsters running wild amongst campfires or other camp hazards.

Or, for some, the nightmare only emerges once you are on-site and everything that could go wrong does. The result? Grumpy children, grumpy grown-ups, and no sunny family scrapbooks. This doesn't have to be the case, as there are lots of outdoor activities for kids, family attractions and things to do which will keep everyone happy. All you need is a little bit of camping know-how.

This year we’re planning several camping trips with our 3-year and 18-month old boys, essentially because we couldn’t think of a more fun holiday to have with them. We know they (and we) are going to love the adventure, the fresh air and the unrushed time together. However, there are a few things to consider before packing up the tent.

  • Pick your park carefully

    Think carefully about the kind of site you’d like to be on. Would you prefer ‘back to nature’ or something more organised? This will probably depend on how much camping you’ve done before, how old your children are, and perhaps how adventurous you’re feeling. There are many family campsites in the UK.

    Whatever your preference, you should be able to find something to suit your family in the UK or Western Europe. You’ll also want to consider what there is to do in the area you are planning on visiting. Especially in the summer months, there are often free family events such as town and village fairs, rallies, festivals and attractions.

  • Have a back garden camping break first!

    Especially if you’re thinking of going far a-field or on a longer trip. Not only will this give you a chance to make a camping list of everything you’ll need to pack (which will take the stress out of packing later), it will also give you a chance to check that everyone is warm, comfortable and relaxed enough to sleep well in the tent. Plus it can be great fun for the kids.

    It will give you a chance to see what games and outdoor toys to take camping, the best clothes for camping with kids and cooking equipment which you don't want to leave behind. Pitching your tent also gives you the opportunity to spot any defects before you are relyant on the tent for protection, and will help you to set up camp quicker and easier, because you will already be familiar with how to pitch your tent.

  • Get suitable accommodation

    Ideally you should take a tent with an area big enough for your whole party to gather in one room, where you can still enjoy each other’s company should it be too wet or cold to eat or play outside.Tents such as High Gear's Sahara 6 or the Vango Maritsa 700 family tent both have a living space as well as plenty of room to sleep.

    If you do find yourself rained in while you are away, be mindful of the risk carbon monoxide poisoning from using gas cookers, heaters and lights in enclosed spaces.

  • Pack for every eventuality

    Throw in as many spare layers and blankets as you can; being cold is guaranteed to ruin anyone and everyone’s mood. Plus, you can always sleep on top of them for extra padding. Your packing list should involve plenty of spare socks, jumpers and lots of layers. I would recommend taking blankets as well as sleeping bags, in case of sudden changes in temperature or accidental spills.

  • Wet wipes, wet wipes, and more wet wipes

    They’ll come in handy for more than you could imagine. Other essential supplies include toilet paper, kitchen towels, soap, a first aid kit and rubbish bags.

  • Keep kids away from campsite kitchens

    To minimise risk, designate a clear cooking area when you set up and if possible try to ‘barrier’ children away from it. Whether you can do this or not, it’s common sense to explain to children where it is safe/unsafe to play when cooking on site.

    Taking a small folding table may help to get cooking equipment off the floor where it is less likely to get knocked over. Campsite cooking will always be more challenging than having your own kitchen, but embrace the simplicity and plan basic meals before you set off on your trip.

    It is also worth checking where the nearest shop is to your campsite, for emergency rations! Often larger sites have mini-marts onsite and some farm sites have fresh eggs and other produce available. If you're really struggling with campsite cooking, some sites such as Merkins farm, near Bath, even have a tearoom with local treats such as cake and fresh produce.

    Campsite cooking can be made easier by cooking meals at home that can be re-heated. If this doesn’t take your fancy or safe campsite food storage is an issue, there are several camping cookbooks available with easy, fun, tasty and often unusual ideas to please everyone. We all need a break from baked beans on toast sometimes! We have, and recommend. The camping Cookbook - Love Food.

  • Plan your trip properly, to relax when you are there

    It pays to pre-plan your packing and how you will organise it when you arrive at the campsite, especially when camping with children. After that, it can be much more fun to make it up as you go along.

    We explore, enjoy the fresh air and being outdoors. In a world where we generally live to a pretty fixed timetable, it’s refreshing to spend a couple of days wandering about. With two toddlers, we don’t generally get very far but that never matters, as long as it has been an adventure. (And in the age of the smart phone, if we got really desperate we know we could look up things to do on a rainy day.)

    Many of the larger sites even have their own attractions and lots of activities for children. For example, Oakdene Forest Park has many different activities and evening entertainment, and campers at nearby Merley Court Touring Park can also use these.

  • Relax by the campfire

    If you have older children and your site allows, relish the campfire experience. It’s not just about sitting around and enjoying a chat or a song or two. It’s also about the fun to be had alongside your kids while collecting wood and setting up. You'll need to pack waterproof matches, and fire lighters can be useful as well, in case the wood which you collect is damp, and don't forget to set up buckets of water and sand as a safety precaution.

    Be sure to check the campsite's rules before setting a campfire, and keep an eye out for sites such as Low Greenside Farm in Cumbria which provide fire pits.

  • The secret to easy camping

    And finally, if you’re pushed for organisational time or aren’t quite ready to go the whole hog first time, consider taking a short-cut and ‘glamping’. There are some great places to hire and there will be very little to sort out when you arrive, making it a great option for those arriving with tired and hungry kids on a Friday evening. If it means more fun for everyone who cares that it’s cheating a little?

    Choose from tents, 'pods' yurts or teepees, or the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) even offer 'Camping Barns' with varying facilities.

Camping with kids - things to consider

  • Location planning. What are you looking for from your holiday?
  • Practice makes perfect - have a run-through before you pack up and go.
  • Choosing your tent for the family's needs can save a lot of tantrums.
  • Pack thoroughly - There's nothing worse than realising you've forgotten something vital.
  • Take wet wipes as one of your essentials.
  • Plan campsite cooking to make sure it is safe and easy
  • Add in a touch of spontaneity and resist the urge to plan your every move.
  • Spend the evenings round the campfire for some quality family time
  • It's ok if you don't want to go back to basics! Glamping is becoming very popular as a fuss-free break.