We go camping as a family often. We spent a whole year on the road when the kids were little driving around Australia with a caravan. This kind of trip is achievable and taking the kids along is so incredibly invaluable to their education and development. We loved it and we continue to do so. We try to get away a couple of times a month at least for a weekend. Then we do 1 or 2 big trips throughout the year sometimes lasting 1 or 2 weeks at a time. This weekend is a 3 day weekend here in Queensland, so we are hitching up the van and spending the next 3 nights at a dam about a 2 hour drive from home with 3 other families.
How to go camping is simply a matter of following these steps! It’s a really easy holiday if you have the right equipment and enjoying even a short break away from the mundane of daily life goes a long way to refresh and revitalise you all for weeks to come.
Know what sort of camper you are
We have a pop top camper called a Jayco Eagle Outback. It tows easily like a smallish camper trailer, it can go anywhere, and when you set it up, the roof winds up and the beds slide out to create a comfortable caravan which will sleep 6 people. We have a fridge, lights, a kitchen and comfy beds. We don’t really rough it. But our style of camping is too rough for some. Perhaps you are more into glamping than camping (‘glamourous camping’) and prefer a little 5 star fully serviced cabin with chocolates on the pillows. And that is ok too! Or maybe you really want to rough it. Hike for a day carrying everything on your back for some proper getting-away-from-it-all serious adventure.
With the 3 youngsters, being able to throw everything in the van and have the beds made up already with the cupboards and fridge stocked at home before we leave, that makes life easy. And anything that makes life easy, I am a fan of.
Pick a Destination
This will depend on your camping style and on how much time and money you have to spend. Do you like the beach or the forest? We like caravan
parks for their sealed driveways, plug-in power, hot showers and countless ways to entertain the kids. There’s often waterslides, a pool, bird feeding, and lots of safe places for them to ride their bikes but they usually cost around $60 a night. This weekend we are going to a place with no power, composting toilets and dirt tracks but it’s only going to cost $5 per night. There are plenty of free or really cheap national park campgrounds which have little or no facilities but you have to be well equipped and carry everything in, and everything out. The benefit of these sort of campgrounds is that you are often allowed to have campfires (check with local authorities first) and having a campfire really makes camping fun. It really provides an evening’s entertainment when you have to spend hours collecting firewood, building a fire, and stoking it. Toasting marshmallows, cooking dinner, keeping you warm and giving you something to watch as you sit in the dark. A focal point for you to look at as you have meaningful conversations with your friends or family. If you are not into tents or caravans look for a cabin for hire. These are often self-contained, and can sleep a couple for a romantic getaway or a whole family if you like. A cabin will usually have a bathroom and kitchen and come with linen and is an easy way to have a short or a longer camping break.
Check the Weather
You need to be able to be a little bit flexible and check the weather forecast before you leave. This will help you to pack appropriately and have a back up plan in case the weather is inclement. You do not want to be hiking into the wilderness if there are blizzards forecast, or driving over creek crossings to get to the campsite if there is lots of rain forecast. Actually, camping in the rain is not much fun at all! For our weekend away, the weather looks fine. I know that the campsite is on the bank of a big dam can get quite windy but the wind is only forecasted to be light thank goodness. It is mid-autumn here and we are driving inland and up a mountain so I will make sure to pack some warm pyjamas for our evenings sitting around the fire.
How and what to pack for camping again depends on the previous steps. Because everything is already in the caravan, cutlery and crockery and linen, that reduces the items we need to bring. We have basically got cooking and eating and washing up taken care of. But there are some absolutely essentials that you cannot go without:
- Water – our van has an 80 litre water tank on board so we have to remember to fill it up
- Gas – our fridge, caravan kitchen and BBQ all run on gas so it is a must have. Check your gas bottles and refill if you need to. We take to 9kg gas bottles
- BBQ – we don’t go anywhere without our Weber
- Food and Cooking – our favourite camping food is really simple stuff. We will just make sure we take enough food for however many nights, and snacks for the kids. Day 1 we won’t arrive until 5pm which will be almost dark so I am taking a pre-cooked dinner. Then we will have steak, sausages, hot dogs, and a roast rack-of-lamb Weber style. I love having paper plates as well so we really cut down on the washing up, and you can just throw these on the fire (not the plastic ones). A mentioned before that our kitchen is included in our van, and it might be for you too, but otherwise you need to have some sort of cooking utensils and a stove. We once went for a romantic camping trip pre-kids and our stove just didn’t work so we were stuck eating cold tinned soups and baked beans with raw noodles for the week. Food really adds to your camping experience, or it can detract from it as well!
- Clothes – depending on your destination. It’s going to be cold for us so I will make sure we all have some warm clothes and closed in shoes for fire safety. Also, the kids get quite filthy so it’s good to have a couple of changes for them. We need swimmers too, hats and sunscreen. Life jackets will also come in handy as we hope to get some waterskiing in as well.
- Beer – Enough beer is an essential item for camping for us. And plenty of ice to keep it cool. Also a couple of bottles of wine and a bottle of spirits. But that’s just us. Everyone is different.
- Fuel – make sure your car has enough fuel to get you in and out. Sounds simple, but people have been caught out before.
- First Aid Kit – a basic first aid kit is important to have. Ours is full of dressings, ointments, painkillers and enough stuff to do a basic fix before having to seek medical attention if necessary. It’s imperative that you take note of where your nearest emergency assistance is available and how far away it is. There is no phone reception where we are camping (no internet either yippee!) but I know I have to drive out only 15 minutes and I will get a few bars. We have a CB radio in our car which is good for emergencies. Some people like to carry a satellite phone if going really remote.
- Entertainment – For us, beers, a campfire with some marshmallows and a few friends will be entertainment enough. But we are also taking paddle boards, a windsurfer, a deck of cards, our Bose speaker for music, (click here for my Bose Soundlink Review)a game of Kubb (which is a fun lawn game with wooden blocks for grown ups) and a few toys for the kids. Even though it’s nice to get away off the grid for a few nights, we still bring a movie for the kids to watch at night because it settles them down and puts them to sleep after a big day of activities, so then the grown ups can play!
- Mosquito Repellant
- Camping accessories – floor, awning, tables, camping chairs, etc all serve to make your camping a home away from home.
Have a Great Time!
Relax and enjoy the adventure. Even if you are not a huge fan of camping, it is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and try something new. Start small with only 1 or 2 nights close to home and work your way up according to what you like.
Camping can be hard work but it is rewarding. For our family it is our number one holiday choice because we are so equipped for it and we think it is pretty cost friendly.
When was the last time you went camping? What else would you add to the list of essentials?