Follow Sarah Thompson’s hacks for an almost-fun time in the field camping with children…

Was it the time we arrived with the tent, but no poles? Or the time with the flash-floods, vomiting kids and flat air bed ? Or when my (now ex-) husband slept in the tent all day and we had a big row in front of our friends? I can’t remember exactly when it dawned on me that a camping holiday is not actually a holiday at all. But it’s not. Let’s just agree on that now.

It’s bloody hard work: all that packing and unpacking, queuing to do the washing up. I mean. This is not the five-star r&r the average knackered mother needs, people.

And yet, like a lot of us, I go camping with my children almost every summer. Why? Something about them enjoying it? Fresh air? Cheap? The way you can wander around talking to strangers wearing only your pyjamas and Birkenstocks ? I don’t know. I really don’t.

Camping with children - the only time it's acceptable to wear pyjamas in front of strangers

One thing I do know, is that while camping will never be the relaxing, restful spa break many of us fantasise about – and need – there are ways to pimp the experience to a point where it becomes enjoyable enough to constitute fun. And this, arguably, is as good as, if not better than a rest. Right?

(Please note I’m not talking about glamping here, which is obviously much easier and more sensible all round than proper camping. But also crazy expensive. And for that reason, something I never seem to do.)

So here for your camping enjoyment, are the ways in which I’ve learnt to make the annual camping trip somewhere approaching fun for myself,  my two children, and anyone who braves the long weekend with us:

  • Sounds obvious but check the weather forecast. If there’s even a slither of black cloud or raindrop poking out from behind the sunshine, do not go. Repeat, do not go. Stay at home and do some household jobs instead. Pay some bills, wash the bin – any of these activities will be more rewarding than camping in the rain.
  • Leave the husband/boyfriend/partner behind. Yes my friends, I’m here to tell you that camping with mates is the way forward. Without an other half around to feel disappointed with for his/her lack of rugged, outdoorsy skills, you are free to enjoy your camping trip without any marital discord. You’ll discover, huff-free, that you can put up a tent, light a fire and blow up an airbed all by yourself (it’s really not that hard) and show the kids what their mum is capable of at the same time. And let’s face it, the sight of your other half clutching a loo-roll, wombling over to the toilet block for a morning poo, is one holiday memory no-one needs to cherish.

Camping hack - go with friends

  • Speaking of tents: bell tent. Get one. Yes, OK, they cost £500. But they are super-easy to put up (see above) and look so much nicer in your holiday snaps. You can also dress them up with sheepskins and blankets and for at least five minutes, your camp can look kinda stylish. On a budget? We hear bell tent hire is now a thing.

Style tip: don’t overdo it. There is no need for Cath Kidston to come on this trip. If you need a look, think safari or utility-chic, and leave the bunting behind.

  • Double-height air bed, baby! Go high. You will sleep so much better on a big air bed. And without the spouse in tow, you can spread out. Bring pillows and sheets, too. Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you automatically have to sweat it out in a fuschia polyester sleeping bag. If you are going to invest any time or money in your camping preparations, making your camp-bed somewhere you want to be will always represent a good ROI.

Kip tip: earplugs will block the sound of children squealing with delight outside your tent and an eye-mask will mean you’re not blinded by the sunrise at 5am.

  • Forget about cooking. Ditch the foraging fantasies, bin the barbeque farce. Get fish and chips, eat out, start your five-two diet. Do whatever you need to do to avoid cooking and/or any food preparation by your tent. With these processes comes great washing up, and you don’t want to do that.
  • Having said that, you’ll need some basics, as follows: Coco Pops (for the children, of course) milk, proper coffee, wine (red in a box is best – no need to worry about chilling it then), posh crisps. THAT’S IT.
  • Go make-up free. Channel Phoebe Philo and be as nature intended while camping. The facilities are never much better than basic and there’s really no-one to impress (believe me, I’ve checked), so just let your skin breathe and enjoy a break from the slap. A flannel and some moisturiser, deodorant, dry shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste are all you need for a long weekend. Don’t worry babe, you look gorgeous. MWAH!
  • Don’t try to do anything or go anywhere or organise any kind of activity in any way. Your children are having a great time up that tree.  Leave them to it and enjoy the weekend in your pyjamas with your friends. Who could ask for anything more?

Camping hack - let kids be kids