This weekend we take our tent and head to France to camp for a few weeks. We love camping. I should emphasise that, while we live in Ireland…we probably love camping in France, where the weather is warm and dry (mostly!). We’re not so fond of the wet, mucky camping that so often takes place here…the type that when you get home, your laundry pile is vast and everything smells damp and the dirt has soaked so deeply into clothes that they are unwearable again!
I wrote here about why I think you should camp; the things we love about it and how brilliant it is for kids, no matter what their gender. I had a conversation with a lady in a shop recently about how she had never camped because she was one of 3 girls and had 2 girls of her own, who both turned their noses up at sleeping in a tent. I came away feeling quite down about the conversation. Our 3 girls adore camping, the freedom it brings and the sense of adventure that they find in the campsites. It is not only for boys. It is not a gender specific activity.
So, with that rant over, here are a few wee practical tips that we have found useful over the years.
*Choose your campsite wisely. Research, research, research. I hate this, so my hubby usually takes on this part of the holiday planning. We know what we like…we like to go to a different campsite every time as we feel there are too many little villages and areas to explore to keep revisiting the same site. We like the bigger campsites with slides and pools for the girls to play in. We always book for the beginning of July before the English schools break up and the sites are quieter, we like a quiet pitch, usually far away from other tents (you’re sensing we are very anti-social when we holiday…which would be true!!). In the mornings we tend to venture out into the surrounding area and then in the afternoons we lounge around the pool. This works for us and we feel we get a good balance of culture and relaxation.
*Travel as lightly as possible. We try to pack less clothes and stuff…there are usually great washing facilities and let’s face it, when camping, most people don’t notice a speck of dirt (ahem!!) here and there! The girls take one small backpack of their ‘toys’ – if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t go. We try to take 3 bags between the 5 of us and the girls have their own backpack to keep at their feet. The vast majority of our boot is filled with camping equipment and beds. As we go for 3 weeks, we do take kitchen units and clothes shelves as it keeps the tent tidy and keeps the bugs out of food and crockery. We always bring badminton rackets and our boules set…they are always good for the girls on the site and often attract new friends for them.
Make lists of what you need and keep it as basic as you can…you want to leave room to bring home any wee finds at flea markets and some of that French Red!
*Explore the local area. When you go somewhere new, use the folk around to find out some local eateries and markets. They will also be able to advise you on other activities or places to visit around the surrounding areas. It is helpful to have an idea before you go of some things you’d like to see but always allow a bit of space to go off the beaten track a little.
*Give everyone a job. Our girls all have a job when pitching the tent. They all need to help. When we camp they help with washing and drying dishes…walking over to the facilities and bringing everything back. It’s a slow job but I love the simplicity of it all. They are given free reign a lot of the time but they do need to help out to make sure I get a bit of a break too…mental health and all that!
*Forget the time. We do try to go on a different timescale when we are away. Johnny and I linger over long cups of coffee while the girls run about. We eat when we feel hungry and let them stay up til late. It’s a complete break from the clock watching we do when we’re home and so restorative for the soul.
*Build in downtime. This is something I’m going to try harder to do this year. We usually have a journalling time in the evening…the girls stick in any leaflets they’ve gathered, draw pictures of what they enjoyed or write an entry in their notebook about what they have seen. This year we’re going to build in a bit of book time and quiet time. Because they are generally up later and out in the fresh air a lot more, they can get overtired. The plan is to try and prevent this building up, so this year, we’re going to try and have a quiet time after lunch…I’m also trying to get through a book or two in this time.
At the end of the day, everyone has to feel they have had a holiday. Camping is the best of everything to me…the girls get freedom and time to run and play, we get long cups of coffee, wanders through little villages and time to hoke round the brocantes. For me, at this stage of our family life, it is the perfect break.
If you camp I’d love to hear any tips you might have that we could steal!!