Family Camping … Do you love it? Always wanted to do it? But something is holding you back?
Camping as a family is a fantastic way to spend quality time together, in nature, and away from the distractions of modern life as we know it. Even for just a weekend, it can be relaxing just to unplug and play outside.
I think most of us agree there are lots of benefits to family camping, especially here in Western Australia. Free and cheap sites are everywhere and they are in absolutely beautiful locations. Our National Parks offer camping and recreation opportunities in abundance. And many shires provide and maintain some incredible hidden camping gems.
However, a lot of us hold back. We want to go camping with the family. But another summer ticked by and the tent is still collecting dust in the shed. Or the equipment wish list has been moved to the following years Christmas list for reasons like:
- When the kids are older
- When we have a bit more time
- When we can afford the right 4WD/tent/equipment
It can suddenly seem like there are a lot of barriers to the simple family camping trip.
Before we go any further, I want to tell you a bit about my background. I am a former Outward Bound Instructor. My entire 20s were spend leading groups of young people and adults in the bush, in several countries. As a coordinator, I planned and executed the logistical movements of hundreds of people in the wilderness. I was training in crisis management, as well as a wilderness first responder. At university, I studied recreation, experiential education and parks management – with a healthy dose of risk management.
So you might say I was a postgraduate-qualified professional camper.
The first time we packed the car with two young children + camping gear + food + all that stuff was possibly the most physically, emotionally and logistically challenging experience of my outdoor life.
Even though I am laughing as I write this, I am at the same time completely serious. Camping with young children is not as easy as it sounds.
But it can be.
The way I see it, you first need to establish where you are coming from. It might help you know what your barriers are to getting out there. Are you one of these:
- Experienced camper, but have not gotten out since having kids. You gaze fondly at your lightweight solo hiking gear which hasn’t been used in years.
- Loved camping before having kids and you camped a bit when you had your first. Once the second came and the first was a bit older, you have not been out. But let’s be honest, camping with babies is simple, but with toddlers and pre-schoolers, it is much more active and involved.
- New to camping and not sure where to start.
All of these have their different challenges. What is interesting is that having a lot of camping experience can be as much of a hindrance as it can be a help. We have memories and expectations of how camping ‘should’ look. Remote pristine locations, far off the beaten track. Something you had to physically work hard to get to, like hike or paddle there. A place where you would feel completely removed from the world and at one with nature.
I get it.
We have absolutely loved the days and weeks we have spent camped in the dunes in Cape Arid, 10 kilometers away from the nearest 2WD road access. Or hiking to a hut on the Bibbulmun track. But those trips are more like expeditions when you have kids and they require an expedition level of preparation.
Sometimes we have to ask ourselves whether it is our own expectations we are looking to meet, or our kids’?
A hard truth for my husband and I to swallow was that although our kids LOVE spending time with us in the bush, they also love playing with the other kids in the caravan park in Esperance; splashing with the other families in the shallows of the Murray River in Dwellingup; running around the group campground at Contos near Margaret River. They don’t care if they are in the middle of nowhere. What they love is the dirt and the sticks and the freedom to run and play without being warned continuously they are going to hurt themselves or break something.
What does this all mean for families looking to get out camping or return to camping? It means for us, as adults and parents, to have a close look at our expectations. Maybe keeping it simple (and relatively local) will help to instil a love of being outdoors and camping in your children. Long term, it is that love and early memories that will help you get back to the good stuff, the remote, the pristine, the wilderness.
In order to get you going, here are a few tips to make starting out camping with your children a little bit easier. Start with a weekend away, two nights is enough to get an idea of what works for your family and what does not. And it is short enough that if anything really does not work, it is not something you have to endure.
Pre-make as much as you can. Prepping food might add a bit to the packing time, but in addition to lessening what you need to do over the trip, it decreases the amount of gear you need. Friday night’s dinner can be sandwiches or something handheld. Often when arriving late at a site if you can give the kids food while you set up everyone is happy.
My top food tip is to pre-make a meal for Saturday night in advance and freeze it. You are camping so it doesn’t need to be fancy. Frozen leftovers from earlier in the week are perfect. The meal will thaw out on its own and all you need to do is heat it up.
Easy to grab, low packaging food (like fruit), and easy to make meals. If you want cooking over a stove or a fire to be part of the experience, make it something that is a non-essential bonus, like damper. It is cooked on a stick, is lots of fun, and if it doesn’t quite work out, no-one goes hungry.
For your first few camping experiences, keep it close. From Perth, there are a lot of fantastic options in Dwellingup, for example. Shorter drives mean more time in the bush and less stress about getting away on time.
Booking a campsite that has access to a camp kitchen is an excellent way to get out there before you have all your gear! It also means less to transport, always a bonus.
Shelter from the elements is key to a successful trip. Before deciding on what you want to be your long-term tent solution, start out with something that meets the following criteria. If you can borrow for your first few trips, even better. The tent should be:
- Fit your family comfortably
- Easy to set up in a reasonable amount of time
- Easily transported
Anything that meets that criteria will work for starting out. My husband and I used to walk around campgrounds and check out other people’s setups for ideas; that way you quickly start developing preferences for what you like or what will work for your family.
Don’t bring ‘em. Bikes or larger active items (our super large Tonka truck has always been a hit) and games are great. But leave the toys behind. They cause more clutter, more to pack, more to lose. And although there might only be one Buzz Lightyear to fight over, there are plenty of sticks and rocks in the bush.
Camping is a fantastic way for families to spend time together, in nature and away from the distractions of modern lifestyle. It can be an inexpensive and straightforward getaway, making memories to last a lifetime.
For more about family camping, head on over to www.healthyonthego.com.au where we will be featuring ‘Return to Camping’ in the lead up to school holidays.