Are you exhausted by the thought of camping with kids? Has your gear got the better of you? Would you rather stay home than face the packing frenzy for a short family camping trip?
I love being outdoors camping with my children, the mummy guilt miraculously stops when we are spending time together in nature. It feels like the best experience I can offer them as a parent is the chance to be wild and free. Away from the constraints of school and social pressure. So why does it feel so difficult to actually get out there?
How it all began
Every great camping trip begins with packing, and in the carefree days before kids we didn’t take much. A small tent, sleeping bags, logs, burgers and wine seemed to be all we really cared about bringing. But then our baby arrived and the packing list doubled, or maybe trebled. We bought a bigger tent, large enough for two plus a travel cot (5 man) and somewhere to play if it rained.
We started camping with other families, we had another child, and suddenly I found myself shoving extra duvets, pillows, folding chairs, saucepans, airbeds, cool box, clothes pegs, balls, lego, teddybears, candles, fairy lights… into every corner of our estate car. A large car which we felt was essential for our growing family, but actually was ‘for when we go camping’. With all this boot space the packing was now getting ridiculous. For hours before every trip I was in a state of high alert, madly rummaging under the bed, rushing to the shed, up to the loft, to the supermarket, back to the shed while frantically ticking off my vast list of essential camping equipment and shouting instructions to my husband. Heart racing, eyes wild, I would collapse exhausted into the passenger seat, ‘I think we’re ready. No, wait a minute…’ and out I would leap.
Well, the estate car died and I bought a smaller car to nip around town. But how could we go camping now? My friends love having all the camp gear and their advice was to get a roof box, or a trailer, or both. More space for more stuff.
No! I am offically OVER this packing frenzy. I have decided to go minimalist. Mini camping, or maybe even micro-camping. I want less stuff, less hassle and more fun.
The trouble with all this stuff is it becomes a barrier to going to all. The idea of gathering all these items, packing, unpacking, then doing it all again in reverse when you come home is just too much for many people and they decide, quite understandably, to just not bother. So why should we make the effort to go camping with our families?
The benefits of family camping
The benefits of spending time in nature are huge. The Wild Network is an organisation committed to encouraging children to spend more time outdoors. They have identified a crisis in child development caused by our sedentary, indoor lifestyles:
The lack of outdoor play, learning and nature connection in childhood is a deeply held systemic problem. Over many years multiple barriers have been imposed on childhood; they are complex and inter-linked but their impact is profound.
Multiple pieces of evidence now exist that show how a life without time outdoors in nature has significant impacts on the physical and mental wellbeing of children as well as their willingness to care for and protect the environment as they grow.
Getting our kids out into nature is our responsibility. Opening the back door and expecting them to switch off the TV and run outside is often not enough, we need to take them ourselves, to help them find the fun outdoors beyond the glare of screens and colourful plastic toys.
Camping is a cheap, quick and easy way of doing this. I’d like to remove the barriers to camping by making the process of getting our family there a whole lot easier.
Minimalist family camping
Is it possible to be a minimalist family camper? Doesn’t every child need a pile of stuff to keep them warm, safe, fed, entertained and happy outdoors?
Well, I believe that behind every over-packed estate car is a frazzled parent, physically and mentally exhausted from madly planning and packing hundreds of items for the ‘perfect’ holiday. Would our children notice if we didn’t do it? If we just met their basic needs for food and shelter and, above all, love? In fact, by spending less time and energy on micro-managing the packing I know I would have more time to just sit and play with them. I’d be calmer, happier and I think they would be too.
So this year I am on a mission to reduce our camping equipment to the basic essentials, to create a simple grab’n’go camping kit that can be thrown in the car at a moment’s notice. Forecast for the weekend looking sunny? Lets go! Want to visit somewhere further afield without the cost of a hotel? Let’s camp!
And it’s working. The stress has gone, we are having after school camping adventures. We are still warm, well-fed and happy. Weekends feel like a week and our children run wild in fields and woodlands building dens and looking for butterflies. We visit new places, watch the clouds and build campfires together.
Lets get our children outdoors more often and more easily. Leave the lanterns, chuck out the chairs, kiss goodbye to the gadgets and lets go Mini Camping.