Are you keen to camp but worried about how additional needs within your family could be too challenging at a campsite? Here are ten simple tips which may help get you all happily out into nature.
Recent studies show that spending time in nature can reduce stress, anxiety and increase health and self-esteem. (University of Derby and The Wildlife Trusts measured the impact of last year’s "30 Days Wild" campaign). “Intuitively we knew that nature was good for us as humans, but the results were beyond brilliant,” said Lucy McRobert, nature matters campaigns manager for The Wildlife Trusts.
Camping is a fantastic way to spend a prolonged time outdoors in nature but if you, or a member of your family, has an illness or disability, you are likely to have additional, and very real, concerns about camping. These may include:
• Accessibility issues on camp sites to facilities such as showers, toilets, shops and with wheelchairs on muddy terrain
• Mobility issues which may affect your ability to pitch a tent or manoeuvre inside it; lifting heavy equipment and loading the car
• Potential emotional stress and anxiety of being in an unfamiliar environment, full of triggers, for those with emotional difficulties and autism
• Some people may struggle to understand safety rules and will need extra monitoring keep them safe from fires, rivers and other potential hazards
• Security concerns - with no walls or lockable doors to provide a safe area, there is a risk of someone wandering off.
• Medications may need to be kept cold somehow, or electricity may be required to run specialist equipment.
• Sleeping low to the ground, on a SIM or air bed may be difficult.
• Noise may be a problem. Perhaps there is someone in your group who finds it difficult to be quiet during curfew, or may be distressed by too much noise or unfamiliar sounds.
Caring for someone with additional needs is enough of a challenge, so make life as easy for yourselves as possible, by considering these top tips:
10 Tips to help camp with an illness or disability
1. Be a minimalist camper - Take only a small kit that is light to carry, quick to pitch and easy to pack up in an emergency. This is so helpful if you need to keep an eye on your child while you set up, or, if disaster hits, and your child really can't cope, pack up will be speedy.
2. Camp with another family - Extra adults can help keep an eye on anyone who needs additional support
3. Use technology if you need it - If you are worried about someone wandering off while you are distracted setting up, consider leaving them a safe place (such as the in the car parked beside you) with a tablet or DVD player to keep them entertained while you are busy. Camping doesn’t have to be tech free. You know what you or your child needs to feel calm.
4. Cook super quick meals on a small stove - This will give you more time to support the disabled person in your group, and remove the additional hazard of a camp fire.
5. Spend time in the tent at home - A smaller tent can be pitched at home in your garden, or even your living room if necessary, to give your child time to get used to being inside it. If it becomes a familiar place, they may feel happier and more settled at the camp site.
6. Consider a blackout tent - This might be helpful for someone with sensory processing disorder, or who can overwhelmed by an unfamiliar environment, and can be a welcome refuge at the camp site. Add in some glowsticks, and some tactile objects and you’re half-way to creating your own mobile sensory room.
7. Lock the tent - For peace of mind while you sleep, you can zip up to the top so small children can’t reach zips and roam off at night.
8. Choose your camp site carefully - Some sites are wheelchair accessible, others are aimed specifically at supporting a range of disabilities. Think about what the additional needs are and how they can be met outdoors. Do you need to a pitch near the toilets? Do you need a bath not a shower? A quieter site?
9. Consider a pre-pitched tent - Glamping it up in a fully-equipped pre-pitched tent with real beds inside can take the stress out of camping with a disability. It may cost a bit more, but in the right location, the whole family can still get to rewild, and enjoy the freedom and relaxation of being in nature without the hassle and time of packing and pitching.
10. Phone ahead - Individual disability needs are so varied, and some camp sites are better than others at meeting them. A few wheelchair ramps and low sinks may not be enough, or even at all useful, for many people, so always phone a camp site in advance to find out if it can work for your family.
If you really aren't sure if camping can be possible for you or your family, why not try borrowing a tent and sleeping in your garden, or a friend's? A small, private, outdoor space close to home can be an ideal way to get the camping experience without the potential stress of traveling to an unfamiliar campsite. By using a few minimalist bits of kit you can reduce your set up time and hopefully have some fun outdoors under the stars! If it goes well, you could go again, further afield.
Good luck and let me know how you get on.
PS. What have I missed? I'd love to hear what your particular challenges are and help figure out how to overcome them.