The story of the garden campsite got out. Another member on the street’s “WhatsApp” group contacted me, as his wife felt that a break from these dystopian times in the form of a camping trip was in order. I still haven’t got my stuff back yet from the garden camper but fortunately, the family had bought most of the kit needed for a trip and had booked a campsite in Dinokeng for a few days. So what they needed from me was simply advice as we had camped with kids before. Bear in mind my son is 29, so it has been some time since we camped with him. In fact, the last trip was when he was 16 and after that experience, he announced that this was his last trip. Although he enjoyed the camping and the fireside experience, the fact that we moved to a new campsite every day was in his words “stressful” to say the least.
“Embrace the dirt” was my first piece of advice. Children attract dirt when camping. They will find mud and water so expect them to be messy. They may fall asleep at night dog tired without showering and wake up starting to play immediately. So, you may have to be strict about the visits to the shower and hand and face washing – wet wipes are good for this. Then pack extra clothing, as two to three outfits may get used every day. You should also take a few heavy-duty bin bags to be used as receptacles for sodden, smelly clothes and shoes! Avoid the temptation to throw the stuff away – it does recover after a good wash or two. Or three.
I used to line my load bin with a square of perforated rubber – actually an old piece of conveyor belting and once the tents were set up this would be placed outside the kids’ tent so that they would not simply traipse large dollops of mud into the tent and onto their bedding.
That brings me to rules. Although it can be expected that the kids may revert to a wild state when in the bush, there have to be rules and task allocation. Simple things like sweeping the mat outside the tent, helping with meals and dishwashing etc. It makes the whole experience and retains a semblance of discipline. Rules are also important for safety around the campsite and even rivers and pools as well as the bush. Set some sensible boundaries, but let the kids get on with being kids.
Being outdoors is a full-on sensory experience and is a great way to initiate the youngsters to the joys of outdoor life. Simple things will enchant them, roasting marshmallows over an open fire, “braaing” their own meat, the hoot of an owl or even the roar of a lion. Learning about trees, birds and insects is all part of the experience.
In summer, choose a campsite with a clean river or pool. On many of my trips the kids only wore a Speedo, peak cap and sunscreen and only left the water to eat – about three to four times a day.
Have fun and invest in a few extras, maybe fairy lights for the kid’s tent and a torch or headlamp for each child (extra batteries – they will more than likely leave the torches on all night). One could also consider smaller chairs and a table where they can eat away from the adults. Over the years I have developed a system of keeping my kit in a variety of labelled “Wolf Packs”. They pack easily, stand on top of each other and can be easily secured. Dinner tends to be a braai but treat the kids with roasted corn or baked potatoes which they can do. A real highlight is sharing food around the fire and roasting things on long sticks adds to the fun. Let the kids contribute to the menu planning – but remember crisps and zoo biscuits are not staples to be consumed before a meal.
Have plenty of fruit and snacks as the fresh air makes for a healthy appetite. Which comes to drinks… whilst juice is the drink of choice insist that they drink water as well. I was a bit of a wuss when it came to camping, preferring summer to the colder months but prepare for the worst. Torrential rain and hail make for cool wet conditions so pack warm kit. And remember rain equals mud – lots of it!
Friends used to allow their youngsters to pack their own kit – I never did this especially when it came to toiletries as this cost me a spare toothbrush on more than one occasion or even my son’s socks.
What I did allow my son to do was to pack a “Wolf Pack “ with his own selection of toys, books and games, although more often than not there was enough to do if the campsite had a river, pool or farm dam. Books and games took a back seat and were generally only used in the evenings – after showering!!! And always pack a bucket and spade – kids take a good deal of delight in building sandcastles and forts. Now I am not a fan of “Crocs” but they are indispensable around a campsite as are trail sandals – both dry easily and you can use them to protect your feet when showering. So back to “It’ll be fun” – camping should not bring about trepidation. It will be fun and a really enjoyable outdoor experience. Bear in mind that you will need to adapt if the kids are very young. They will have to sleep with you and may need to be taken to the toilet at night. Teens will definitely need their own tent and may sleep until lunchtime and rise ravenous! Be prepared – like a good scout! If the little ones or even the wife are newbies to camping, then test everything and set up a campsite in the back garden. This also gives a feeling of expectation and excitement and allows you to test and pack everything. Nothing worse than getting to the campsite sans tent poles or pegs – It’ll be fun!