I know what you’re thinking! Camping? NO. WAY! And that’s fine – I too loathed the idea of it until recently. With my only real camping experience being music festivals in the UK, I honestly thought fart filled tents and shit splattered portaloos had well and truly scarred me for life!
That is until we bought a camper van.
I say we, Mr. Husband did and OH MY GOD – it’s his pride and joy! Every other thing he says (that isn’t tennis related or something funny Phil Dunphy said) is to do with Dora – that’s her name.
Without sounding like an episode of Top Gear, here she is with a brief spec below. (Maybe I’ll get Mr. Husband to guest edit a blog post in future, if anyone wants to know more than it has four wheels and two memory foam double beds inside…)
Initially, methinks I protested too much about her purchase – but I REALLY wanted a kitchen extension!
However, after weighing up what we’d get more out of with the kids and the cost of travelling as a family of four (aged 13 and 7, so adult fares) – the camper van won! And while Dora may have duffed up my plans for Morroccan tiles, butler sinks and exposed brick walls, I can honestly say it was totally worth it!
If you’ve been following the_ft_times on Instagram for a while now (thank you!) you’ll probably know about our wanderlust adventures in Dora where we’ve experienced our BEST family holidays yet! And yeah, before you ask, it is EVERYTHING like a National Lampoon Vacation movie!
It’s fucking funny, somewhat stressful at times but all in all, proper, heart-warming, everything-works-out-good-in-the-end-stuff.
Now, let me clarify, when I say camping (for this blog post) it’s all about fair weather conditions. We’re driving through France and Spain in August and there’s not a leaky tent in sight. We regularly go to the Cotswolds in Dora and have taken her to Dublin too but these have been VERY different experiences, which I shall write about, but another time.
OK, so if you’re still not convinced with this wanderlust-touring-vibe then that’s totally cool. I appreciate that camping is not for everyone, innit! I’m still trying to convince my bestie of 35 years! (C’mon Mrs B! Do it! Do it! Do it!)
So, for the sole purpose of convincing her to come along this year, plus for anyone else who maybe thinking about embarking on a different kind of holiday experience, then let me tell you my top ten reasons why I’ve ended up TOTALLY embracing the camping thing and why I’m SO ready to join a commune! *goes off to hug a tree
1: DIGITAL DETOX
Let’s be honest! We all need to unplug every so often. Technology and social media has totally changed how we experience stuff now to the extent that unless something is posted on social media and validated with ‘likes’ – did it ever really happen!? BOLLOCKS to that, I say! And I’m not preaching here, it’s a lesson I often need to remind myself about, so having limited access to WIFI when camping is a great opportunity to get a bit of a digital detox. Yeah, there’s a couple of days perhaps when you do cold-turkey but then you come out the other side and IT. IS. FINE!
Enjoy life off-line, it’ll all still be there when you get back.
2: APPRECIATE NATURE
We will never forget driving through France one year and the temperature was reaching a hot and humid 40degrees. We arrived at Les Ondines campsite at around 5pm. It was the end of August, so no need to book, we found the perfect pitch, threw on our swimming stuff and all jumped straight into the Dordogne to cool down. I mean, where else can you do that? Not only did my skin feel the softest it has ever been – that was bath time sorted too! YASSSS!
3: FUCK THE ROUTINE
Don’t get me wrong, I love the luxuries that come with a swanky hotel stay, but when you commit to camping, for that holiday alone, it’s a chance to break with the routine. So no set meal times and if you fancy a small tapas here or a snooze there followed by a jug of sangria tinto and then a Maxibon, then so be it! When we went to Camp Playa Baya in Spain last year, their mini disco starts at 8pm followed by an outdoors family show that goes on until midnight. Then the disco starts!
Children do not sleep in Spain and it’s BRILLIANT!
Ours are old enough to do this (the first born with shandy too!) and they love it and because you have no set agenda the following day, I find that this freedom allows for pure and utter relaxation.
4: LESS CHOICE, MORE TIME
Space is limited when you’re camping so we tend to buy our groceries on the go from either the shops on the camp site (which can be a little bit more expensive) or the local supermarkets if we’ve ventured off site that day. This way we find that we’re not wasting time shopping for meals, leaving more time to be exploring or on the beach. Plus, it just means you end up taking the hard line approach to mealtimes.
This is what we’re eating tonight, guys. No fussing, OK?
Whether it’s pasta, cous cous, BBQ or salads there’s something quite basic about preparing, cooking and eating outdoors that builds an appetite and even the fussier eaters in the family don’t tend to grumble. And why would they when they have Cheetos for pudding! YASSSS!
5: FAMILY TIME
When the kids were younger, I never really enjoyed holidays because you just end up doing the same shit, but somewhere else. It’s not fun dragging a three-wheel buggy, weighed down with a sweaty mess of a sleeping child, along with all their paraphernalia through the sand, to only find that it’s too hot on the soles of their feet when they awake. It can often be the most unrewarding task other than the change of scenery. As I said, ours are older now and once they get going, it’s proper family fun. Uno – the holiday card game of champs – is a regular evening ritual after dinner and without the temptation to sit in front of the telly box, we often find that boredom spurs on spontaneity and those as we know, end up being the most memorable and fun times.
6: DO THE WASHING UP!
I don’t know about you, but growing up, we never had a dishwasher. But our kids have never not had a dishwasher, so they’re really crap at washing up, innit! Which is another reason I love camping – the kids have to do chores! Now if you’re a parent who implements this at home regardless, then woo-the-hoo. We don’t. We try, but sometimes it’s just easier to do it yourself. Pick your battles, innit? But when we go camping – oh boy, do we go the other the way!
Of course, there are dangerously high DEFCON level arguments to be had at first…
However, it always gets done and once the routine kicks in, without sounding like an annoyingly preachy Mary Poppins, before they know it, “and SNAP, the job’s a game!” *cue bird whistling and finger clicking
7: WANDERLUST VIBES
It’s all good and well me telling you about the wanderlust, hippie vibes of camping; of chasing the sun and driving the open road when really what you want to know is what it’s like sharing showers and toilets with a bunch of other campers. OK, so firstly, the picture above is the ladies toilet and shower area in Park Playa Baya in Spain. It also has within this, an area of mini sized loos, changing cubicles and even dressing tables with mirrors and chairs for the little girls. My daughter and I would happily do about our business, shower, brush/blow dry our hair etc here. Being open air, it’s fresh yet private and every time I went in, there was always a cleaner around, so if you’re worried about the facilities, don’t. Do your research as some places are better than others. And lastly, for someone that hates using public toilets to the extent that I made myself constipated as a child (I shit you not, I did not go to the toilet for six weeks!) So if I can, you can poo, I mean, too!
8: SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT
This is that Bear Grylls factor that you get from living in the outdoors. You become one with nature, you wake up when the sunrises and wind down when it sets.
You become hardened to the fact that your feet have not felt carpet for over three weeks.
To quote Mr. Husband – who is a firefighter, so he’s adept to finding solutions in emergency situations – he always tries to encourage the children (and me, because I am partial to having the odd camping strop too, innit!) that you have to “adapt and overcome.” Whether it be working out where best to rig up the washing line or what do to when an impromtu Spanish storm decides to hit base camp (true story!) It’s all about fine tuning those skills to be prepared, what to prioritise and so forth. Without it sounding like some weird boot camp, I have to stress that none of this is done to purposefully ‘teach the kids a lesson’.
That would make us sanctimonious and very shitty parents.
It’s three weeks out of 52 where we try to balance out their overly stimulated minds with peak boredom, the basics and just show them how to enjoy the magic in the simple stuff, innit!
9: ESSENTIALS EDIT
For someone with four wardrobes you’d think the hardest task for me would be how I edit my holiday clothes. It’s actually a lot easier than you think. Plus, again with the whole camping ethos of stripping back to basics, for someone that has SO MANY CLOTHES, there’s something quite novelty in knowing that I have to make my capsule camping wardrobe work harder. We pack all our clothes in huge plastic boxes so you can see clearly what’s inside and the kids can find their stuff easily too. I tend to roll things up, plus summer clothes I find, are so much smaller and lighter anyway. I tend to pack four or five bikinis, a couple of vest tops and bandeaus, a few non-iron dresses, denim shorts and a couple of flip flops and Birkenstocks. And that’s pretty much it. It’s all casual dressing. We get stuff washed on site for a few Euros and it line-dries in just a few hours.
Last years game changers were The H&M tassle earrings which did not leave my lobes. I even swam in them!
When you’re wearing zero make-up and air drying your hair (which is so liberating once you get over yourself) I found that these added the perfect colour-pop I’d usually get from a statement lipstick.
10: CAMPING COMMUNITY
Lastly, it has to be said that you have to experience these campsites to really get a feel for them and the people. I promise you they are probably nothing like what you may think. I know that I was so shocked the first time. I mean, one had a bar IN THE ACTUAL POOL – with bar stools and all! Plus you find out about all the good sites to stay at through the families and fellow campers all pitched up around you, who are all so helpful. A mixture of tourists as well as local folk too, last summer we came back from the pool to be greeted by a HUGE paella dish that our Catalonian camping neighbours had just ‘rustled’ up. It was DELICIOUS! The sharing thing is huge, from food to recommendations of places to visit, eat and shop. You get a proper feel for places when you know the advice is coming from the locals and not a tour rep.
So there you have it! Go on. Have I swayed you? (Mrs B – have I swayed YOU?!)
Let me know, yeah, just pop your comments below.
We are in the process of booking our holidays this month so if you have any questions on any of the many campsites we have visited in France and Spain, I’d be more than happy to help.
Thank you for reading.