Each year, the wonderful Just So Festival finishes with the Tribal Tournament, where the winning tribe (owls, foxes, stags, fish, frogs or lions) is announced amidst a final fantastic knees up. At last year’s festival we were all part of 2013′s winning tribe, the Owls!
But this year, changes are afoot and some of us might have jumped ship….
Pack kids’ clothes (and your own) into clear plastic zip-up storage bags – this makes it super-easy to see the clothes so you can grab them without having to scrabble around the bottom of a bag.
Pack nice underwear. You’re going to have to hang it out to dry in full view of all your camping neighbours.
Patterned clothes show up less dirt. And opt for darker colours too.
Invest in decent sleeping mats. Go and try them out in a camping shop to make sure you get one that you find comfortable.
You can’t have too many pegs. Ditto those clips for keeping food sachets etc closed, and sandwich bags
Packsingle sheets for hot nights so you have an alternative to your sleeping bags.
Bring somehard ground pegs, so you can still pitch your tent on a hard, dusty site, or one with ground full of rocks.
Inspect your pitch thoroughly before laying out your tent and try to locate and remove any large stones or rocks. Otherwise they’re bound to end up right in the middle of your bedroom and you’ll stub your toe on them a million times a day.
A dustpan and brush is supremely useful for ridding your tent of dust, grass, sand etc. A doormat also helps.
Although it took up a lot of space in the car, the camping toilet (essentially an oversized potty) we took with us was invaluable, even if I did have to agree to empty it every single day of our trip because it was me that insisted on bringing it.
Don’t rely on satnav, or you may find yourself completely lost in the middle of nowhere. Read any instructions about finding your next site in advance.
When you arrive at new site have a picnic blanket and activity easily accessible so you can get it out and set the kids up straight away.
Never try to put up a tent hungry. This is a mistake we made too many times.
Appoint a tent leader for putting up the tent. Or let just one person do it. Too many chiefs and all that.
Organise your camp kitchen. We used a large storage box with a built-in divider for our tins, spices etc. When we stood the box on its end, the divider became a shelf so the box could be used as a mini shelving unit.
Those plastic flexi garden trugs are great for organising stuff when you unpack (we used one for shoes, one for games and one for the washing up), and they stack into each other and can be squeezed into a footwell when you’re on the move.
Use a bungy cord stretched between tent poles as a mini washing line for tea towels etc.
Be militant about keeping the bedroom doors zipped up if you want to avoid insect bites.
Buy icecube bags and ask to put them in the freezer at your campsite. Some owners will let you, some won’t, but the possibility of a cold G&T makes it well worth asking the question.
Don’t rely on wifi, even if your chosen campsites say they have it. Most of our campsites had wifi, but to use it you had to sit outside the reception office – I personally had places I’d rather be!
Go go gadgets. For backing up our photos etc, we used a Verbatim Mediashare (wireless portable streaming device) to transfer files from the SD card to an external hard drive (using an app on your phone or tablet).
If you’re not going to be using powered pitches, we used a Kit universal portable power bank/emergency charger from which we could charge anything with a USB cable.
Remember that in many countries Sunday closing is still prevalent. Ditto bank holidays. So make sure to stock up on provisions in advance (or live on pasta for two days in our case).
Hang a shopper full of fruit and veg in a nearby tree. This keeps it cooler and keeps the ants out.
We loved being away with the kids for a month, but it can get tiring needing to keep them entertained 24/7, especially when most of the campsites we chose to stay on were on the smaller side – a compact playground (if we were lucky) and a swimming pool (maybe).
When you’re camping, space in the car is tight, no matter how long you’re going away for, so we didn’t pack many toys, but what we did bring has kept the kids occupied and happy whenever required, so I thought I’d share what we took…
Better than a camp table, a picnic blanket can be more easily brought out to provide a space for play. It was always the last thing to be packed and the first thing we got out when we arrived at a new place. We’d spread it out and leave the kids to play while we sorted the tent etc.
We brought a box of Lego bricks with us. We did also pack a booklet of things to make but the twins were more happy to make up their own creations so the booklet was completely ignored. The Lego is what we would get out when we arrived somewhere new or were packing up to leave a campsite and the twins played while we put the tent up or down.
Colouring books and pens
I’ve mentioned the Stabilo Cappi pens before (this isn’t a sponsored post I just think they’re brilliant) and once again they’ve proved their worth on this trip. Our favourite colouring book is the Usborne ‘Lots of things to find and colour’ (they coloured every single day without fail and they still haven’t run out of things to colour). We did over 20 hours car travel on our trip, and the kids watched just one single movie. The rest of the time they were colouring (with an ikea lap desk to rest on), or commenting on what they could see out of the window. The colouring books were also what they got out as soon as they woke up and they coloured in bed, buying us some valuable extra time before we had to get up!
Just before we left, Cathy at Nurturestore recommended packing playdough so I used her recipe to make up a lastminute batch. It’s been a complete hit, and the twins love to decorate it with things they collect from around the campsite (stones, sticks, flowers). One day it was all about making pizzas, the day before that it was birthday cakes.
A brilliantly versatile crafting tool that’s compact and light, paper plates have been great for using with the playdough but we’ve also used them to make fish, butterflies and handbags!
Paper, scissors, glue
I packed a small tupperware box with some craft basics so we could create things if the mood took us. We made some England flags ready for the World Cup match, and paper aeroplanes were in constant demand.
Last summer we visited Emily and her gang when they were camping and her eldest had a small tin of watercolour paints. They were brilliant and the twins now have their own tins. They’re compact and don’t make a lot of mess. Perfect when travelling.
I packed a small set of facepaint pens that we used to turn the twins into pirates or fairies when requested (at home they’re really into dressing up but we didn’t have the space to pack dressing up clothes to take with us). They absolutely loved it, although it did mean some strange looks from our fellow campers.
Fonz loves all sports so he was happiest when doing something with a ball. We bought cheap sets from the supermarket – boules, kids badminton, a kids baseball bat – and these were more than enough to keep him amused. Playing boules as a family was also great fun.
I will have to write a separate post on the twins’ holiday scrapbooks – Ez’s passion for hers was just brilliant – but I thought it was worth including them on this post too. We bought them a cheap notebook each to keep as a diary of our trip – writing if they wanted to, sticking in tickets, drawing pictures – and these are now one of my most treasured things.
We’ve reached the halfway point in our 4.5 week camping trip. I have to be honest and say I’m really not missing home at all. The sleeping mat we invested in before we left has been worth its weight in gold and my nights in the tent have been pretty comfy (earplugs in, and an eyemask ready and waiting for when I stir as the sun comes up). There are two home comforts that I do really miss, though. The first is sleeping with two pillows. We could only fit one in (and that was a luxury – travel pillows would have been more space-savvy) but I sleep with two at home and no combination of jumpers, towels or blankets can recreate the comfort level. The other thing I hanker after is our sofa, or at least a comfy chair to curl up in at the end of the day. Our camping chairs simply do not deliver, and I remain skeptical that any camping chair could offer equal comfort.
Our main route hasn’t changed significantly (we decided to swap Venice for Tuscany before we left) but the amount of time we’ve spent at each location has changed depending on how much we like it. We plan one stop ahead, so when we’re at our current site we read up on the next destination. We have ACIS membership and that has a great app with a map showing all the campsites and I’d favourited a load along our route before we left the UK. Then we narrow it down to our first choice (or on the odd occasion we have two choices and pull in for a look at each once before we finally decide where to stay). It’s not high season yet so we haven’t had to book ahead which has made this approach easier.
Our days have been fairly evenly split between things the adults want to do and things for the kids. For example we chose a campsite by Lake Como, right in Menaggio. It didn’t have a swimming pool for the kids (something they would say is a must) but it was super-convenient for the sight-seeing that I really wanted to do. We made up for it by choosing a really kid-friendly site for our next stop. This week we’ve done day trips to Florence and Lucca, but have sandwiched them between days spent around the pool. We’re all pretty happy and content with this running deal I think.
The journeys in between sites have been far less painful than I feared. I give the twins full credit for this – they have been absolute superstars and have made the travelling a pleasant experience. Colouring in the back has kept them occupied for the 15+ hours we’ve done in the car and I am amazed that in that whole time they have only watched one single DVD. Hats off to them, and to toll roads across Europe which have made the driving straightforward.
Here’s where we’ve been so far:
Camping de la Foret, St Dizier, France. One night stopover on our way to Switzerland. Some paddling in the lake and a very sleepy (ie empty) campsite.
Camping Grassi, Fruitgen, Switzerland. Gorgeous alpine site in spectacular surroundings.
Camping RiaRena, Locarno, Switzerland. Busier site with a lovely pool for the kids. Lots of sunshine and some thunderstorms at night.
Camping Europa, Lake Como, Italy. This site deserves a blog post all of its own. Basic, to say the least, and stuck in a 1970s time warp. Hilarious and charming for a couple of days (plus a brilliant location right in Menaggio), but the charm did wear off and we yearned for some decent facilities.
Camping Belsito, Tuscany, Italy. Site with gorgeous views over the Tuscan countryside and an amazing pool. We’ve ended up staying here longer than planned – like a holiday within a holiday – and will move on to the Cinque Terre on Monday.
The biggest surprise has been that in all the places we’ve stayed so far we have been pretty much the only English people on the site. We’ve met a couple of older British couples but have yet to come across a single British family. I know it’s still term time in the UK but I did expect to see families with younger children like ours. It has meant that the social aspect of our trip has been a bit lacking. Maybe this will change when we hit France next week.
We’re having a wonderful time in stunning Switzerland and here are a few things I’ve learned so far on our Europe road trip..
1. Apply insect repellent the second you get out of the car to pitch your tent in the late afternoon after a long journey. You will regret the failure to do so. *scratches*
2. If you’re planning to take lots of scenic video whilst driving, remember to fill up your screen wash before leaving home. Videos complete with dead flies and smears have a somewhat less romantic vibe.
3. If you pitch your tent on the slightest slope you will all wake up in a heap the next morning.
4. One-application sun cream is a thing made by angels in heaven.
5. Invest in a cheap tray table from Ikea for each of your children. They will then colour or play for the majority of your lengthy car journeys, without the need for any electronic entertainment*
*I absolutely cannot guarantee this in the case of your children, or for any future journeys with our children. In fact I have almost certainly jinxed it now.