If you’ve been itching to get away after being stuck at home with Covid-19 restrictions for what may have seemed like forever, why not try a camping holiday? It really is a fun, affordable option whether you’re a couple, a family or a bunch of friends wanting to spend a few days at the beach or in the country.
Before you say, it’s too uncomfortable or inconvenient, read on. Like the best scouts, you just need a little preparation and you can have a wonderful break with fresh air, fun and relaxation that won’t cost the earth.
Here are our top tips for first time campers to ensure trip preparation remains uncomplicated and camping adventures are enjoyable and unforgettable experiences.
Decide what type of camping trip is for you?
Do your research and decide what type of camping trip you would like to experience.
For example do you want to head out off the beaten track and into the wilderness, would you prefer to set up on the coast and wake up to the views of the sparkling ocean (close enough to get into a nearby town for a coffee) or do you want to be surrounded by birds and other animals in one of our gorgeous national parks?
There are hundreds of campsite options recommendations and listings on sites like these https://www.australiancampsites.com.au/ and https://www.campsaustraliawide.com/ or your state national parks website. There are campsites you need to pay for, as well as free camping options. You can even find places you can take the dog to. Remember, you may need to book ahead.
If you are going ‘free camping’ please store your rubbish carefully (so wildlife doesn’t approach) and take it all with you when you leave, you risk ruining a pristine place for others and endangering animals.
Make sure you know the ins and outs of your chosen destination
Once you have narrowed down a destination – that is, how far you want to drive for your weekend or holiday away – find out as much as you can about it. For example, can you build a campfire there, what types of activities such as swimming and fishing is available, is it dog friendly, are there shower and toilet facilities? What is the closest town for supplies or petrol (just check on your Navman).
Your Navman can also help with a choice of routes to take, give you accurate distance and time it will take to get to your campsite, as well as allow you to plan for stops along the way, check out points of interest and find cafes, restaurants and petrol stations.
You should also think about whether it is the best time of year to travel to your destination – will certain flowers be in bloom, will there be wildlife to spot, will the weather be suitable? Camping in the rain is almost never fun!
You can find plenty of information online at campsites, as well as travel guides, websites for national parks or ask friends if you know they have visited that spot before.
How to choose the right tent
There is no doubt, your tent choice can make or break your trip.
If it’s your first-time camping, you may want to rent a tent before you commit to buying. Tents can start from a couple of hundred dollars but like most things, quality and space increase with price. Even so, you’ll find you can buy a tent for a lot less than you could pay for a hotel.
Things to consider when shopping for or hiring a tent include considering the number of people using the tent. A four-man tent may really only be comfortable for two people especially when you consider the heights of people using it, and the type of gear and mattresses you may take.
You also want to make sure the tent is easy to set up and easy to transport, a large tent may seem like a fantastic idea, but you need to check it doesn’t take a whole village to set it up.
Picking a tent suitable for the season you are travelling in is also imperative - while a summer tent may be lighter and more ventilated a three-season tent will withstand heavy rain wind and keep you warmer in the cold.
Ensuring you have the right equipment will help your camp trip run smoothly. You need good lighting – a safe lamp at the very least, and definitely a torch or two. Don’t think you can just rely on a campfire as they are almost always banned in the summer and won’t help in the rain! Options to consider include torches, head lamps and gas lights, so do your research. Don’t forget to take spare batteries or a pre-charged portable power bank.
You need to be able to sleep comfortably. There is little worse than sleeping on a hard floor, so consider your options for mattress or cushioned mats (depending on how much space you have in your vehicle). If you do get an inflatable mattress, remember you’ll need a pump! Sleeping bags really are the warmest (and coolest) way to go and if you borrow or buy them, make sure they are the right weight for the weather conditions. And if you need a pillow, take it.
Other essentials include matches, first aid kit, insect repellent, an esky or camp fridge to keep food fresh, cooking devices that work without needing a campfire. A fold-up table is useful (if you have a larger tent) as you can store food and gear on it as well as implements like cutting knife, plates, mugs, kettle, tea towels. Folding chairs are a godsend too – they’re light and don’t take a lot of room in the car.
A wash bucket is a good idea even if you’re staying at a site with kitchen facilities, and a clothesline in case you need to dry anything out. Rubbish bags are always useful.
Packing wet weather gear, even rain ponchos in summer, is always a good idea. And a shovel is also essential if your camp spot doesn’t have toilet facilities, or if it rains you might need to dig some drainage paths to direct the water away from your tent.
Fun activities for camping trips
The list is endless, depending on your interests and where you have chosen to go.
If you have kids, it’s the perfect time to switch off the screens and have some old-fashioned fun: go swimming, fishing, hiking. Be more like David Attenborough and check out the wildlife or indulge in some nature photography. See the stars, skip stones or do some art. And of course, you can also bring along card games, footballs, cricket sets or even a good book.
Food and cooking tips
Some people may be able to whip up a gourmet meal from scratch at a campsite, but for the first time camper, you’re really better off preparing as much of your planned meals as possible before you leave.
You do need an esky or portable refrigerator.
Make and freeze any soups, stews etc ahead of time (you can always use them as extra coolers in your Esky), as well as meat or sausages you may not need on the first day or two. Measure out any ingredients and store in labelled zip-lock bags. Large plastic boxes are perfect for storing non-perishables and cooking utensils, and heavy-duty aluminium foil is great for storing food or covering pots and plates to keep the insects away.
If there is a town nearby, you can always pop in to pick up anything you’ve forgotten but if you’re at a remote location, having basics like salt, pepper and sauces, along with bread, cereal and snacks your kids usually eat, can keep everyone happy.
The great thing about camping is once you find your spot and set up, you really can relax and feel away from everyday life. You don’t even need to go too far from your town or city, there are many great places within an hour of most cities around Australia. So, what are you waiting for?