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‘Let’s go camping!’ I said. ‘Have you lost your mind?’ replied my husband (H).
I was surprised at his answer, as his tales of camping in the wilds of Africa are legendary. Just ask him about the time a rustling noise woke him up in the early hours of the morning. He found an elephant scratching its behind against the tent fabric. I reassured him that camping in Dorset would be considerably less eventful, and that our son would enjoy the fresh air and the novelty of using his Thomas the Tank Engine inflatable bed somewhere other than the living room.
Having crow-barred the contents of a branch of Halfords into the car and navigated the A303 , we arrived at our chosen site. We grappled with the tent for a while before realising we had forgotten the mallet. We tried various heavy implements but nothing would plunge the pegs into the hard gravel. The only option left was to borrow one from the chap in the tent next door. He had clearly mastered the art of tent erection and had produced, Mary Poppins style, two collapsible benches and a table for his family’s mealtimes, from his car boot. H approached him, exchanged some pleasantries, and asked to borrow a mallet. We discovered he was ex-military and quite the professional camper. He hammered our tent pegs in, showing us amateurs how it should be done, barely concealing his disgust at our obvious stupidity.
‘Let’s go camping!’ I said. ‘Have you lost your mind?’ my husband said.
Suitably admonished, we crawled into bed, smug in the knowledge that our tent could probably withstand a hurricane. But a neighbouring camper’s hacking cough kept me awake all night, and H woke up at 5.30am when the trains running alongside the campsite burst into action.
We wished we’d followed this advice before embarking on our first family camping adventure.
- Devise a checklist for future trips. On-site equipment stores are rarely good value, so plan ahead for emergencies (e.g. first aid kit, spare batteries).
- Choose the campsite carefully. Start off with a well-equipped site if you’re not ready to go completely wild. Some have a pool, electricity hook-up (for kettles and phone chargers), laundry facilities and play areas.
- Socks! You can never have enough socks, as they get wet/muddy/lost, and it’s a quick way to warm up chilly children.
- Any products with the word ‘travel’ in their title will automatically cost more. Bring mugs, saucepans and bowls from home – they work as well as their non-travel counterparts.
- Avoid shelling out for expensive gear. Borrow, buy used or sale items wherever possible. Camping with friends means you can share equipment and meals, saving effort and money.
- Duct tape is your best friend! Handy for patching up leaks or draughts.
- Pack food from home (frozen food will stay fresh for longer, and act as an ice block) and plan meals in advance to save trips to the convenience store (always more expensive).
Clare Lawrence, nicknamed 'Coupon Clare' at college, lives mostly in Cornwall. Proud mum to Gregory, she'll stop at nothing in her quest to save cash!