Are you ready for your first night of camping? If there's even the tiniest bit of doubt, read this before you close the front door behind you...
You've seen everyone else doing it, and it looks amazing. You've tiptoed around tents and counted the different kettles in Millets, and you've even gone as far as checking the long-distance weather forecast just in case. So, for your first night under canvas, it'll be a case of packing the car and going, right? Well, not exactly because if you're new to all this camping malarkey things can quickly go belly up if you don't do a bit of planning beforehand to make it a total success.
Borrow or beg
Everyone's got a tent in the attic, so borrow one and try it before splashing out on your own. After all, you might not actually like camping! That said, don't bother with an old mildewy tent from someone's childhood scout trip – it will take ages to put up and ruin the whole experience. If you're buying (or borrowing) a tent, try to see it erected so you can see if it's really big enough. That said, don't go too massive otherwise you'll spend your entire holiday putting it up and down.
Leave the kitchen sink
With camping kit, less and light is the way to go, so not going over the top with what you take is the secret. A stove, airbeds with built-in blow-up pillows and a compact sleeping bag are the essentials, but you will also need a cool box. Don't bother with plug-in versions, there's a risk of it flattening your battery.
It's uncivilised not sitting down, so folding chairs are a must in our book, and a table to prepare food means you won't be scrambling around on the floor all the time.
When it comes to clothes, take only the essentials otherwise you'll be unpacking it again, unworn, when you get home. A lightweight thermal top or fleece will come into its own in the cooler evenings.
At this point, think about safety; are the gas connections on your stove all good, are the electrical items you're taking likely to prove dangerous if it rains, and have you got something to hold water so you don't die of thirst? As long as you concentrate on what's important; namely, keeping warm, staying dry, having something to eat and drink, and being able to get your head down at the end of the day, you'll be ok. If there's a question mark over any of these, stay local so if the worst happens, there's a hurricane or a family rebellion, you can head back home and try it again another day.
Food for thought
With all the excitement of going away, it's easy to forget something. Like eating, for example! Why not pre-cook your first night's meal in the comfort of your home kitchen and take it with you? You'll appreciate having something quick and simple at hand to heat up eat with the minimum fuss once you've got your tent set up. For a longer stay, plan your meals in advance and take all the ingredients with you. Again, keep things simple the first time around and don't try to be too ambitious with your culinary endeavours.
If you're in a camper van, a drive-away awning makes sense because you can use it for extra sleeping space or keep stuff in there while you're out for the day. Awnings with a pole structure tend to bear the brunt of bad weather better, though ones that inflate are generally lighter and take up less space. On this note, beware because, yes, you're in danger of taking up space inside your Bus – which isn't nice for passengers in the back. Talking of storage, avoid the whole 'bag' thing; pack as much as you can away in cupboards.
If the site is right
So good, so far – but have you thought about where you are going? For your first night away, don't embark on a ten-hour drive to get there. Do this and it's likely you'll arrive hot and exhausted. Instead, do a couple of hours at most, get to the site early and feeling fresh – and enjoy the whole setting up procedure. Campsites are rated according to the number of facilities, so choose accordingly.
If you want to get to a site and not budge for a week, pick one with a pool, a shop to buy provisions and activities to keep everyone occupied. However, if you like the quieter things in life, go where things are a bit more basic and make your own entertainment. Book well in advance to avoid disappointment. Taking bikes is a great idea – but, hey, don't try to cram in too much (which is where a bike rack comes in handy). After all, this is your first time away!
We can't emphasise strongly enough just how important it is to prepare everything for your first-night camping well in advance. Carry out a pre-trip inspection of your vehicle, checking everything from tyre pressures to water in the windscreen wash reservoir to avoid any mishaps on route. On an older vehicle, check you've got breakdown recovery just in case.
Start creating a pile of camping gear so that you don't spend your departure day getting stressed looking for stuff, discovering the gas bottle in the shed's empty, or a neighbour's still got the sleeping bag they borrowed ages ago.
Make the first camping trip a success and you won't ever want to spend a night in a pricy hotel ever again, and with every trip you make, you'll come home with a list of things you can do better the next time. But if the thought of buying or borrowing everything you need for your first adventure is sending your blood pressure sky-high, there is always the option of hiring a campervan that is already fully equipped with all the mod cons.
Whatever you do, wherever you go – and whoever you go with – promise us one thing..just make sure you have a damned good time doing it!