Are we really going camping. . .with kids. . . for 6 weeks???!!! What about those cute and comfy little apartments with nice balconies, real beds, real bathrooms, hot water, kitchen, windows and doors?? Are we really going to save so much money by sleeping on somebody’s piece of grass in a tent, with bugs all around and only the sky above us? What if it rains? What if there is thunder and blows our tent away? Tell me, what then!?! Hehe… this was me a year ago. Panic and hysteria. Are you feeling the same way about camping? Don’t be. Knowing what you need to bring makes it a helluva lot easier.
My dear husband was able to come up with logical and (unfortunately) unbeatable arguments that eventually knocked the sense into my panicky head. “Look at the positives!”, he said, “Kids will be able to run around, there will be a swimming pool (which is truly the only thing our kids need to be happy on a vacation), a playground on site and we will save at least 20-50 euros per night!”. That last one especially made me think! “All right, all right… let’s give it a try!,” I said.
The next reasonable thing to do was to get informed what equipment we really needed to make our camping road trip as comfortable as possible. As first-time campers we had to start from scratch. Well, I knew we needed a tent and sleeping bags, some type of mattresses, kitchen utensils… however, in my head, the list grew in a speed of 10 items per minute. If I were to follow that path, we would also have to buy a brand new truck to accommodate all the things that seemed to be “indispensable”. Ya esta! Enough! We had to narrow it down!
Guys, the truth is that we still ended up taking too much stuff!! I do remember trying to find space in our car every two to three days when we would move from one camping site to another. I had never thought that the passenger seat/space in front of the car can fit so much stuff! I had a cooler filled with food, portable DVD, small backpack, kids’ books, towel and God knows what else next to my feet or under my butt! We were literally packed like sardines in a can (which btw we had a lot of, as it is my hubby’s favorite beer-drinking snack). Certainly, this was not the way to go! We have learned our lessons (so many of them too!) and came up with this list of family road trip camping essentials that will surely save you a lot of time and a little bit of sanity! 🙂
Family Camping Essential Equipment
1. Tent. No surprise here, right? 🙂 Sure, it’s pretty obvious. What was not obvious to me was how to set it up. I had a vision of lines, strings, stakes all tangled up and me with a red (bull) face trying to figure out what goes into which hole. Got the picture? 😉 So, when I saw a 2-second-pop-up tent, I knew it would be my camping buddy. Love from the first sight! If can set up a tent within seconds, YOU can too! Yeah! Even better, it collapses pretty easily too (I just needed to watch that tutorial once… (ok, twice… to get it!!). Quechua. Strongly recommended.
2. Air mattress and pump. Don’t go tough and rough on yourself! GET ONE! We did not have it the first time around and I am telling you, my back hurt like a b!t*h! You do want to sleep well! It is your vacation after all! There are auto-inflatable mattresses that you can collapse and almost put into your pocket. However, the prices are pretty steep. We chose a more standard, yet still comfy solution: Air Basic. Quechua. Again!
3. Tarp. Buy two of these. One to be put under a tent (you want to keep it clean) and the other one to serve as a “floor” on your camping parcel. Most of the camping sites we had been to, did not have nice, soft grass. There is sand (if you are lucky), more often dirt or just outright rocks that you may be darn sure will find a way to hit your soft spot when you sit your buttox down. This you can buy in any home improvement stores.
4. Broom and dust pan. Things get dirty, especially with kids around. By the way, helping you clean is a good activity for your kiddos. A floor rug in front of your tent may limit the dirt that goes in. Saves you a lot of time!
5. Extra stakes for your tent and a rubber mallet. Believe me, the stakes you have got will bend or brake, be prepared 🙂 So, get yourself some heavy duty tent stakes specifically for hard grounds (we had some bad experience in Switzerland and a couple of other places–NO FUN!!!). No metal hammers! Not efficient! Rubber mallet is it!
6. Rain Fly/Shade Tarp. What’s that? We asked the same question not too long ago! Unless you love the sun and baking yourself in it, you would want to get this. You can install it over your tent and the camping plot to give you relief from both the sun and an extra protection from the rain. You may want to cover your car too! It could get hotter than in a sauna in there!
7. Pillows and sleeping bags. Don’t bring blankets thinking that it will be sufficient. Sleeping bags do give you extra padding and keep you warm. Hey, the nights can get chilly (especially in the mountains or close to the sea). Your teddy bear husband (wife/partner) might not be enough!
8. Lamp for the tent and flashlights. Candles, if you like a ro-ro-ro-ro-romance. A lot of camping sites rely merely on a couple of street lamps. Or just hit the bush next door if you need to go to do your business at night! 🙂 By the way, take some extra batteries for your lights.
9. Table and chairs. Generally our principle is to use what we already have. So, the kids sat on IKEA plastic stools and we all used the matching IKEA plastic kids’ table. All the legs were removable which makes packing more efficient. You might consider bringing a bigger table though, one that would allow you to prepare your food comfortably. Remember, if you spill a crumb onto the ground, the bugs will show up instantly! This increases the chances of the night bug attack inside your tent too! We also had two folding camping/beach chairs (you know, the ones with a hole for your beer can/glass:).
10. Cooking equipment. Depending on your needs. We travel on a budget, so we cook. Best to have an electrical portable stove (you pay for the electricity usually anyway, so you may as well maximize it). We recommend having 2 gas cartridges with a cooking portable butane gas burner, as back up. Both easy to operate and relatively cheap. No, not just for instant ramen noodles kind of food! You can eat healthy-ish at a camping! As an option, you can add a folding outdoor stove windscreen to speed things up (if you cook on a gas stove in open air, the wind may cause you to lose your nerves and eat your spine out of hunger). Camping pots/pans. Utensils. A cutting board! Scissors! Containers with lids, zip bags and refillable water bottles. Matches or a lighter. Do not forget to bring a wine opener! 🙂 This was the item that I packed first 🙂
11. Cooler. You want that cola really crispy cold? No?!? Aaah, yes, you prefer the beer! Either way, you will need a cooler. You will have food that you don’t want to turn into cats’ food, right? Sometimes, at camping sites, there are fridges that you can use to refreeze your ice packs for the cooler.
12. Dish washing equipment. You want to have a decent size plastic bin, or even better, a strainer in which you can bring your dishes to the communal sink and then dry them using the same.
13 . Electrical adaptors!!!!!!!!!! and (best waterproof) cable extensions!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Did I give it enough exclamation marks!?!?!?! Unless you wanna go totally minimalist and do not have a need to use electricity, you would want to have adaptors that would allow you to hook up to the electricity. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here. Depending on where you wanna travel, you may need different types of adaptors. Take note, Europe generally has 220V plug-ins. You need a special adaptors in the UK, Switzerland, Lichtenstein (as we have experienced so far). Either way, you will definitely need a camping dogbone electrical adaptor! Don’t leave home without it!
14. Laundry line and clippers. Extra strings. Really, there is no need to bring too much clothes! Take it form me, the one who took an entire wheeled (!) suitcase the fist-time I went camping! Ha-Ha!… Now I know that there are laundry machines on camping sites! Have your own laundry detergent, otherwise you will overpay!
15. First-aid kit. Anti-fever, anti-bump-in-the-head ointment, band-aids and other essential medicine you may need. Take it! Pain-killers (for hangovers?!?) are especially important! Include anti-bug spray and anti-itch spray if you forget to apply the first one! One more thing, a tick remover! You will be in the nature (wilderness?) aren’t you? So best to know how to get rid of this blood-sucker!
16. Water/beach accessories. Hats. Swim trunks. Sunscreen. Beach umbrella. Some Toys. If you have kids, this is when you want to make sure they have their favorite beach toys. This includes swimming safety vests/sleeves, balls, construction toys, kites, etc. Let your child choose what they want to bring with a limited number of items (of course!). Beach is truly the best child’s entertainer, so it is worth taking an extra bag of kids’ beach stuff! Just think about peacefully lying on warm sand, listening to the sea while your kids play by themselves!! A nice picture, isn’t it?
17. Flippers or water shoes. Easily put on and off when moving in and out of the tent. Needed when taking a shower or when hopping on a rocky beach.
That’s it! Ufff.. you are all set now, right? Sounds like a lot, however all these items have proven extremely useful, so no downsizing here! The trick is to pack what you can into many small bags that can easily fit under the seats or in-between the bigger items. If you forget something, don’t worry, just ask your fellow campers for help. In our experience, people are really nice and helpful. Certain things you can either purchase or rent at camping site, e.g. adapters, extensions (as the last resort option). Safe travels! Happy camping! Have fun!
18. Don’t forget the kids!