Camping: How to create memories, build resilience and reclaim your sanity on a mini-vacation!
I’m brave but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to join my new husband on a camping trip when we were first married, and merging our blended families. When Dave mentioned it, I replied, “Camping – Are you kidding me?”
I was still scarred from my pre-teen trips along the Oxley Highway, in the New England area of northern NSW where every school holidays my dad took us off-road, deep into the forest, believing ‘there was gold in them that hills’. Dad was right of course. There was. But I was a tall, gangly teenager, with glasses and lank hair standing in a river bed, filthy, desperately holding fast to the suction hose as it ran along the red soil edges of the creek. Pump and dredge noisily worked over time floating on truck tyre tubes behind me. Adventure tour buses passed by and passengers sat with their noses pressed up against the glass, wondering what on earth we were doing.
I remember the incredible self-consciousness I experienced, even as leeches crawled up my trouser legs. I discovered their swollen, blood -filled bodies only when I’d ventured far enough from camp, hoping I wouldn’t step on a King Brown snake or inland Taipan, to unzip my duds to the sounds of a blood-curdling scream that totally freaked my parents out.
As a 13 year old I was sure I was going to die.
I lived. A decade later my Dad died young, from a heart attack brought on by stress and smoking. Just didn’t wake up one morning. He was 43.
Can you believe it?
Dad and Mum worked so hard for us as a family. Dad was a builder and he taught us, by demonstrating, the importance of working together and playing together. Oh, it was messy and imperfect and I’m sure Mum was doing the majority of the work feeding us while we were away. Except for breakfast. Dad made the best poached eggs over the fire in a cast iron pan.
I must have been a right royal pain in the butt. No moaning or whining, just in that painful age of preferring books and solitude over ‘today we will have fun’.
Looking back, they gave us a priceless gift – TIME.
As working parents, blended, step, foster or any other kind, we wonder: Is there more we could be doing for our kids? When in reality all they want is to do more with us and have our time and attention.
Working full-time as a manager and volunteering on weekends in Church, juggling shared care arrangements with my daughter’s Dad, there were always going to be demands on my time and a reason not to take a weekend off. My family was and always is my number one priority. I didn’t want to miss this and I craved to get it ‘right’. I took Dave up on his offer to trust him and see how easy and stress-free camping could be.
Maybe you’re a bit like us?
My husband helped me make new camping memories as a parent myself and I love that we’ve been able to share this activity with our kids. They love heading to the great outdoors and are way more confident than I ever was in my early teens. We’re so proud of our Little Women.
Wondering if Camping is For You and Yours? Give it a Go and Find Out
Honestly, taking the time whether for school holidays, a long weekend or an overnighter, is such a great strategy for clearing your mind and getting back to nature. Burnout and mental fatigue are impacting even the most dedicated employee, leaders and entrepreneurs. Make a decision to take time out. Get your toes in the sand and grass. Turn off electronics. Use a different part of your brain and be creative. Cook on an open fire or a gas flame. Pull out that Bunnings fold up table. Camping is the great equaliser. Keep it simple.
Here are our top tips to step away from the stress, get grounded, be creative, reclaim your sanity and give yourself permission to explore over the holidays:
1. C. CLARIFY Why would you go camping. I mean, really?
Here’s some of the reasons why we did it and you might too:
- family as a team – no more separate rooms or TVs. Dive right in together. Everyone has a job to do.
- family as part of a greater community – go make some new friends, strike up a conversation with the older couple in the campervan, plan cricket on the beach together
- role-modeling and teaching resilience and problem-solving
- resetting your emotional and physical clock
- chilling out and laughing at yourself – I chased a bush turkey once after the rain. Fully acqua-planed in my thongs (flip-flops), landing square on my tailbone. The boys were gob-smacked, making sure I was alright before belly laughing hysterically, noting I must have launched a foot straight up, completely airborne!
- letting the kids see the ‘unhurried side of you’. They pick up on and the ‘busyness’ of our schedules. Don’t rush. Relax, draw out the conversations and be present.
- reconnecting with yourself and each other
- reading the books you’ve wanted to read
- build your own resilience and gently reflect on why you handle things a certain way
- starting them young to be strong and capable
- detaching from technology – enough said
- meeting and talking to strangers within the campsite, developing conversation skills
- re-establish the leadership within your family i.e. Mum & Dad on the throne vs. Kids on the throne and calling the shots
- affordability for a family, proximity to home and fitting in with everyone’s schedules
- slowing down, clearing your mind and re-evaluating your priorities
TIP: Give yourself permission to take a mini-vacation every few months, play in the sand, walk barefoot in the grass and tell tall stories as you sit by the fire. Making memories, whether by yourself or with friends and family is the stuff that life is made of.
You sort through the above considerations and camping may just be a perfect, low cost, fun option for you, your friends or family!
2. AGREE on your not-negotiables.
For you and the kids. Choose a place that your friends recommend or search for good reviews on trip advisor. Secure your belongings in the car when you’re away from your site. Do not take valuables with you – leave the laptop and computer games at home. You may wish to leave the beaten track to experienced campers.
Tent or van
You decide on your comfort and well your outlay, parking and insurance requirements. We love the tent because there’s barely $200 tied up in and we simply stow it away under the house when not in use. totally choose the throw-out tent. The best set up, full stop.
Do you need wheel chair accessible toilets or maybe the thought of a secure shower block gives you more peace? Today’s camping grounds may range from rough and ready old school to mod con shared community areas, complete with catering fridges, toasters, kettles and some even have onsite coffee machines.
Staying in Australian campsites you can expect to pay a fee per person. The onsite managers usually only allow one car per campsite UNLESS your vehicle also has some side or tailgate awning then you could claim it’s part of your accommodation, similar to a caravan.
You know how much time you can get away from work and responsibilities in our experience if you really want to unwind give yourself time to set up, play for a minimum of 2-3 nights. Over school holidays, stay longer. 5 days maybe.
Location / distance from home
allow plenty of time to enjoy the journey in both directions. Gone are the days where you get in the car, strap the kids in and tell them to hold it till they get there! Enjoy the journey. Seriously, it’s a large part of the fun!
TIP: Check the long range weather forecast if you’re planning a few weeks in advance. You may not want to be stuck in a tent in the pouring rain for days on end, unable to light a fire or pee in the bushes without the fear of being struck by lightening! #Justsaying
3. MAYHEM – it’s the only guarantee.
Like the time to wheel fell off the trailer or I chased a bush turkey after the rain and became completing airborne after skimming across the water, to land square on my tailbone, or when the goannas came in across the boundary fence from the national park and into the tent. Honestly, they just don’t respect signage.
Or that time we tried to outrun a huge dust storm that we could see coming towards the campsite. It was the fastest tear-down and pack of the car. It chased us all the way back up the coast
Or the crowded campsites that unexpectedly happen when interstate long weekends or school holidays coincide with your plan quiet escape.
Tip: have a system for setup and tear down, that can happen fast! Always carry water, a firefighter and a torch. Have a pre-charged battery pack for your phone. Make sure you do turn the car engine completely off and don’t drain the battery listening to the radio or firing up the fridge that plugs into the vehicle cigarette lighter.
You’re not going to be able to PLAN for every contingency and there will be some clumsy, rough moments but here are a few of our favourite items we have ready to go and stored in our loft, whether we’re traveling as a couple or taking the kids with us:
CATERING or Feeding the tribe:
- Cooking: a single gas burner cooker and/or a mini-weber style, enclosed fire with a grate for you to sit a pot on for heating up or making a cup of your favourite tea or coffee.
- Pantry: 2 x54 Litre clear plastic containers: 1 with dry goods like condiments (anyone use that word still?), tea & coffee, tins of backup food like beans, cous cous and in the other, your cooking equipment, cutlery, mosquito spray, spray olive oil, knives, foil for those potatoes you’re going to throw in the fire
- Cold Storage: an esky or plug in fridge. You may not want to take refrigerated items, but it’s up to you depending on length of time. We always take a long life milk and some of those sachet coffee packets and for short stays, a great esky with bags of ice and a cake rake. You may think this is weird, however a cake rake keeps the egg cartons and sald of the ice. I know, clever really.
- Bench: Store a light weight 1500wide table for meal preparation or if you’ve got a car with a rear tray like a hatch-back or station wagon that could work.
TIP: Keep your food covered when out on benches as those bush turkeys, ibis and crows are cunning little campers and quite like picking at items left out – and your nerves!
TENTS or your accommodation of choice:
- Throw out tents like the one’s pictured, that have built in fly screens and good ventilation are so easy to set up! This one of ours fits a double self, inflating mattress.
- 1 x self-inflating Double Mattresses
- Sleeping: sleeping bags that unzip completely so you don’t over heat + pillows
- 1 double fitted sheet for the base of the mattress
- your pillows with old pillow cases so it won’t matter if they smell like wood fire
LIGHT MY FIRE:
- Take a mini-weber that you can use for an enclosed fire and a bag of wood and kindling from somewhere like Bunnings or your local service station. A lot of campsites are near national parks and have all-year round bans on collecting firewood or lighting open fires.
- Fold up chair with built in side table. We love these. Otherwise if it’s your first camping trip, take a picnic rug and throw in some cushions from home.
TIP: practice folding your tent up at home in your garage and have someone FILM you on your smart phone. This way if you feel like you’re going to dissolve into a crazy person you’ll be able to reclaim your sanity, catch your breath and eventually nail it!
Now What? Do You Head Off on the Next School Holidays or Seize a Mini-Vacation?
Reflect on those 4 key points:
- Consider – the pros and cons
- Agree – talk about the details, include the family in the decision-making and ultimately, dive right in!
- Mayhem – let go of what you can’t control
- Prepare – deal with what you can
It’s your call.
I’m ultimately grateful for what my parents did for us, even though at the time it seemed like hard work. Now in our own family, we have it down to a fine art and all our kids are now doing it themselves, with friends and family.
There have been many times when I have sat around my own camp fires and listened to friends and family chat, staring into the firelight, grateful for the sanity that camping brings and what it adds to my life.
So next time you’re considering where to take the family the next school holidays or how you and a few friends can get together, consider going camping. You’ll be glad you did.
We’re heading out again in a few weeks and you know what? Dave makes the best poached eggs.
Bloopers – Trying to Fold Up the Tent and Put it in the Bag
Blooper Reel – No.1 with Tarran Deane – nope it’s not folding up
Blooper Reel – No.2 with Tarran Deane [She gets it about 2 mins in]
The four key camping commandments for these school holidays....
Whether it’s for school holidays, a long weekend or an overnighter, camping is great for clearing your mind, connecting with your kids and getting back to nature. Burnout and mental fatigue hit even the most dedicated employee, boss or student and the best antidote is the great outdoors. Get your toes in the sand and grass. Turn off electronics. Use a different part of your brain and be creative. Cook on an open fire under the stars. Tarran Deane was once a reluctant camper, scarred by teen camping adventures with her gold-prospecting father. Now she’s taken to it like a duck to water. Here’s her 4 key CAMP commandments 1: Consider – the pros and cons of location, climate and amenity. 2. Agree – include the whole family in the decision-making and dive right in! 3. Mayhem – let go of what you can’t control – chaos is part of the fun. 4: Prepare – plan as best you can, and let the rest go!