10 Lessons Learnt Camping with Kids as a Single Parenting

Camping with kids

… or would the title be better as Mr Bean goes Camping?  

(I certainly felt like Mr Bean at times.)

Let me give you a bit of background:

Here I was on my own with 2 year old, 5 year old and a 7 year old. We popped home on the weekend to shower and do washing after our fabulous “a place called faraway” adventure at Aldridge Hill in the New Forest.

READ about our Aldridge Hill adventure

I had it all sussed for our week in Wales: a highly recommended site, toilets, hot showers and lots of things to do.

We were going with my BFF and her 3 littlies. Though the site we booked wasn’t the one we really, really wanted (that was Nicolaston Farm, which is right by the beach). Our first choice campsite had no spaces left, but our booked campsite had great reviews too.

Then even before we left, Mr Grumpy, BFF’s Other Half decided to tag along on our mums and littlies holiday. I was disappointed. The whole dynamics was set to change.

The trip down to the Gower took us 6(!) hours from Oxford, instead of the 3.5- 4 hours it was supposed to.

In the first hour, Hugo drank the whole contents of his water bottle, despite my warnings that it’s not easy to stop and park with Campy. On the Severn Bridge, I heard moans and groans from the back. When I asked what was wrong, I got no answer… he didn’t dare say anything after my warning.   I knew what it was!

As we pulled up to the queues at the toll gates, I truly shocked my child, and probably those in cars around,

Pop out and pee on the car wheels. Quickly!“, I instructed him.

I reckoned if dogs can do it, then why shouldn’t a child be allowed, right?

The rest of the journey to Swansea was uneventful, except for squabbles from the back. I know! I should’ve brought things to do in the car. In my defence, I still have mental images of car journeys with sleeping children when I plan our trips. Sadly, my older ones don’t easily comply with my daydreams, nowadays.

Just as we were nearing Swansea, our adventures really began; I must’ve accidentally set my GPS to find the most direct route.

We drove with Campy right through Swansea, at rush hour!

As soon as we go out of the town, donk, donk, donk over cattle grid and onto a single track road. It was beautiful and windy. Luckily not many cars coming the other way or stuck behind me. Once in a while there were sheep in the road, but a gentle honk and they scurried off.

That was 45 minutes of turning and twisting. (Our campsite was at the far end of the peninsula.)

Finally, the GPS told me we’d arrived at our destination. Well, no campsite here, so we better drive on, I thought to myself

Little further I saw the sign for our campsite, Kennexstone Farm, under it saying 200m to the left. I drove on 200m. Nothing! Another 200m a road to the left, but no sign for the campsite.

I turned off anyway.

As the road was narrowing and looked like it would turn into a dirt road, suddenly there was a wider bit where there was a field entrance. I stopped & pondered: do I unhook and turn Campy by hand or do I attempt a 3 (x100) point turn with the caravan hooked on?

I decided for the latter.

Took a deep breath, asked for dead quiet in the car, closed my eyes and meditated for a moment. So I turn the steering wheel that way and the caravan goes this way. Simple!

After a fair few attempts, the tow bar of the caravan hitting the bumper of the car a couple of times and lots of meditation, but no swearing, we were turned around!  I congratulated myself loudly and the children looked at me puzzled as if I had lost it.

Luckily, there was a car waiting at the junction to the road we’d turned off, who directed me back to where I’d seen the sign. It turned out that obscured by bushes was a big red arrow pointing right at the bottom of the sign. So 200m left AFTER turning right there. Grrr! (Later in the week the bushes were hacked back to expose the arrow.)

I arrived flustered to say the least; Checking in was simple, the staff very friendly.

(And this is one of the many contributing factors we ended up eventually buying a van to convert to a campervan)

Luckily, or sadly, my BFF had gone out to grab dinner as we pulled up beside their tent. I reversed into our pitch to the best of my ability, which wasn’t bad and the rest we did by hand with Angelina (7) and Hugo (5), Max (2) trapped into the car to stop him getting under the wheels.

Set up went relatively smoothly, with the help of the children.

READ: Our experience of Kennexstone Campsite, Gower

Then Hugo asked to use the caravan’s chemical loo. We still had stuff to do for set up and dragging all three across two fields to the loos was not going to work.

It was fine anyway, I thought, as we have a rule of only number ones on our loo. Except my gorgeous 5-year-old forgot this after last week- where we had no choice, but to use our own facilities for no. 1s and no. 2s. A whiff struck me, but by then it was too late! I was going to have to clean the loo this trip too! I wept silently, for a moment, remembering our fiasco at Aldridge Hill and tweeted my friend about the event.  Her sympathetic response:

By the time my friends arrived back we were having dinner. Sitting peacefully under our awning

…and the holiday improved greatly thereon.

My friends were surprised by my account of our trip, especially the last section. (Days later I found out why: there is a proper A road leading almost up to the campsite. You just have to exit the M4 a couple of junctions later than we had. Oh well, we had a scenic drive instead.)

I was a single parent for most of the time on this trip, as I didn’t want to burden my BFF or make Mr Grumpy even more grumpy. I learnt a couple of things about camping as a single parent with a 7, 5 and 2 year olds.

1. Having your own loo in your camping unit- be that tent, caravan or campervan- is invaluable!

It means you aren’t traipsing back and forth to the facilities with the kids all the time. I’m sorry, but I’m not happy to let 5-year-old go on his own. Angelina (7) is fine, though I don’t like her going off either.
(Emptying the loo gets easier each time you do it too.)

Oh, and know your equipment: When your Thetford toilet shows a red light, it really does mean you cannot flush it anymore! All that is in the bowl has nowhere to go, but into the cavity below. Which is exactly where it will end up when you pull the holding tank out to empty it. This means you will be left to mop that space out by hand. Lesson learnt!

2. Shower with the kids or you don’t get to shower!

The first evening I made the mistake of bathing them beside Campy in our big flexi bucket. When they drifted off I pondered whether to have a shower, leaving them to sleep or not. I was reluctant to leave them even with my friends in the tent next to us.

3. Choose a campsite with a family room or disabled showers you can have access to.

There is no way we would’ve fit into one of the shower cubicles. In the family room, I filled 3 flexi buckets with water, plonked a child in each and we chatted while I had a relatively relaxed shower.

BTW, Flexi tubs are amazing as they store away easily and you can use them for storing and organising so many things. I have 7 different coloured square flexi tubs that I use for separating the laundry and organising our washed clothes when we are not camping or sailing. Find them on our resources page.

4. Choose your battles …and mealtimes aren’t the ones to choose when camping.

Have sausages, pesto pasta or fish and chips from the local chippy for dinner as often as the kids want. Life becomes so much simpler if you keep mealtimes simple and cater to the favours of tired children. Fruit and veg? Ah, leave that for snacks.

5. Snacks, snacks and snacks.

That brings me onto the question of snacks: Have lots of snacks at hand to calm over-tired children.

…And they will be overtired, because bedtime will be delayed. It’s too exciting to go to bed at normal times, especially if other kids are still playing out.

Think in terms of healthy snack you can buy or prepare in advance. Some of my favourite snacks are:

  • fruit- I like to cut things like apples into bite-sized pieces and drizzle a bit of lemon juice on to stop them going brown
  • carrot sticks with their favourite dips, like humous
  • microwave popcorn (because it has fewer nasties)
  • mini sausage rolls
  • breadsticks
  • muesli bars
  • protein bars- mine love the ones which are date based

6. Try to get out for activities as early as possible.

Forget the morning dishes!

Resist the temptation to lay back and celebrate getting them to bed: Make sandwiches, water bottles, snacks the night before once the kids are asleep; lay out all the clothes too. This will save so much frustration in the mornings.

To be honest, this is my biggest challenge. I’m still trying to master it, but on days that I’ve succeeded, we had a much better day.

7. Forget potty training when camping.

Day two: 5 shorts and 7 pants later I relented and reached to my emergency stash of nappies. I had 8 shorts for Max in total, so in the evening I faced the choice of handwash or £3.50 for a machine wash. Hand wash it was since I didn’t want to leave the kids in the van or take them with me to load and unload the washing machine.

8. If it rains, don waterproofs and go for a walk.

Staying in will not end well! Point 5 will get you through the day… and a thermos flask of hot chocolate (and another of coffee for yourself)

Hot chocolate tip: I make up a rather concentrated hot chocolate:  I make up the hot chocolate with boiling water from powder that doesn’t contain any milk powder. I store this in the thermos flask and take some cold will milk with me, separately. When the kids want to warm up and drink I mix the two half and half in their own little cups.  This means the hot chocolate is warm, but a drinkable temperature for little kids.

9. When all else fails, but only as last resort, reach for technology to babysit for an hour or so.

I bought our little Lenovo Miix tablet for just this and BBC’s iPlayer is amazing; it works where no other streaming service works! I could hardly call up a website, but we could get iPlayer entertaining us with documentaries.

Technology will help you out when you need to dedicate your undivided attention to a specific task, like my toilet mishaps mentioned earlier.

10. Most important lesson: Enjoy!

This is precious time to spend with the kids. Camping brings everyone together, as we share chores and kids gain responsibilities. Being in a small space really helps to bond as a family. Enjoy your time with the children.

…and then for when they have gone to bed, have some Gin and tonic in the fridge! 😉

Pimms o'clock- I knew those colourful plastic ice cubes would come in handy one day! :-)
Pimms o’clock- I knew those colourful plastic ice cubes would come in handy one day! 🙂

Check out our adventures on the Gower in the next post.

Have you had any fun camping adventures recently?

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