Car Advice

How to enjoy camping

‘Going camping’ in Australia is seemingly in our DNA, yet many still regard it as a chore. Here’s how to enjoy camping, because it’s fun… isn’t it?

TENS OF THOUSANDS of Australians use all sorts of vehicles to go camping, either for the sake of it or just as cheap accommodation. But it’s not for everyone, and recently I read an interesting article on MammaMia.com about the troubles with camping. The writer, Holly Wainwright, beautifully describes the joys of camping with her family but also laments what are, undeniably, the downsides. She’s not alone, as there’s many, many families split by one partner wanting to try the great outdoors and the other being not so keen.
 
Experienced campers might make it all look easy, but we all went through the same learning stage before we mastered the art. Anyway, Holly listed a few things she’d rather not suffer, and we have some suggestions which might be useful to a broader audience:
 
1. A chemical toilet.
 
Find a bush campsite with a decent drop toilet. Or, there’s plenty of porta-potties on the market. People generally rig up a small privacy shelter around them.
 
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2. Lugging washing-up bowls full of dirty dishes up and down a hill to a communal outdoor sink where you will wait to scrub plates in luke-warm water before ineffectively batting them with a damp tea-towel.
 
Take a 20L jerrycan of water with you, fill a pot with water, boil it, empty pot into the washing up bowl you brought, and add cold water. There’s your washing up system. As the water is warm it’ll dry quicker than cold water too. Take an extra tea-towel.
 
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A couple of “lunchbox” stoves are cheap, easy to use (and now after revisions, safe). They can easily boil a couple of litres of water for washing up.
 
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3. Waking in the middle of the night to find a river running alongside your bed. Inside.
 
Get a better tent. Plenty of them on the market which will withstand water up to around 10cm of depth. I like quality canvas tourer tents myself (my current tent is 16 years old and still as-new), but there’s so many more from the likes of Oztent, Blackwolf etc. Cheap dome tents are hopeless in anything other than mild-warm conditions. Also, pitch tents on ground that will drain.
 
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4. Towels that never quite dry.
 
Use travel towels that are quick-dry, smaller and lighter yet just as effective. Like most things, gear designed for a house is not ideal for camping.
 
 
5. A lack of a reliable cold water source on a hot, hot, hot day.
 
That 20L jerrycan will come in handy here. Get one with a tap. Throw in some icecubes too. And bring a 12v car fridge powered by a battery pack, or if you’re at a powered campsite, take a long 240v cable. Then take two water bottles, drink from one, keep the other filled in the fridge and swap them over.
 
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6. Standing in a queue for a shower with a screaming three-year-old who sees no reason he can’t stay salty and covered in sand for five days straight, as your toes squelch into someone else’s curly, black…
 
Hose off the three year old. More fun than a shower and quicker.
 
 
7. Sleeping on something on which you’d much rather be floating, sipping cocktails in an infinity pool.
 
I see your point 😉 Still, there’s no reason for anyone to be uncomfortable when sleeping in a tent these days as there’s so many options. How about a stretcher? Or a quality sleeping mat? Visit a camping shop and try a few out. You could even rent a camper trailer.
 

8. Walking over-excited children down to the toilet-block in the wet, cold dark night. Again. And again. And again.

Umm, can’t help you there, fair point!
 
 
9. Repeatedly fishing mozzies out of your warm, white wine.
 
Use yellow lights not white, as these don’t attract the insects. Also try mozzie coils, or a good campfire. And… drink wine quickly!
 
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10. Strangers hearing you snore.
 
Go camping in the bush, not in a caravan park. 
 
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11. A never-ending dance with a broom and a tarpaulin floor. The kids are just going to walk through it again, again, guys.
 
Get the kids to do it. If they’re old enough to walk, they’re old enough to sweep. Or, better yet, throw them out into their own tent, just get them a cheap pop-up. A bit of shadecloth pegged outside can also help reduce the mess.
 
 
12. Your kids playing in a pile of rocks, and a man walking past and casually mentioning, “Just saw a redback there, love.”
 
Thank him. Then look up number of kids killed or injured by redbacks every year in Australia. Probably quite a low number.
 
 
13. An infestation of sandflies in the “pantry”.
 
Use plastic containers for food. Most foodstuffs need to be transferred into other containers when camping so they survive the journey and exposure to conditions you don’t find in your kitchen. Ensure rubbish is quickly transferred to a strong rubbish bag with a robust tie point so it doesn’t attract the interest of the local wildlife.
 
 
14. More bags of ice than Walter White.
 
That fridge comes in handy again. 
 
 
15. A sense of overwhelming inadequacy as you repeatedly pass tents festooned with fairy-lights, microwaves and lazee boys.
 
Please don’t feel like that. The best camping trips are where you spend more time having fun and less doing the work of camping. Surprisingly, the quantity of gear you have doesn’t make much of a difference, it’s more about quality and what you do with it. The best gear is light, multi-purpose and easy to use.
 
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16. Perpetually black fingernails.
 
Gloves. Also, drop by your local Supercheap Auto or similar and pick up some industrial-strength hand cleaner. There’s some available in handy wipes too.
 
 
17. Being woken in the night to the unidentified sound of scurry-scurry scritchy-scratch.
 
Kick Brent back to sleep. But seriously, it’s fine. The little animals can’t get in a decent tent, and you get used to the noise. It’s just nature.
 
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19. Hearing the young people up the hill have energetic sex. Again.
 
Out-do them. Or, go bush camping where there’s much more space. Then all you need to listen to is the sound of koalas having a root!
 
 
There’s no question that camping is more effort than simply unloading the bags into a motel. So why do we bother? There’s lots of reasons, but for me:
  • Shared endeavour – if you do things together, achieve things, then you’ll become closer and bond better in ways you can’t ever manage just sipping a coffee in a cafe. Also, how many good stories start with “We went camping and then…”?  
  • Cheap accommodation – camping ranges from $0 to around $50, maximum, for an unpowered site. We have spent 30 days straight camping at a cost of $150. Imagine the cost of accommodation for a family of four for 30 days over the Xmas break! 
  • Never need to plan – campers can roll into towns that have had their accommodation booked for months and still find somewhere to stay that night. We’ve done it many a time, and relish the flexibility.
  • Million-star accommodation – how much would you pay for a room overlooking a river, or in the desert? Those rooms cost extra, but for campers it’s either free or very low cost. Cabins are designed to blend into the environment, but none approach the immersion of camping.
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Question: What are your top tips for enjoying camping, and why do you camp (or not camp?).

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/ or buy his new ebook!