Jumping in the car and speeding off into the countryside, to the coast, or to your nearest National Park, sounds like a perfect holiday to many people. Camping can be a good way to keep the cost of a holiday down, and can also be a great experience whether you are a seasoned camper or someone who has never slept under canvas before! Whether you go with your partner, as a family with kids, or as a group of friends, nothing says ‘adventure’ like setting off to drive to new places and camp out in different locations every night!
A camping road trip certainly gives travellers freedom and variety, but whether the trip covers a hundred square miles or a thousand, there are some things you should bear in mind before you set off:
Make Sure You’re Road Ready
Even if you have your car regularly serviced, it is a good idea to get a check done before you take it on an extended trip. Ensure your tyres have good tread, and your spare wheel is in good repair, along with the tools you might need to change a wheel or repair a puncture at the side of the road. You may also benefit from learning a little bit of basic car maintenance if you don’t have a lot of skills in that area – it can save you from having to call for assistance if your car experiences a common problem. Of course, you should also make sure you do have roadside assistance coverage before you set out on this kind of trip, and that you have the numbers to call written down as well as saved on your mobile (in case your battery dies).
Once your car is ready, it’s a good idea to give yourself a bit of a refresh too, and use a Toptests practice theory test to brush up on your driving theory knowledge. Lastly, pack your car carefully, making sure that you are not overloaded, everything is safely stowed, and nothing is blocking your lines of sight while driving.
If you are venturing out of the UK, you may also need to consider the requirements for driving your car in other countries. You may be required to carry certain items with you for emergencies. You should also make sure you are familiar with the road safety laws and procedures for the countries you are in – for instance what you should do if you are in trouble or your car breaks down. As an extra tip for driving in Europe, remember that the speed limits and distances on signs are in kilometres, so if you aren’t already used to working in these units of distance and speed when you are driving, now might be a good time to brush up on your conversions!
Research Your Routes
Before you set off, have at least a vague plan of where you will be going. If you are camping in the high season, you may want to book your sites in advance. You should also pay attention to the distances involved in your trip and make sure you will be able to drive them without strain. Planning will help you make the most of your trip, as you can research any tourist spots you would like to visit and factor them into your journey. If you prefer a more flexible trip, try taking a guide book or paper maps, since internet access might be difficult to come by in more remote areas.
Additionally, it is usually a good idea to have more than one route in mind – especially if you want to get to destinations on your trip on a certain schedule. In the peak holiday season, and during weekends and bank holidays, traffic can come to a complete standstill on motorways, and it can be great to have another option. Alternative routes can also really save the day if you are travelling in the countryside, where on less busy routes, even minor roadworks or accidents can add a lot of time to your journey.
Prepare for Emergencies
While travelling, a well-stocked first aid kit can be invaluable, as can a good torch and plenty of batteries. Keeping battery packs for phones charged in case of emergency is a good idea. If you have little knowledge of emergency care, a simple first aid course to learn the basics is a good idea. You should consider treating minor injuries and if possible, learning life saving skills like CPR. But also think about other things that you might need to identify and that could help the people you are with on your trip.
These could include heatstroke, sunburn, dehydration, and, once you are at the camp site, allergies and insect bites. While perhaps not always emergencies, being equipped to treat things like this can stop them putting a dampener on your trip.
Part of the joy of a road trip is being your own boss, with no tour group to follow, or flight or bus timetables to memorise. Even with a well-thought out plan, there are likely to be delays and unforeseen circumstances along the way. Do not let these ruin your trip.
Plan an extra couple of days into your schedule so that if you are delayed it does not mean you have to miss out on things. Be prepared to alter your plans. You might change your mind about certain activities, or learn about something different to do or see from a local person. Being flexible with your plans allows you to limit stress and enjoy your holiday as much as possible. Set in stone the things you really want to do, and see how you feel for the rest.
One of the best things about taking a camping holiday is that you don’t have to worry about baggage weight allowances, or about lugging heavy suitcases or backpacks around with you and finding a place to put them on public transport. While this does of course mean you have more flexibility about what you can bring, remember that the heavier your luggage, the less fuel efficient your car will be, and this can actually make a difference if you are racking up a lot of miles on your road trip. If you are buying camping gear specifically for the trip, choosing the lightest options can be more economical, as well as meaning you have room for other things you might want to bring.
Pack the things you’ll want on first arrival at a camp site last, such as your tent itself and any food you are carrying in cool boxes. This will mean you’ll have easy access to them when you arrive. If you are bringing a lot of stuff you won’t need until your tent is nicely set up, pack these first so they’ll be at the bottom. These could include things like your spare clothes and stuff like your cooking utensils.
Plan Some Things to Do at the Camp Site
Camp sites vary from permanent structures with bars, restaurants and entertainment through to what are basically fields where you can pitch a tent. You can have a great time whatever style of camp site you choose, but it can help to plan a little what you want to do for entertainment. Is there a town nearby you plan to walk into in the evening, or do you plan to stay at the site and make your own entertainment? Do you plan to eat out, or would it be a good idea to learn some great camping recipes and cook and eat together at the camp site? Having some ideas about how you want to relax and have fun on your trip when you are not travelling between places or exploring your destinations can make even the down time on your holiday great fun!
Have Strategies for Keeping Children Entertained in the Car
Bringing kids along on a road trip can be a lot of fun, and camping and seeing new places with them will be a great experience for you all to remember. However, kids can struggle a bit with boredom during the longer driving parts of a road trip style holiday, and so it is a good idea to come up with some strategies in advance to make things easier on them (and on the adults in the car!).
If your car has an entertainment system with screens on the back seats, or you have tablets you can give the kids, movies can be a good way to make the time fly. This can be another reason to make sure you have spare external batteries for mobile devices! A book or Kindle can also be good for kids who like to read, though of course, reading can cause motion sickness for some people so it’s best not to encourage them to read in the car unless you know they are unaffected! While it can be nice to spend some of the journey playing car games and chatting, if you are planning on legs of your journey lasting more than a couple of hours, having tablets loaded up with things for them to watch or games for them to play can be a big help!
Consider that kids may want to sleep during the car journeys too, and so make sure there are pillows and blankets available for them to snuggle up and get comfortable – especially if they are used to napping or you are planning to do some of the driving after their bedtime!
Plan to Take Regular Breaks While Driving
If you are travelling with children, regular breaks are another essential for preventing them from feeling bored and also to make sure they can use the bathroom and are comfortable on the next part of the trip.
However, even an adults only road trip is a lot more relaxing if you make regular stops during the longer drives. As well as allowing you to stretch your legs and avoid aches and pains from spending too long in a car seat, you can fuel up the car, and fuel up yourselves if you feel the need for some coffee or snacks! Be sure to keep an eye on where good places are to stop on each leg of your journey as you plan the routes. Sometimes there are long stretches with few services to stop at, and this can present a problem if you are low on petrol. Motorway service stations are open to some degree at all times, but if you are planning to drive off of the motorways and are relying on garages and shops in towns, be aware that they may not be open outside of normal opening hours, and factor this into your plans.
Bringing a Pet?
Another good thing about a camping road trip is it makes for an easy way to plan a holiday where you can easily bring your dog along if you want to. If you are planning to bring one or more dogs, however, you’ll need to do a little extra planning to make sure the places where you plan to stop as you drive have somewhere you can exercise dogs. Be careful to also make sure you give dogs something to drink very regularly, especially in hot weather, and never leave them in the car with the windows closed. Many camp sites do welcome dogs, but make sure you check the policies of anywhere you plan to stay in advance to avoid any problems. Also, make sure dogs are chipped (and of course vaccinated) before you take them away from home.
Camping road trips do require a bit of planning beforehand, but they make an excellent holiday for anyone who loves the outdoors. By thinking about your trip carefully, you can maximise the experiences you get to have, and make lasting memories, for a fraction of the cost of a holiday with hotels and flights.