How To Plan Your Perfect Family Camping Year
Planning the family camping year ahead is not only important, but essential. And the earlier you get started the better. That means NOW! Top of your to-do list should be the three Ws: Where to go? When to go? When to book?
JANUARY – FEBRUARY
For most people, this is the quiet season for camping and time to plan your trips for the coming year. Everyone likes the idea of chucking a bag into the car boot on a whim after work on a Friday afternoon and heading off to a lovely site by the coast for a spontaneous weekend of camping. But, as everyone who has kids knows, it’s not quite as simple as that when you’ve got a family in tow.
Decide where you want to visit during the year. Perhaps somewhere completely new, or an old favourite with a twist. You could even split a week or two between sites. Try to involve the whole family in choosing a site. At least it spreads the blame, if everything goes pear-shaped! It sounds obvious, but narrowing down to one region or area makes it a lot easier to search for a site.
Choosing when you take your camping breaks is important. Obviously if kids are involved you’ll be restricted to the school holidays and weekends. This can be limiting – the laws of demand and supply mean these are the most expensive times and you’ll also need to book early to guarantee a pitch. Bank holidays are especially popular so if that’s when you want to go, get on to it quickly. Likewise, the peak summer months are incredibly popular too.
Of course, if you don’t have school-age children, then the world’s your oyster! It’s much easier to avoid the popular dates and that means quieter sites and less expensive pitches. The downside is that sometimes sites don’t have all their facilities available outside the peak season – so make sure you check in advance if you want to take advantage of swimming pools and entertainment.
Book it now rather than risk not getting the site and dates you want. Look out for early bird offers as well – some sites will give you a discount if you book your pitch a few months in advance.
The other big job for this time of year is unpacking your stored gear. It’s a big job but don’t put it off. You’ll need time to check what needs to be cleaned, repaired or reproofed and then get the jobs done.
If you’re adventurous, have a go at winter camping during the February half-term break. There’s a limited number of sites open, but make sure you choose one with plenty of facilities. Heated shower blocks are a must and a communal cooking/lounge area can be great if the weather gets too bad. Look for sites that provide shelter for your tent.
Go bargain hunting. Visit the shops early in the year and have a look for good deals.
MARCH - MAY
The Easter holidays are the unofficial start of the camping season. Depending on where you live, in 2019 they will start from around 1 April, with the long Easter weekend taking place between 19 and 22 April. If you can avoid that weekend and maybe take a break midweek, you’ll find the pitches are cheaper and the sites less crowded.
There are a couple of bank holidays in May which are always popular and you’ll almost certainly need to book ahead to get a good site. The school mid-term holiday at the end of the month is great for a longer break as the weather can be good.
If you haven’t already booked your summer holiday, WHY NOT? Do it now, before the best pitches get snapped up.
Hit the High Street. Spring is the time when the new gear and tents arrive in the shops, so you can replenish your stocks and maybe splash out on a new tent. Have a look at our Tent Guide for ideas and buying tips.
Draw up a camping gear checklist.
Think about how you’re going to pack your car and have trial run. Consider a roof box or trailer to spread the car’s load. Sort out a proper bike rack and, if necessary, get a lighting board.
Check your wiring Sort out your electric connection and cable now rather than a few days before the holiday.
Is your insurance up-to-date? Make sure your policy replaces old gear with new. If you are not insured, consider cover. And find out the get-out clauses.
Check your paperwork is in order. If you are planning an overseas trip in the summer, check all your documents are valid well in advance (especially passports). Shop around for good ferry and site deals and arrange breakdown cover.
If you use a trailer, make sure it is road safe. Get it serviced by a specialist if you can, and pay particular attention to tyres. Don’t forget you’ll need a spare.
JUNE – SEPTEMBER
Summertime and the camping is easy. The beginning of June through to the middle of September is the time when we do most of our camping – quick overnights away, weekend breaks and long summer holidays.
By now you should definitely have booked up your main trips, but there’s still the opportunity to get last-minute pitches if you can be flexible on the destination.
In Britain, there’s no particularly “good” time for weather, but obviously the height of summer is more than likely to give you the most sunshine. However, early September can often be surprisingly warm and sunny as well.
If Scotland is your preferred destination, try early in the season, when you often get warm, dry and sunny weather and there’s less chance of encountering the dreaded midge.
Plan your meals. It’s not something you need to do in January, but before you set off plan economical, easy to prepare meals to cook on site.
Don’t forget Scotland has different school holidays to England, so if you’re based south of the border and fancy heading north to one of the stunning sites on the west coast, you might be best waiting until late August when the Scottish kids are back at school, or go earlier during the English half-term holiday.
Rather than a long summer holiday, you might fancy spending your summer touring. Planning can often go out the window with this type of holiday, and it might be a case of finding any site with a vacancy, especially in school holidays. Be prepared to be turned away from busy sites though.
OCTOBER – DECEMBER
Many campsites remain open until after the autumn half-term holidays in October and some stay open all year round. Weather-wise you might be lucky and catch some late season sunshine but if you do it right you’ll be able to carry on camping no matter the weather. You should be able to get onto most sites without pre-booking, but sometimes it’s worth checking, especially if good weather is forecast.
Plenty of you do it but, you need to be really keen to camp in November and December. By now, most of us have packed away our gear until the new year.
Make a check list and check your gear as you store it, looking out for anything that is missing, broken or damaged. If required, now is the time to clean and re-proof your tent.
For a weekend trip you’ll probably prefer somewhere a bit closer to home than if you’re planning a fortnight away. As a rule of thumb, we use the hour-per-night ratio to decide how far to travel: every hour of travelling requires a night’s stay e.g. if the site is two hours away we’d need to stay for two nights, while a five hour drive would mean a five night stay.