How to make camping less complicated

Camping sunset views

I’m sure there is LOADS of information on the internet about this. In fact, I’m not even going to check because it would make the past 30 minutes I’ve spent writing seem useless. I realize that sounds strange; I usually work backwards when I’m blogging and write the first paragraph last. So, let’s just roll with it! Besides, I think my advice is actually pretty good.

Our entire family loves camping and we camp quite a bit. Camping in Namibia is easier than camping was in Oman because there are far more campgrounds with varying levels of infrastructure. So unless you really try, chances are you are not wild camping if you go camping in Namibia. You will have, at the bare minimum, a drop toilet, a braai space and a garbage can. Or if you go fancy you’ll have electricity, hot and cold running water, a shaded area, table and sink, and full bathroom facilities.

Some people think that camping is hard or logistically complicated, but it’s not! Here are some of our family’s best tips to make camping less stressful and less of a production:

Have a checklist 
The key to a successful camping experience is to be prepared. Having a checklist is essential to being prepared.

Be organized
Camping is a lot easier when you know where things are. We have most of our camping gear divided into boxes 6 heavy-duty boxes that we just leave packed in between camping trips. Our boxes are pantry, gas fire cooking, braai, dishes, tent, cold weather gear, and miscellaneous. So when I’m setting up the tent, I grab our tent and the tent box, and that’s all I need to get the tent and mats ready to go (plus obviously our sleeping bags). We keep most of our camping gear in the garage, but we also have a shelf by the kitchen where we put the random bits of camping gear (laundered dish towels, clean camping dishes that we needed to rewash, flashlights, etc) that make their way upstairs. So when we’re getting ready to start going through our checklist, we just carry all those things downstairs and put them in the appropriate box. If you’re organized, it’ll make going through your checklist really easy!

Camping gear storage area in the garage

Start prepping several days in advance 
The day before our most recent camping trip, we started going through our checklist. I opened the “dishes” box and everything was COVERED in mold. We had to wash absolutely everything in the box, and we discovered that a few things were ruined. Normally the “dishes” box is the best-prepared of all our boxes because we have absolutely no need for any of the things in it when we’re not camping, so we just keep it in the garage between trips and don’t even open it (obviously… or we might not have had the mold problem). Thank goodness we had time to wash, dry and repack everything. It’s also good to do some of your food prep in advance, if you have time. It’s not 100% necessary, but if you’re planning to make something that calls for diced chicken breast, it’s way easier to chop it up at home and then to just have a ziplock full of diced chicken ready when you need it. The one thing to consider is that some things, once you chop them up, should be refrigerated, like onions and potatoes. So you may need to take into account the amount of coldbox space that you have.

Only bring what you’ll need
If we don’t plan on making a stew, we leave the potjie pot at home. If it’s the middle of summer, we don’t bring our cold weather box (which contains blankets, hats, gloves, and scarves). If we’re not going to the beach, we don’t bring our beach tent. If we know there will be someplace to easily make a fire, we don’t bring our little grill. You know, common sense things.

The campsite at Farm Godeis has deep shelves that are perfect for storing our camping boxes. We were more organized that usual that weekend because we could so easily put everything away.

Be prepared for the weather
Check the forecast for wherever you’re camping. If it looks like it might be cold, bring the cold weather gear. If you’re camping along the coast of Namibia, make sure your tent is waterproof. We learned the hard way that our previous tent was, in fact, not waterproof when we were camping along the coast and Nate woke me up at 1:30 am because water was dripping onto his face from a leaky tent seam. The next day we jury-rigged a rain fly out of a random tarp to keep out the moisture. It worked. If you think it’ll be windy, bring extra tent stakes and guy lines.

Our camping boxes also help keep tent stakes in the ground in extremely windy conditions

Have a good plan to keep food cold
In the US this isn’t really as much of an issue because you can find ice almost anywhere. In the rest of the world, this can be a real problem. In Oman we froze water bottles to keep our cooler cold for several days, and then as they defrosted we also had drinking water. In Namibia we’ve solved this quandary by installing a camping fridge in the back of our Hilux. Best decision ever.

Campsites with electrical outlets make life a lot easier!

Know how to use your equipment
Maybe this means you put up your tent in the driveway before you first go camping with it. Trust me, it’s good to know how to assemble your tent before you try to do it in the sand and wind. Both Nate and I are able to easily assemble and use all of our camping gear, although he is better at chopping wood than I am.

You don’t need new or fancy things
If something works, and you are familiar with it, use it. We still use Nate’s dad’s 30-year old aluminum cooking gear. 

Don’t bank on getting the best sleep of your life
Sometimes I sleep well when we’re camping, sometimes I sleep like complete crap. Maybe it’s hotter than hell, or maybe you have noisy neighbors that play loud music until 3 am. Maybe it’s really cold out and you have to pee but you don’t want to get bundled up so you have to hold it all night. Maybe you’re learning the hard way that your camping mat is not as comfy as you’d hoped. The two most important things you can do to ensure comfort while sleeping in a tent are to have a good mat and to…

Hammocks are the perfect place to catch up on a bad night of sleep while camping

Wear earplugs
Earplugs are a complete game-changer. I can’t count the number of sleepless nights I’ve had due to the wind. Also, in a tent, when someone gets up to go to the bathroom, there is a tremendous amount of noise. I only started wearing earplugs recently and I wish I’d started years ago. 

Don’t expect perfect
Things never work out 100% as planned. They just don’t; that’s life! Maybe you forgot the coffee, baboons raided your garbage and there’s trash everywhere, you ran out of aluminum foil, you forgot to pack underwear, or you broke a rotten egg into a bunch of good eggs. Roll with it and just make it work. It’ll be fine! This is why we pack one bottle of wine per person per night. I mean, if it’s really that terrible you can always just pack up and leave or go stay in a lodge/hotel. The whole idea is to have fun!

Not pictured: birds pooping all over the “kitchen,” a squirrel nearly chewing open the peanut butter jar, and strong winds that kept blowing the fire out

Last, but not least, a few extra tips if you are camping with kids:

Make camping special
M knows he’s going to get to drink all the chocolate milk he wants when we go camping and that he’ll get to stay up later than normal. Plus, he’ll get to eat s’mores! These things usually don’t happen in our day-to-day life.

Bring reward toys
Maybe your kids will have a harder time than you’re expecting. Perhaps because they didn’t get enough sleep. In that case, we turn to bribery. No, really. Bring a new book or a new toy (but nothing small that can get easily buried or lost). This has worked wonders for us. 

Most kids naturally like camping
Keep this fact in mind and help nurture this. It’s an amazing adventure! Chances are you’re camping someplace vastly different from where you normally live, which brings a sense of wonder. Then, on top of that, they get to sleep in a tent! They get to explore, look for insects, climb rocks, roast marshmallows. They love that camping is messy and that’s okay. They love getting wrapped up in blankets when it’s cold, sitting around the campfire and listening to stories. We really enjoy camping with M, and he has so much fun.

Home, sweet home!

I could go on. In fact, I know I’m excluding things from the list above, like making sure you have water, a way to charge your electronic devices, and a first aid kit. But you’ll find that advice anywhere. The tips I’ve listed are the ones that are perhaps unique to our experiences that I think are the most helpful. Happy camping!

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