There’s no cheaper holiday than one in a tent, especially when there are several of you. And kids LOVE camping. With adults, it can be a love or hate thing, though there plenty who just need a bit of persuasion. An appreciation for the outdoors and relaxed attitude to the weather are essential. Lots of independent play out in the elements tires kids out nicely, but camping also offers lessons in self-sufficiency – making fires, cooking with limited food/facilities, and learning how nature can sustain us. See our feature on Wild Camping with Kids.
At the other end of the spectrum, if don’t have a tent, or don’t want to travel with all the equipment, try one of the many campsites, some on farms, offering luxury tents with mod cons, dubbed ‘glamping sites’.
Alternatively, often described as ‘campsites’ (indeed, tent pitches are available at many), holiday parks offer static caravans or chalets and often also pools/waterparks, kids’ clubs and more. Many parks are now getting creative too, offering treehouses, safari-style tents and regular tents, most kitted out with real beds and a kitchen with a fridge. Most parks also let you bring your own tent, caravan or motorhome. Some holiday park operators arrange ferry crossing or transports, or offer discounts on travel including car-hire, and some offer special deals or even free places for accompanying grandparents.
But bear in mind that camping is not just about the UK or Europe – an adventure trip overseas might include a night or more under canvas.
See our expert tips on camping and holiday parks with kids, from packing to what to eat, below.
If you’re not sure or don’t want to go the whole hog, combine a camping holiday with a few days of luxury (see our feature Camping Versus Luxury in Cornwall). Alternatively, try a weekend on a campsite with good facilities not far from home, or at a family-friendly music festival.
Take a separate tent for older kids. If you’re sharing, have one with compartments, for private time after the kids are asleep. But be prepared to go to bed with the sun and rise with the sun!
Bear in mind that the more things you take (foldaway chairs, cool boxes…), the more comfortable you’ll be. But air mattresses and feather pillows can be too bulky to take. Bring the essentials: extra blankets even in summer, sun protection (a gazebo or tarpaulin) if in a field, a wind-break (to double as a privacy shield), a double-hob stove, battery-operated lanterns, a washing-up bowl and equipment, copious loo and kitchen roll, wipes, and pans, plates, plastic glasses, etc.
Pack tons of clothes – if there’s no laundrette, it’s hard hand-washing and drying clothes in a tent.
Take plenty of food and drink – on-site shops can be expensive. Pasta, couscous, baked beans and eggs are easy and quick. Snacks are also important, especially dried fruit and nuts, but bring containers to keep bugs out.
Pack some favourite toys, for when it rains and you’ve worn out local museums.
Think about the kind of holiday you want. Larger campsites/holiday villages can also be very noisy at night. If organized entertainment isn’t your bag or you have very young kids who go to bed early, think about a smaller, quieter site.
Check the location – if being by the beach is important to you, make sure you’re at least within a few minutes’ walk. Check also that there’s plenty to do in the vicinity, and when you get there, look out at the park reception or in local shops and tourist board offices for discount vouchers.
Research on-site and off-site facilities – if the on-site shop is limited and/or overpriced, are there alternative local supermarkets within easy reach? You’ll probably bring your car; if not, is there good local public transport?
Find out if you can choose the location of your unit in advance. You may prefer to be close to the swimming complex, for instance, or away from the evening entertainment hub.
Find out if you need to book any activities or kids’ club places in advance, to avoid disappointment. Reserve bikes (and child-seats/trailers) if possible.
Find out when you can arrive and leave. Even if you can’t check in until 3 or 4pm on your first and need to check out by 10am on your last, some parks allow you to arrive early/stay on to use facilities – effectively giving you two extra days’ fun. Facilities tend to be much less busy on main arrival and departure days, too.
If you’re arriving later in the day, order a welcome pack of basics so you don’t have worry about provisions.
Find out if linen and towels are extra; if so, and you have room in the car, take your own.
Notify the operator of any requirements for highchairs, cots and other baby/toddler equipment and find out if baby linen is included.
Look out for discounts outside school-holiday periods if travelling with babies or toddlers. And note that some operators have parks particularly well-suited to those with very young children, offering equipment loan or hire and special activities.
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