25 valuable lessons we learnt – beginner camper

camping to close to fruit tress

25 valuable lessons we learnt during our camping trip that has allowed us to overcome obstacles. 

Camping as a single parent is not easy, especially if you have not ever done it before.

Why we decided to start camping

For years Nicholas was asking me to go camping, and it was not something I wanted to do. But I gave in and purchased the first tent I found. Not even considering if it was suitable.

As a family, we have not looked back, and we love to camp. Camping gives you the chance to spend time with your family and friends in natural environments. 

Creating unforgettable memories and has helped Nicholas increase his confidence in himself.

1 – Camping with the correct tent to suit your family

We only had a small four-person dome tent for our first ever camping trip, with a mini porch. I couldn’t stand up straight inside at all.

A dome tent is ideal if you are just camping overnight, but if you are going to be camping for more than one night, you need to invest in a more suitable tent. 

Think about the sleeping, standing and social area of your tent. Especially if it rains, you need a dry place where you can have fun and eat. Ideally, where you can have a couple of relaxing chairs.

2 – Full standing height tent door

Our little dome tent had the main door entrance and another door to our tent’s central section. I had to crawl to enter our tent and often found myself hooked up on the zip either by my clothing or hair, which was very frustrating and painful at times.

When it is wet, the last thing you want to do when you have changed into dry clothing is crawl on a damp floor.

When you buy your first tent, always make sure you can stand and walk into your tent without crawling. By the end of your holiday, you will have a backache, especially if you are camping for more than a few nights.

3 – Think of the number of days you want to camp for

Book your camping trip for more than one night, as by the time you have pitched your tent and settle in, you will not have much time to enjoy before you have to pack everything away again.

Most campsites will allow you to pitch your tent from 2 pm, but they will generally ask you to leave by 11 am.

By the time you have packed away, it does not give you much time to have fun, explore, and eat if you are camping for one night. Try to book a minimum of 3 nights if you can.

4 – Check the weather forecast before you leave

Don’t expect the weather to be amazing every day. On our first camping trip on our 2nd night, a hurricane decided to drop into our camp. I was aware that this might happen as I had kept an eye on the weather forecast. 

It was scary, and I did not sleep much that night. I thought that our tent was going to collapse on us.  The following day, the sun was back out by midday, and we were back to wearing our T-shirts and shorts.

5 – Buy a tent with vents on the sides for family camping

Why top vents are not ideal during heavy rain storms
Water seeped through out tent vents and left a puddle in the middle of our tent

We still use our dome tent, but only for 1-night camping trips and during good weather. The vent is at the top of the dome in the middle of the tent. During a hefty rainstorm, the water seeped into the vents, and the floor of our tent was soaking.

All of our clothes were dry but crawling out of bed in the morning and kneeling into a pool of water is not ideal.

6 – Don’t worry about kids getting dirty when camping

There is no way you can keep kids clean when you are camping, so there is no point stressing. Nobody is judging you or your family.

Don’t stress when you kids are having fun and end up really dirty

After the first 5 minutes, I decided if Nicholas wanted to roll in the mud, climb trees or get soaking wet in a stream, it did not matter as long as he was safe and was clean by bedtime. 

I loved watching him having fun in a natural environment without restrictions.

7 – Take shoe deodorizer

odor-eaters ideal quick fix when camping and you have smelly shoes
Always keep a can of odor-eaters handy when camping, as your tent will stink in the morning

Shoe deodoriser is as essential as our sleeping bags and is an actual primary item on our camping packing list.

We ran out of dry shoes after the second day. Although we both had a mixture of trainers, wellies, flip flops, they did not dry thoroughly during the day. 

Nicholas migrated to wearing my trainers during the evenings, and I did not realise that he turned my trainers into ticking stink bombs.  I had no air freshener or shoe deodoriser spays to try to hide the smell.

8 – Pitching your tent under trees or near a stream

steer clear of camping under fruit tress
Chairs will quickly be vacated when setting up under fruit trees

If you have the option to select where you pitch your tent, don’t pitch under fruit trees or next to a stream. Bees and gnats will hound you. Even if the area looks fantastic and gives you some privacy, it is not worth it. 

Pitching near a stream seems ideal as you can relax near your tent whilst keeping a close eye on your kids. 

There is a reason why that area is clear.

Setting up your tent under fruit trees or near streams, you will be forever running away from bees or trying to swat the gnats. It is even more frustrating when you are trying to eat and just want a lovely relaxing evening. 

Plus, you will have to keep your fly mesh shut, or your main tent doors closed all of the time. And when it is warm, this is the last thing you want to do.

9 – Bug repellent bracelets did not work for me

Bug repellent bracelets do not work
When the bug repellent bracelet does not work and you wake up with a second head growing on your face

I am still trying to figure this out, but I was the only one who got bitten by gnats. It was not until the first morning when I could play dot to dot on my face and body. The bug bracelets for me did not work.

It is worth investing in light for the inside of your tent, which has a bug deterrent incorporated to protect you whilst you are sleeping. During the day, invest in a good quality can of spray insect repellent that you can easily top-up.

Plus, you will have to keep your fly mesh shut, or your main tent doors closed all of the time. And when it is warm, this is the last thing you want to do.

10  – Antibacterial gel to stop itching

quick fix to reduce swelling and stop itching - gnat bites
Anti bacterial gel helps to reduce swelling of gnat bites and stops the itching

Be prepared to be bitten by bugs, and in your first aid kit, always carry an anti-itching cream. I did not even think about this one item, and for two days, I was in hell. Until my friend’s mum told me that antibacterial gel works for bites.

11 – Have a spare air mattress handy

Always have a spare air mattress in the boot of your car.  There is nothing worse than a deflating air mattress during the night. 

You will feel guilty pumping your air mattress up during the night, as they are so loud. Even though they are quicker, think about having a manual pump handy if you are not confident with your air mattress keeping inflated.

12 – Cold weather will affect your air mattress

Camping late autumn, before bedtime, I reinflated our air mattresses as the cold will affect how sturdy they are. At first, I thought we had a leak somewhere but soon realised that it was the cold during the nights that affected the mattress’s air.

So be ready to pump your air mattress up the next day.

13 – Remember lanterns for the inside of your tent

During our first camping trip, I did not even think about lighting. We were camping during the summer, pleasant light evenings. I only thought about a torch for when we needed to walk to the toilet block.

But you will need a camping lantern in your tent, plus if you have younger children, they may not be happy waking up in the dark due to nerves. 

Our camping lantern is battery operated and a dimmer switch. It cost £6 by Go Outdoors.

14 – Check the quality of your tent pegs

When you buy cheaper tents, it is always best to check that the tent pegs supplied are sufficient. They are not still the best quality.

It is worth investing in more sturdy tent pegs. If it’s windy, it is vital that your tent stays pegged, and often with smaller pegs supplied, they are not sufficient. Plus, if the ground is soft, you will be hammering your pegs all of the time.

15 – Not checking our tent set up

make sure you check  you have set up your tent correctly
The following morning is often to late to realise that you have not set your tent up correctly and you have paddling pool in your porch

Once your tent is up, check it to ensure that the sewn-in groundsheet at the main entrance is pegged correctly. If there is any give, you will wake up in the morning to a very wet floor.

If you have left any shoes or jackets in this area, they will be wet and hard to dry out if the weather is not great.

16 – Camping with friends or other single parents

Camping for the first time, try to camp with friends, family or other single-parent families. Not only can you all help with pitching tents and setting up camp, but it will also help reduce some of the stress and fear of first time camping.

Camping with other families will also give you time to chill and relax, as you can take it in turns to keep an eye on each other’s kids. Allowing you to enjoy your holiday as well.

17 – Keep charcoal and matches dry

Keep any flammable materials such as charcoal, matches in a dry area. We place these in the car boot, as leaving in the tent overnight, they tend to get very wet.

Trying to light a BBQ when there are hungry kids is not fun.

18 – Have additional shelter so you can escape your tent

The additional shelter will not only give you an escape from your tent but will offer protection from the rain, sun and provide an eating area.

Additional shelters do not need to cost a lot of money. Purchase a tarp with a couple of spare rods, attach them to your tent, or purchase a second-hand shelter.

19 – Clear up outside each night

We will automatically clear up inside of the tent each day, but I did not think to double-check outside. I would ask Nicholas if he had picked everything up, and the automatic answer would be ‘yes’.

It was not until the next morning I realised that he had dropped his trainers outside, and the rain during the night had soaked. So each night, I will check outside for any items of clothing, shoes and chairs.

20 – Camping close to home in a family-friendly campsite

Camping close to home as a beginner camper will help reassure you. As if things go wrong or do not feel safe, pack your car up and come home.  Our campsite was about a 1 hours drive from our home.

The campsite was for families and had a play area for kids, although the play area was aimed more at younger children.

21 – Keep the inside of your tent walls clear

Keep everything away from the inside walls of your tent, although it is very tempting to push everything to the sides so that you have space. Turning over during the night and leaning against a wet wall is not a great experience.

Unless you dry the walls, air your tent, allow your sleeping bag to dry, your items will get wet. There is nothing worse than putting damp clothes or climbing into a damp sleeping bag.

Condensation will build up during the night. It is unavoidable.  It is important to air your tent an item.

22 – Don’t worry about healthy eating for a few days

We lived off snacks, BBQ food, everything that was quick and easy. I refused to stress over how healthy the food was for us over those few days.

We had our cool box and ice blocks to keep food cool. If you camp for more than 3-nights, consider investing in an electric icebox that can be connected if you have EHU.

23 – EHU for a family holiday is a must-have

EHU is an electrical hook up, and for our first trip, I did not worry about booking. Because our tent was small, I did not think it was necessary at the time. My friend booked her pitch with EHU, so we shared it.

Having no electricity for a couple of days but when you have a soon to be teenager, who loves their iPad of the evening, then make sure you book EHU. Trying to charge three phones and two iPads on one EHU is a nightmare, and it feels like you are forever swapping plugs to keep everybody happy.

24 – Getting the kids involved with setting up and packing away – ignoring the grumps

It did not work out as we planned because my friend’s tunnel tent took four of us. We were not expecting it, but we decided that my tent needed to be put up by the kids.  

It was all fun, and the kids helped us so much, but they disappeared when it came to leaving. Nicholas was not interested at all in helping pack our camping gear away and just wandered off.

At this point, I did start to get a bit annoyed, as I was tired and felt that Nicholas was being a bit unfair.  

After I did feel a bit guilty. During our future camping trips, I start packing the night before. All I have to do then is lift them into the car and take the tent down.

25 – Several bottles of wine

I was a bit concerned about taking alcohol with me, but it was my holiday as well. So once Nicholas was in bed, I enjoyed curling up in my sleeping bag and treating myself to a well-deserved glass of wine and my kindle.

The highlight of our beginners’ camping trip experience

Perfect end to our camping holiday

The main highlight for me was fulfilling a request that Nicholas had been asking for years. He has always wanted us to go camping together, but camping was the worst nightmare for me.

Spending those few days with him, splashing in the stream, cooking together, building fires and late-night walks are the best holidays. We have travelled overseas many times and enjoyed our holidays. Still, today if I have to choose between, I will always select camping.

Camping has allowed me to remove myself from my job’s stress and open my eyes to how much time I have missed with Nicholas due to work commitments. 

To enjoy simple moments and for us, both to enjoy nature and exploring has opened the door to so many future camping trips together.


I'm a single parent who loves pitching a tent and exploring the countryside at any opportunity. I am working with a glamping pod company and helping them to set up a family campsite in East Riding Yorkshire.

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