Everything you need to know to book a budget-friendly camping holiday!
Camping is a really cheap way to have a holiday as campsite pitches are really inexpensive. You can even upgrade to yurts or camping pods if you don’t like the idea of a tent, and it’s still cheaper than a hotel.
By Meera Dattani
If you have camping equipment (or can borrow it), a week's camping can cost between £40-£100 at loads campsites. If you have no equipment, a week's camping can still cost under £400 for a family of 4, based on a grass pitch with electric hook-up (£105) at Muirkirk Caravan Site in Scotland with £250-£300 spent on equipment.
A non-electric grass pitch is even cheaper. A week's camping at Numphra Downs Farm in Cornwall costs £38.50 or it's £87.50 at Redlands Farm in Dorset. Numerous campsites such as Forgewood Camping in Sussex cost from £20 per night per family working out under £150 per week.
Word of mouth and recommendations from friends and family are best, but there are some excellent camping websites such as pitchup.com and ukcampsite.co.uk which offer thousands of listings for tent and touring (caravan/motorhome) pitches as well as information on caravan and lodge hire or yurts and alternative camping accommodation. These websites let you search for specific facilities and exact location too.
Many UK tourist boards have camping sections on their websites which is ideal if you know where in the country you want to go. Another good resource is awaywiththekids.co.uk which has researched a selection of child-friendly campsites.
This depends on what your family want from a camping holiday, you might just want a very basic campsite with grass pitches, toilets and showers. At most campsites you'll also find open grounds, walks and picnic sites too. You might also be interested in the following:
- Electrical and water hook-ups - A campsite near the beach, a National Trust property or walking trails - An on-site shop to stock up on groceries - Kids entertainment (this can range from courses on 'bush skills' to sports activities such as a football pitch, tennis courts or a swimming pool.
- A dog friendly site
- Permission to have an open fire (not all campsites allow this so double-check before you book)
The main items you need are:
- A tent (For a family, a 4-man tent may feel cramped but a family tent, often with 2 separate sleeping areas, a communal area and a porch for muddy and wet shoes, is perfect)
- A groundsheet - Bedding - Basic cooking equipment (see the next page for more info on this)
- Good quality sleeping bags, pillows and plenty of bedding and blankets (temperatures can drop at night even if it's been hot in the daytime)
- Airbeds (if you want - they make sleeping on the ground a lot more comfortable)
Borrow what you can if you're a first-timer. Otherwise, you can get the basic kit (tent, sleeping bags and ground sheets) for low prices in stores or online. A family tent costs around £90 from websites such as worldofcamping.co.uk and halfords.com . Online store outdoorworld.co.uk also sells cheap camping equipment such as a stove kit for £7.99, sleeping bags from £16, refillable lighters from £1.99 and a portable gas stove with 4 packs of gas for £16.99. Also check Millets and Argos. Supermarkets like Asda, Tesco and Lidl sometimes offer deals on camping equipment so keep your eyes peeled.
If you're a first-time camper, you can find campsites which have pre-pitched tents. That does cost more but if you're unsure about camping, it's a great way to trial it out.
A big plus when camping is eating al fresco. And you really don't need lots of gadgets - start with these:
- A cooking stove with a grill plus fuel, or use the campfire grill.
- One pot
- One frying pan
- A few basic utensils and crockery
- Tin foil - Paper towels - Rubbish bags - Can opener - Corkscrew
- A large bottle (to fill up with water).
- Sponge, washing-up liquid and some wipes - A thermos is handy to keep tea and coffee warm but it's not essential.
- Camping chairs and a fold-out table for your meals - Other useful extras include: matches/lighter, fire starter sticks, firewood (some campsites sell this), head torches and a multipurpose knife.
The great thing about camping is that easy, cheap and quick food becomes extra-tasty, simply because it's cooked over a campfire or eaten outdoors!
We're talking jacket potatoes cooked in foil with baked beans, hot dogs with onions, one-pot stews and marshmallows for dessert. Fry-ups are perfect for the mornings so bring eggs, bacon and bread, and if you're organised, you can make muffins and other snacks in advance. Check out our delicious camping recipes which offers lots of inspiring ideas.
The British weather can be changeable so preparing for rain and sunshine is key to ensuring a stress-free break. That means sun cream and shorts as well as rain gear/waterproofs and layers. Wellies, trainers and flip flops/sandals are all the footwear you need - unless you're in an enormous tent, space is at a premium so don't over-pack but do ensure you have enough in case clothes get dirty and wet.
Don't forget to pack bath towels and toiletries - a dry bag (available from outdoors shops like Millets) is useful as you can bundle all your bathroom items into one bag. A first-aid kit is a must and if you're taking the family dog, don't forget pet gear like bowls, food, a leash, treats and bed.
Camping's cheap but safety is key if you don't want to end up with unforeseen costs... or a trip to A&E. Jon Dale from The Camping and Caravanning Club says, 'Tents are made from fire-retardant materials but you still need to take care. Cooking is best done outside the tent and tents should be 3 metres away from each other. Bring a BS/EN3 approved fire extinguisher and/or fire blanket with your kit. If you're using gas equipment inside a tent, make sure it's well ventilated.'
'Most modern electrical equipment can be powered with batteries, but many campers like to use home-style mains electric equipment,' he says. 'If you want to use the electrical hook-up, make sure you have suitable connection equipment and use it sensibly.'
Check The Camping and Caravanning Club's guide to Using Electricity in Your Tent.
If the last time you camped was as a brownie, you'll be pleased to know that campsites have come a long way. Most have hot showers, while a launderette and kids' clubs are not uncommon and some offer hot tubs, wifi and even gourmet cafes.
In fact, you don't even have to stay in a tent. Heated camping pods, tipis, yurts and wigwams, even converted buses, are among the choices at some campsites such as BlackberryWood near Ditchiling in Sussex. Look at the selection of campsites offering camping pods and tipis, yurts and wigwams on Pitchup.com.
If you prefer back-to-basics, plenty of campsites charge low rates for a grass pitch, with or without electrical hook-up. Examples include Westermill Farm which costs £6.50 per night (adult), £3.50 for children and £2.50 per vehicle. That?s just over £20 a night for a family of 4 or Fourways Campsite in Yorkshire which costs £12 per night for a grass pitch for 2 adults, 2 children and one vehicle (£15 with electric hook-up).
A big plus is being outside. As Margaret Robertson from Canvas Holidays
says, 'Facilities are similar to a hotel - the big difference is the
outdoor space. On a campsite, you're not stuck on the 4th floor of an
apartment block so if you want to read but the kids want to be outside,
it's simple - open the door, out they go, you can see them and
Usually, activities at campsites cost nothing
or very little. Whether it's a game of rounders, using the campsite pool
or family nature trails in the countryside, fresh air and exercise are
easy to find and free. You can also take your own bicycles or book
campsites which offer cycle hire. Many sites offer play areas, kids'
clubs and sports facilities from tennis to football.
Many mums love camping for the freedom and low costs. Ceri Steel, mum of 2 children aged 6 and 4, has been camping all her life. 'Do your homework,' she suggests. 'Campsites which attract large single-sex groups can be rowdy until late, and best avoided for parents with younger children! Bring thick duvets whatever the weather as the temperature can drop dramatically even in summer. And make the most of exploring the great outdoors - it's fantastic fun and very educational. Take bikes if possible and bug-hunting equipment always makes for a great activity.'
Sarah Harlow, mum of 3 children aged 6, 3 and 15 months, is also a keen camper. 'Being allowed to have your own campfire is the big sell for us. But don't bother trying to 'Jamie Oliver it up' - go for hotdogs and baked beans and save the gourmet food for dinner parties! Do use it as an opportunity to get your kids to try food they don't like - it's amazing how popular usually-unpopular food becomes when it's cooked on the fire. Think veggies in foil like sweetcorn. And take lots of baby wipes/wet wipes for all the family!'