Don’t Be Afraid of Camping
Imagine putting out the fire then crawling into your tent, closing the sleeping bag and on the next morning waking up to the sound of birds chirping or a river cheerfully floating just outside. You look out and you are overwhelmed by the glittering of dew drops in the morning sunlight… Yes, spending the night in a tent can be a magical experience!
But I realize that camping out for the first time — stepping out of your comfort zone and considering a tent instead of a hotel with its comfy bed, hot shower and all-you-can-eat breakfast — can be a bit scary. So I’m writing this post in the hope of taking your anxiety away. In fact, in 2010 I was in your shoes when I wanted to spend two weeks in Norway and found out that there aren’t any hotels where we wanted to go. My girlfriend at the time answered all my questions and helped me get comfortable with the idea, just like I am doing here in this post.
What if it Rains?
This is probably the first thing that might make you feel uneasy, but while rain is seldom welcome, there are various ways to deal with it.
What you definitely need on rainy days are water-proof clothes and shoes as well as a tent with an entrance area, where you can take off your wet clothes and leave them there overnight. In a high-quality tent the sleeping area will remain dry even after a several days of rain, so no matter what it looks like outside, you can always crawl into your cozy sleeping bag and sleep like a baby. After a while, knowing that the rain will stay outside, you might even find the drops tapping on the rooftop kind of romantic.
At least half of the camping grounds in Europe have a community room, a coffee shop or a restaurant where you can spend the time until the rain stops. In many cases you can dry your clothes there, cook, charge your electronic devices, have access to WiFi, etc. So it pays to look for this very helpful feature when selecting a camping site.
If the rain doesn’t stop after two or three days you might start feeling a bit unhappy, so consider folding your tent and spending a night in a wooden hut/cabin (offered by many camp sites) or in a hostel. Here you can prepare a hot meal and dry everything, which should bring your spirits up again. No rain lasts for days and days, so usually this is all that’s needed to outlast most bad weather.
By the way, if it rains on the last day of your trip and you are forced to pack your tent wet, you must unpack it once you get home. Just pitch it up again and give it a chance to dry out completely. Otherwise mold will form and you won’t enjoy sleeping in that tent again.
What do I Eat?
For trips of up to 2-3 days you can survive on bread, cheese and some vegetables, but for anything longer you will want to bring a gas cooker with you. There are many different models ranging from very light ones for backpackers (mainly just for cooking hot water, tea and coffee) to large and stable ones with two flames and much more power for when traveling by car and weight is not an issue.
If you are now thinking of pasta and rice, you are on the right track, but your best friends will be couscous and bulgur, due to their much shorter cooking time. You will also need some lightweight pots and pans (available from good outdoor stores), not only for the lower weight, but also for their lower mass, which allows them to heat much faster. On the downside, food sticks and burns much faster in these, so you’ll have to stir quite often.
If you are backpacking, you might want to look into dehydrated foods, to which you simply add boiling water, then stir and eat. If you hike often you might want to look into preparing your own dehydrated food, which is cheaper and much tastier, but this will be the topic of a future post.
If you are staying at a camp site, they will usually have a restaurant, a coffee shop and sometimes even a small supermarket. Of course, everything is a bit more expensive there, but it’s very convenient, especially if you need just a few small things.
At campsites in Europe it seems about equal: electricity is either included in the daily camping price or you can buy it for an extra 2-3 EUR. These prices irritate me every time, because c’mon, how much electricity can I consume in a 24h-period of time?!
We don’t always buy electricity, especially if we’ve hiked all day long and just want to fall into our sleeping bags and rest until the morning.
Be aware of the fact that very often the power sockets on camp sites are not the standard wall type, but larger ones suitable for attaching to caravans and mobile homes. So if weight is not a problem, you might want to take one of these with you.
Virtually all camping grounds have toilets and running water. And virtually all of those have warm water, but sometimes you have to purchase special coins to use in the shower. The sanitary conditions are generally quite good and in many cases excellent.
If you are camping wild, you are of course on your own, but we always try to camp near a river or a lake, so staying clean and smelling fresh has never been a problem. And you can always camp wild 2-3 days, then go to an official camp site or a hostel. On our last trip to Iceland we even stopped at a camp site during the day, showered and then drove off into the wildness again.
What about Internet Access?
If you are in your own country, you probably already have a mobile phone with a data rate.
If you are abroad, it’s usually possible to buy a SIM card with a data rate. On our trip to Namibia in 2012 one of us had a tablet, for which we purchased such a SIM card. After opening a hot-spot for the entire group, we were all able to keep in touch with our friends and family even in some quite remote locations in the savanna.
If you are staying at a camp site or a hostel, then they probably have Wi-Fi, at least in some central or communal area. Sometimes it’s free, and sometimes you have to pay for it. In many cases they have a restaurant or a coffee shop, where it’s free, but you have to pay for access from the area where your tent is pitched. The costs are very different and can range from a couple of bucks per day to a couple of bucks for half an hour.
Many places in Southeast Asia offer good and Wi-Fi free of charge.
“Wild camping” refers to pitching up a tent and spending the night at a location which is not an official camping site. Bivouacing is when you don’t use a tent but build a temporary shelter out of tree branches and other natural material or not using a shelter at all. Whether these activities are allowed or not is usually regulated by the freedom to roam (in German: Jedermannsrecht) — the rights of the general public to use public and private land for sport and other recreation purposes.
These regulations vary from country to country, so do some research ahead of time.
Whenever we are in the Nordic countries (specifically Sweden, Norway and Iceland), we use every opportunity to camp wild. And since we want to experience nature as directly as possible, we always look for spots as far away from towns, villages or farms as possible. However if you have to choose a location from where we can see a house, we definitely ring the doorbell and ask for permission. And until now we’ve never received a negative reply.
Needless to say, camping wild means that you don’t have electricity, trash cans, or toilets. But if you choose your location wisely you can at least have (running) water. And this is a great plus, so we go out of our way to pitch our tents next to a lake, river or creak. We are also very careful to collect all trash and take it with us when we leave.
The purpose of this article is not to discus all topics related to camping in detail, but to at least touch on them and hopefully convince you that camping is fun and easy.
Sometimes we camp because it’s cheaper than staying at a hostel, in other cases because in remote areas there are simply no alternatives, but mostly we do it because it’s a comfortable, romantic and an easy way to feel close to nature.
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