Our camping adventures started when we had our third child and we could no longer afford to rent a cottage for our annual holiday. Becoming a family of five meant that the larger cottages and caravans were beyond our budget. Nevertheless, buoyed up by my husband’s exciting tales of camping as a scout, we bought some camping gear and booked a trial break on a campsite not far from home. By ‘camping gear’ I mean a three-bedroomed tent, sleeping bags, a camp stove, picnic table and chairs. Added to this was all the other stuff needed for a family holiday including a potty and a travel cot!
Not surprisingly when it came to packing the family car my enthusiasm took a severe dent by the amount of work it took to pack. Without a trailer everything had to be squeezed into every available space inside and outside the car. All this just for a weekend away! With some creative packing however, we managed it and eventually pulled off the drive. We were on our way.
A short time later we arrived at our campsite in the Cotswolds, an area renown for its rolling hills and villages built from honey coloured stone. The site was attached to a farm and was well set out with spacious pitches bordered by hedges which provided some privacy. There was a farmshop that sold the usual essentials plus freshly baked bread and croissants every morning. For the children there were a number of play areas and a pets corner and away from the site were a series of farm trails that took walkers on designated walks around the farm and into the countryside.
It was lovely and my children keen to explore their new surroundings ran off with me in tow, leaving their poor dad to set up our new tent on his own. This he did and a few hours later we all came together for our first ever alfresco meal, a hurried mix of warmed up tinned food. It didn’t really matter what we ate; eating outdoors on a warm sunny evening was a magical ‘first’ experience for our children.
After that it was soon time to settle down for the night, an unusual experience if you’re not used to it. No street lighting, no traffic noise, no noisy radios or TVs (not allowed after a certain time) and just the chatter of fellow campers and the occasional cry from an overtired child. Eventually even those human noises subsided as the night drew in. Not one to sleep that well and also being nervous about possible escape missions from my children, I just lay in my sleeping bag listening to the sounds of the wildlife in the nearby woods. Very soon even I succumbed to sleep.
Waking up in the morning was also a sureal experience. Not used to sleeping under canvas it was an odd feeling waking up to the light streaming through the tent. There was no time to relax however. The urgent pleas from my children for the toilet meant a quick change (clothes shoved over PJ’s) and a rush to the toilet block. That done, we then enjoyed a cooked breakfast in the morning sunshine but it wasn’t long before the children were itching to play. First things first though; there were jobs to be done – tidying up, washing up, fetching the water. One of the good things I’ve noticed whilst camping is that many children get involved with these sort of tasks which is something we encouraged with our own children.
After this we then spent time exploring the camp site, looking at the animals, playing with our children and walking though the nearby fields. I can’t say it was always easy. Running after my hyperactive son and two daughters was hard work but the fresh air and the space to play, away from traffic, noise and pollution, was good for all of us. For my elder daughter in particular, camping also gave her the opportunity to make friends with other children and to enjoy some independence in a safe setting.
And that is very much how our first camping break went – lounging around our tent, playing with our children, going for walks – until it was time to pack up and head for home. In all a successful first camping trip.
For many years thereafter we managed a week’s holiday with our tent even progressing to buying better equipment and a trailer. It wasn’t always easy camping with our autistic son; meltdowns were commonplace but if we stayed on a site with enough to occupy him and his sisters we could keep ‘escape missions’ to a minimum. A few years ago however, holidays stopped becoming an option as our son’s ASD has become more pronounced and it has been harder for us to go away. Nevertheless I’m pleased that we’ve been able to experience camping holidays with our children.
To other people with autistic children, I would say don’t assume that camping isn’t for you though I appreciate for some people a caravan offers more security. However, if you do decide to try camping my biggest tip to you is to plan and prepare well in advance.
And with that, if you do decide to go for it, happy camping.
For more tips and advice see:
My post on 10 tips on camping with autistic children
The UK Camp Site – an internet guide to all things camping and caravanning – http://www.ukcampsite.co.uk/