Planning Camping Trips the Smart Way
Are you the camping trip planner in your family? Your camping trip preparation will be simplified if you follow this step by step method for successfully planning a camping trip.
This camping trip planner can make the difference between a successful camping trip and a dismal experience. Planning a camping trip with your family requires you to juggle destinations, stopover durations and travel times. Do your camping trip preparation the smart way – be thorough!
When you’re planning a camping trip that will last weeks or months (or years if you’re really lucky) it’s essential to balance your travel times with your camping times. Otherwise you and your family will end up drained and exhausted or, even worse, overlook an unmissable tourist attraction.
This length of this camping trip planner may look daunting but don’t be afraid, it’s just that I’ve gone into detail. Planning your camping trip is actually one of the most exciting parts of the trip! Preparing for a camping trip builds anticipation and excitement, and helps get you through the working hours left until you depart.
There’s always something you won’t know about until you get there. That’s part of the fun, that’s why you go. Having a trip outline doesn’t prevent you from being spontaneous when you drive through an area that looks interesting to explore, or hear about something you must see on the camping grapevine.
Keep in mind that during busier seasons you sometimes have to book your campsite in advance. When you’re traveling with kids it’s also reassuring to know your destination is sorted.
Practice setting up and packing up camp before you head off on a longer camping trip. Try several overnight and weekend camping trips closer to home until you feel you’ve ironed out most of the bugs in your camping routines. It will still take you a while to get in the rhythm once you’re on your “serious” camping trip, but those practice sessions will definitely lower your stress levels and ensure you have all you need. Preparing for your camping trip with a few practice runs raises everyone’s enthusiasm as momentum builds towards your departure date!
Camping Trip Planner
Start with a large photocopy or a rough outline sketch of the region you’re planning to visit.
If you’re using your own rough sketch as the basis of your camping trip planner, mark in several major towns and cities on your outline to use as reference points.
If the area you’re traveling through is so large that different weather zones apply, roughly work out and mark the areas of wet/dry, hot/cold temperatures on your camping trip planner. For example, most people find the northern part of Australia is more pleasant to travel during the dry season (May – October). Temperatures north of Hervey Bay average 20 degrees Celsius over winter, so if you were heading to Cairns from southern Australia during the dry you would travel fairly quickly until you reached Hervey Bay and then slow down as the weather warmed up the further north you travelled.
As part of your camping trip preparation you may also wish to mark in the school holiday periods for the region you’re traveling. This is in case you want to avoid crowded campgrounds during peak season.
Mark in the places you already know your family plans to visit. Note down the main attractions of each place you’ve marked in e.g. Hervey Bay (whale watching), Townsville (Magnetic Island).
Some of these attractions will be seasonal, either in terms of availability (e.g. turtle hatching) or accessibility (e.g. roads into national parks being blocked during wet season.)
If you already know the timing of your holiday period, you can start to factor in what is available and accessible during that time. If the timing of your holiday isn’t completely locked in, now is when you may discover some rescheduling is required if your family’s interests can’t be satisfied at that time.
Using your trip research material (e.g. caravan park guide, travel guide, national park guide and the internet) check for any additional major attractions that you don’t want your family to miss.
Well done, now you have your “can’t miss this” stops mapped out on your camping trip planner. You have the backbone of your trip already planned.
Decide where your camping stops will be in order to visit each of the attractions you’ve marked. In many cases, the camping ground is the attraction. Some attractions may be clustered in a small area so that you can select a central camping ground and do day trips from there. You’re likely to find that the driving time is less than the camp set-up, organization and pack-up time, and probably less stressful. Plus it’s always nice to camp in the same spot for several days and become familiar with a place.
Now check the gaps you have between camping stops. With young kids, it’s ideal to limit travel to 3-4 hours driving time (e.g. 2 hours driving, break, 2 hours driving, reach destination.) For the odd leg you can push beyond this and stretch your kids out to make the next stop, but generally you should try not to do this unless you spend 2-3 nights at that stop. It’s not a great holiday for the kids if they spend it sitting in the car for days on end. If you’ve ever been on one of those family holidays as a kid where Dad just drove and drove and drove, then you know what I mean. (When I was a kid, Dad drove – because Mum was the one with the patience and strategies to deal with four kids in the back!
If you have found a gap that is just too long to manage, check your trip research materials and see if there is anything halfway along that travel leg that will interest your family for a brief stopover. If nothing else, a camping ground that sounds nice will do. You will probably only be there overnight anyway, and leaving early to reach your original destination.
Which direction are you traveling in? Again with pencil, mark small arrows to indicate the direction of travel beside each camping spot. Remember that unless you’re doing a loop you will need to interweave stops on the way up with stops on the return leg. This comes in handy when there are two places close together that you want to camp at. You can do one on the way out and one on the way back. (There is also the possibility of meandering your way out then doing a massive run back home at the end, but this tactic can rapidly undo all the wonderful relaxing you’ve done on your trip.)
Make sure you use a pencil for this step, because I can guarantee you will want to rub out and adjust things! Beside each of the camping stops you’ve marked on your camping trip planner, pencil in the duration of your stay (e.g. 1, 2, 3 nights etc.) Take into account the traveling time between campsites. Here are some tips on how to decide how long to stay at each campsite.
- Long travel time (more than 4 hours): Stay at least 2 nights, preferably 3.
- Short travel time: You can do an overnight if your camp is easy to set up and pack up. For overnight stays you can do a partial set-up e.g. no awnings or annexes.
- Don’t overlook the length of your very first leg, from leaving home to your first campsite.
- How long you stay also depends on how much you want to do at each site.
- For the first few stops, allow some extra time in your schedule simply for getting in the swing of things. You certainly don’t want to start off your trip by loading yourself up with extra stress when set up and pack up take longer than you expected. (And they will!)
- If you stay overnight, you may be able to get your camp packed up and sightseeing done and still make it to the next camp by a reasonable time as long as the next leg is only short.
- Aim to make your next campsite by 3p.m. so that you have time to set up in daylight, explore a little, relax a little and still adhere to your regular dinnertime and bedtime routines.
- Avoid scheduling two long driving days in a row.
- Remember, if you rush your kids until they’re miserable, you’ll be miserable too. Take it easy and explore with them.
Now add up all your durations and check that your total still fits into your allocated holiday length. If it doesn’t and you can’t possibly cut anything out, it’s time to ask the boss for an extra week or two. If you have some days left over, you are a probably about one in a million and you have the luxury of a buffer!