Anika Goddard with permission for Varsity

Normally, I’m only awake at five-thirty in the morning if I’m neck-deep in an essay crisis. Instead of being in a warm desk chair somewhere in Cambridge, however, I’m shivering on the side of a Dorset cliff, weighing up whether it’s worth leaving the relative warmth of my sleeping bag for a five-minute dash to the nearest toilet. But if – if – I manage to survive the night, I’ll have made it three-quarters of the way through my annual family camping trip.

“I do not want to wake up in the morning with a horse pressing itself up against the tent”

Yes, I know that many a middle-aged dad and Geography student alike will defend camping to the death. Yes, I like to consider myself someone who loves being in and around nature. No, I do not want to wake up in the morning with a horse pressing itself up against the tent, or cook unsalted pasta on a gas stove in high winds. Or feel permanently, irresolvably damp in the depths of a rain-saturated British August. When my mum, my sister and I pack up the car and drive out to the designated field, we sign ourselves up for all these thrills and more.

Most years of my life, I’ve temporarily suspended the knowledge that I deeply hate camping. Whether it’s been Christian camp (sleeping in actual army tents), Greenbelt Festival (where port-a-loos make the usual campsite toilet options look glamorous) or these family camping trips, I always convince myself that I might, this time, enjoy myself. Yet within about five minutes of arriving at the campsite and realizing that we’ve completely forgotten how to set up the tent, I can feel my patience with this most minimalist mode of holiday wearing thin.

“Every holiday since I began studying at Cambridge, my Instagram feed has mysteriously filled up with skiing photos”

None of my resentment towards camping is made better by the fact that, every holiday since I began studying at Cambridge, my Instagram feed has mysteriously filled up with skiing photos. In Leicester, where I grew up, my friends often went on similar holidays to me. There were abundant cottages in Cornwall, the occasional visit to Corfu and, of course, plentiful camping. It was uncommon to see someone enjoying the Maldives, or an Australian coral reef, on their summer break. Crouching in a tent, it turns out, is a lot more difficult if you’re not doing it in solidarity with your friends.

But this doesn’t mean you have to stew in misery the whole trip. A few words of advice for the reluctant camper:

  • Don’t go without coffee. Water can be heated on a gas stove, and it’s possible to snatch a peaceful moment early in the morning, sitting in front of your tent with a hot cup of coffee and watching the sun rise. This summer, we only brought one mug between us, and my mum and I had to fight for first coffee rights.
  • Maximise comfort. Bring camping chairs if you can; we went without this year, and it was a horrible mistake. Obnoxiously, a Cambridge puffer will keep you toasty both during the day and as a second sleeping layer at night.
  • Don’t wear Crocs, wear walking boots, because the grass will be wet at night and in the morning. Then go for a walk under the stars if the sky is clear, because it’s truly beautiful.
  • Camp near the beach or a lake, so that you can at least go for a dip if the showers are dire.
  • Bring sausages – Richmond’s are my sister’s vegan recommendation – and fruit, and plenty of delightful snacks.
  • Do not camp for more than three nights, because everything begins to feel grimy. Tempers will run short, so don’t hesitate to take yourself off for the aforementioned quiet walk if you feel yourself fraying.
  • Speedily identify a local pub.

With these handy tips you can mitigate the worst discomforts of camping. So, despite my grumbling, I’m not ready to abandon the humble camping holiday just yet. I love my family, and I’m spending less and less time with them as I move away from home. This summer in particular feels like a collage of millions of train journeys. Camping is a way of cordoning off precious time with family. It’s a way of letting them know that I still love spending time with them. At home it’s just me, my mum, and my younger sister, and we’ve always stuck together. I don’t want that to change.


Mountain View

Ode to Cryanair: a love letter to budget travel

My defense here is not really of camping itself. It should be obvious by now that I’d be only too happy to participate in literally any other holiday. Symbolically, however, camping for me is about committing to spending time with family, even if flashier prospects are available. We might not be going to the Swiss Alps anytime soon, and there may come a day when my schedule is just too full for me to drag myself back out to a drizzly Dorset cliff. But for next August, at least, I’ll do my best to stop complaining and re-hop, reluctantly, onto the camping bandwagon.