I love camping, but this wasn’t always the case. When I was younger and child-free, the idea of sleeping on the ground did not appeal. I grew up in the forest and didn’t feel like I needed to “escape” to more nature.

When I had one child, hotel stays were fine. Now that I have three little ones, however, hotels have become more complicated.

Finding one which a) isn’t booked for six months b) offers pricing for families with three or more children and c) doesn’t cost a fortune is a puzzle I often don’t have the time or energy to solve. But booking a campsite and pitching a tent? That’s doable. If the tent is already pitched when we arrive, it’s even better.

Now that inter-county travel is allowed, we’re all desperate to get out on the open road.

The kids love camping as much as they enjoy swimming in hotel pools. It’s ideal for social distancing. For me, it’s a no-brainer – I have been converted to a camp-loving mama.

Camping Soul Food

I don’t have a campervan or caravan, but I can’t deny: having one would make camping life easier. No tent, less planning (how many fleeces to pack?!) and the added mobility has a certain appeal.

Mal, Carrie and daughter Easkey Buggans are a Co Galway family who love the campervan lifestyle. They recently wrote a cookbook called Camping Soul Food (campingsoulfood.com).

During the first lockdown, Mal and Carrie’s work had slowed significantly – they saw the pandemic as a great opportunity to finally put into words what they’ve been able to master over the years: campervan cooking.

Camping Soul Food features recipes and tips for one-pot wonders; all of which can be made on one heat source – whether that’s an outside campfire grill, portable barbeque or a gas hob. It also features 64 individual soul music playlists to listen to while you’re prepping and cooking.

Years of experience

The family has been camping for years – first, in tents and then gradually moving on to their much-loved campervan.

“In Ireland, if you waited for the weather you’d never get to do anything,” Mal laughs. “Jump in the van, get out there and start moving.”

He says writing Camping Soul Food has been a great experience for the whole family.

The Buggans family wrote their new cookbook Camping Soul Food while parents Mal and Carrie were out of work due to the pandemic.

“When the world stopped, we realised we finally had time to write the book,” he explains. “[Over the years], every time we went camping, we would write notes to our future selves to make life easier for next time.

“We would have done a lot of [tent] camping around the country,” he continues.

The Buggans family regularly set out on camping adventures in their campervan.

“But we were always on the lookout for a campervan. We got the opportunity to buy one just over five years ago. At the start, we thought all we could cook was pasta with pesto, but then we started adding bits and pieces [to our camp meals]. Kerry is the yin to my yang – she’s into the healthy stuff and we don’t really have a fridge, so we started making one-pot wonders that are really easy to make with one source of heat.”

Find your camping style

Are you a tent, campervan, caravan or ready-pitched yurt or bell tent kind of family? I personally love arriving at a campsite with our tent pitched and ready for us (bonus points if the campsite provides extras, like sleeping mats). Some would rather “rough it” and purchase a tent to fit their needs. Mal says, for his family, the campervan is just the right fit.

“There are only three of us and we’re all quite short, so the campervan suits us,” he laughs. “With three or four kids, a caravan would suit you better. We use our campervan for day trips, it’s our second car - you just pack everything into it. There are [also] great tent options out there right now for families of any size, so it’s worth looking around.”

The Buggans’s top tips for new campers

1 Freeze your meat before you go. While it slowly thaws, it will keep everything else in the cooler cold.

2 If you’ve bought a new tent, practise putting it up and taking it down in your garden a few times before you leave. The campsite is no place for a domestic!

3 When Bear Grylls shot his survival show in Connemara, he was actually 15 minutes away from a Spar. Don’t panic about what to bring, just get on the road and shop locally.

The camping community

Janine's kids on a camping trip in Co Clare.

Ireland is chock-full of camping families – and they are all happy to share their stories, top tips and favourite camping locations. One Facebook group in particular, called “Camping with Kids in Ireland”, is a great parent-to-parent resource for family-friendly camping around the country. Irish Country Living asked some group members for their top camping tips and, as suspected, they were only too happy to share:

Fiona, Co Wicklow

“I recommend hats and a warm coat. My kids love sitting by a campfire making s’mores. Put a hot water bottle in sleeping bags for an hour before bed. Can’t wait for camping season ’21!”

Hillary, Co Cork

“Make sure everyone is warm the very first night or it will turn everyone off for a lifetime! Good quality hooded sleeping bags are a must, as are bed socks and layers for PJ’s. Once you get sleep and are relatively cosy, the world is your oyster and it’s an amazing family experience.

“Be mindful, there are two types of campsites: one where there is endless action and activities happening and others where there is the simplicity of nature to enjoy. Personally l prefer the quieter campsites where kids end up exploring and investigating the natural world themselves. You will be amazed how quickly kids will learn to entertain themselves with just a ball, a playground and Mother Nature!”

Tricia, Co Cork

“The biggest tip is to stay calm and not to sweat the small stuff!”

Geraldine, Co Kildare

“Buy small plastic bottles of oil, you can refill after each trip – don’t use glass. Buy microfibre towels, they fold up small, dry quickly, and can also double up as beach towel – they don’t hold the sand. Buy big plastic buckets and leave at the door for shoes; especially on a damp day. Have cheap hotel slip-on slippers at the door.

“I like real glasses/mugs for my drinks, so I keep the original boxes with packaging – they last longer (break less frequently) in storage, and they don’t jump off the shelves after you open the press if you have just travelled down a bumpy road. Have a packing list, bring matches, keep van stocked with toiletries and don’t take them out; it saves having to pack them each time. Leave games, cards, books or coloured paper in the van for rainy day activities. Have music on your phone and a portable speaker.”

Campsites the group members recommend:

  • Fleming’s White Bridge Caravan Park, Killarney, Co Kerry.
  • Pure Camping eco-site, Loop Head, Co Clare.
  • Hidden Valley, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow.
  • Gosford Forest Park, Markethill, Co Armagh.
  • Eagle Point Camping, Ballylickey, Co Cork.
  • Ballinacourty House Caravan and Camping Park, Glen of Aherlow, Co Tipperary.
  • Nore Valley Park, Bennetsbridge, Co Kilkenny.
  • Rancho Reilly, Graiguecullen, Co Laois.