They say the worst day camping is better than the best day in the office. Who’s ‘they’? I’m not sure but someone must have said that at some point. I certainly agree – says someone who loves camping so much (and certainly prefers it to being an office) that we sold our house, quit our jobs and lived with our 3 kids in a camper trailer for 12 months. Of course, you don’t necessarily need to go to those extremes to enjoy camping (though I do highly recommend it ). Really all you need is somewhere to sleep, something to cook with and some time to escape.
These days, I would rather go camping than to a luxury resort. (And not (just) because of the obvious ie – that the financial situation of the above mentioned homeless unemployed transients tended not to be entirely compatible with five-star luxury). Why? Here’s why…
It’s good for you
I’m no scientist. Or doctor (though I am a lawyer – hence the unnecessary disclaimers and qualifications. And the use of the word hence) but I figure breathing in air in the form nature intended it (the great outdoors) has to be better than air of the conditioned variety, being pumped through pipes to your unnaturally lit desk. That you haven’t left for 10 hours. And about that. ‘They’ say sitting is the new smoking. As a former professional sitter on my butt, I know all about back aches, and sore shoulders and neck, and feeling stiff and lethargic.
You know what’s really good for that? Moving. Head outdoors and set up your camp, and you will be moving that butt, and those shoulders, and that neck. A lot. Camping is physical – and not in a monotonous treadmill kinda way. In an action-packed, setting up, lifting things, unhitching things, strapping things to things, climbing on top of the car to get bikes, riding bikes, trekking up hills, exploring, bushwalking, walking to the toilet that is (hopefully) further than two metres from your bed, hammering things, picking up firewood, scrambling over rocks, swivelling your head to take in the scenery all around, moving your whole body and using muscles you never even knew you had, kinda way. Of course, I then tend to partially offset all that good-for-you stuff, with quite a few wines by the campfire. But hey, antioxidants. Also good for you. So ‘they’ say.
After all that activity, when you finally do sit on your butt, or lie in your hammock, or hit the sack, it will be well deserved, with much satisfying muscle fatigue. Watch the sunset, see the stars come out in all their glory, uninterrupted by city lights, listen to the nighttime wildlife (and slap away at the night time bugs – not quite as relaxing). With not much else going on after the sun goes down(however – see below re campfire beverages and chatting), camping is the perfect excuse for an early night and all of the sleep, if you are so inclined.
I generally find sleep while rugged up under the stars, after a day out in the bush (or beach, or mountain, or river) to be of a much better quality than if I have been staring at a computer screen all day. After all that sleep you may find yourself refreshed enough to keep to daylight hours and see the sunrise, which is something most of us rarely get to enjoy enough in the ‘real world’. Be warned – if you happen to be in south WA in summer, the sun will start to peek through your tent at 3 freakin 38. AM. This is not at all civil. BYO eye mask if you don’t fancy starting your day before 5.
Enough said really. Who doesn’t love a good campfire? Possibly my favourite part of camping. The food, the chats, the ghost stories, the cuppa/hot chocolate/beer/wine [insert relaxing tipple of choice] – all improved while being mesmerised by the flames of the ‘bush tv’. Which for some, may lead to a few late nights, and less inclination to be up with the sun. The camping badge of honour, morning after, stinky-fire hair and clothes - perhaps not such an improvement – but worth it.
Resilience and creativity
You know that thing that everyone’s trying to be these days? That you’re somehow meant to be teaching your kids? That’s really awesome? Yes. That. Camping makes you tough, resilient and resourceful. And hardcore. And kinda cool (but also a bit smelly). Fact.
When you are high up in the mountains, by a river or beach, in the outback, or just somewhere out in nature, sometimes with no internet, often with no screens and no shops nearby - you just have to make do. Personally, I don’t mind screens. I find them to be terrific babysitters (Joke! Hahaha – sort of) and also providers of excellent info such as, ‘which movie have I seen that actor in before. It’s driving me crazy). However. You may find that poking around in rockpools looking for crabs, skimming rocks in rivers, building cubby houses with sticks and leaves, fishing, wildlife spotting, exploring beach caves and bush tracks and making up games, are all excellent screen time alternatives. And without screens, this strange thing tends to happen. You (gasp) talk. To. Each. Other. So quaint. But true. The art of conversation is alive and well in campgrounds, and by campfires, all over the country.
And it’s not just entertainment where you get to be creative. When your awning’s threatening to blow away in wild winds, your canvas is leaking, or your tent poles snap – you may need to channel MacGyver and get yourself out of a fix using only what you have in your backpack /4WD/ trailer. It may not be pretty. It may involve much duct tape and many cable ties. You may have to cut open the inner tube of your kid’s bike (sorry kid) for some much-needed rubber securing (fastened with duct tape – of course). But you make do. And have cool stories to tell forevermore. You also get to feel like Bear Grylls – without having to sleep in a camel carcass (did you see that one? Ew). When you have set up a shelter (preferably one not made of a deceased dromedary), built a fire, and cooked food outdoors – you can justifiably add a strut to your step when you return to your daily life. While you are camping you are man (or woman, or kid) versus wild.
While we were camping at Uluru, some friends came to visit from Sydney. Generally accustomed to only the most pristine of five-star travel, they had initially planned to stay at a hotel. After booking their flights, they discovered every single hotel, hostel, pub, cabin – anything with walls and a roof, was fully booked. And so much to our amusement, they brought a tent with them and camped next to us, in the red dirt. It was a totally different experience than if we had just met them at the pub for a drink, and they had gone back to their clean, air-conditioned suite. They got to experience the outback, the walking to the showers, the desert heat in the day and cold at night, the red dirt, campfires, snakes and camel poo, the limited cooking facilities and tag team use of plates and cups. We had an absolute ball. To quote my (pristine) friend – “I had to lower my personal hygiene standards – but it was otherwise quite enjoyable”. I know they, and we, will remember that more than any weekend getaway in a hotel. Getting out of your comfort zone, exposed to the elements and far removed from familiar daily life, is the stuff of great memories. If nothing else, it will make you seem incredibly interesting, and you will have loads of stories for dinner parties – when you return to the world of actually having a dinner table.
In addition to all the great benefits you can get while you are out there camping, we have found that our year on the road, has (no exaggeration) transformed our perspective on life. In towing our home behind us with very little storage, we were able to reassess how little we really do need. With a life less focussed on consuming, and accumulating stuff (well, other than more camp gear, which we have accumulated rather a lot of), and more focussed on getting out and doing things, we find we don’t need to make as much money to get by. Which means we don’t have to work as much – which means we have more time for camping. Camping has led to more camping – which is a far more enjoyable cycle than our former downward spiral of consumption, debt and stress. Whoa, that just got deep. Better get back to all the fresh air and getting off my butt. Camping rocks.
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