Camping or car camping is like any other kind of travel – the better you prepare, the better the trip will be. Although, a pinch of improvisation is a required skill when being in nature.
We’ve made a list of tips when camping and mistakes to avoid to give you a better understanding of how things work (or not) when you decide to set off for this outdoor adventure.
1. Picking a wrong campsite
“What could go possibly wrong with that?”, you might ask. Yup, it sounds obvious to pick a campsite you would enjoy staying at, but your choice is crucial here.
Camping near the water source (river, lake, sea)
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It sounds romantic, but it could have a catch or two. Firstly, mosquitos. Unavoidable particularly in the summer season. Get a proper repellent, and you should be fine. Otherwise, pick a campsite further away from the water source.
Camping in a family-friendly campsite
When you have a bunch of kiddos on the board, there is nothing more satisfying than someone allowing your little ones to run around, providing some outdoor playing areas and on top of that — nobody will ask you to tame those wild creatures 🙂
However, be cautious about family-friendly camps when travelling without children. I’ve seen cases when receptionists had to turn down some travellers only because they had no kids in the vehicle. Do your homework and check the rules of the campsite properly so you do not get disappointed. Works the other way around, too. Some campsites welcome solely adult clientele.
Campground vs. dispersed camping
The first one offers a designated area for camping while the latter is called “primitive camping” for a reason. There is little to no service including fire pits, cooking facilities, and sometimes even toilette is a scarce place to find there. Not to mention trash removal service, which is entirely your duty. Well, with freedom comes more responsibility.
2. Arriving late
Most people prefer camping over hotels for different reasons, but some first-time campers forget that check-in is a tad different in nature than at a hotel.
You want to see your camping spot in daylight to be able to clear out the area from some stones, and branches, or just not to have some bad surprises in the morning (compost box right behind your car or tent, mediocre view while the other spots have stunning ones, being next to toilets). Arriving in the daytime is particularly important when doing car camping so that you avoid parking on uneven ground or slightly downhill, which might be easily overlooked in the dark.
3. Pitching a tent close to the entrance or bathroom area
Both places get busy in the morning when you might crave some extra sleep after a long drive or fun night. And then in the evening, when some latecomers arrive so the area gets louder, and it’s time when most of the campers are getting ready for bed or for a night out and need to use a shower.
4. Waiting for the shower till evening
Similarly to hostels, hot water is a precious commodity at the campsites. Despite a friendly reminder on the walls “Keep your shower short”, lots of folks ignore it. Get a shower late afternoon or super early morning. It’ll feel even better, especially if it got nippy during the night.
5. Setting a campfire right in front of your tent/car
You might have promised your beloved one some romantic night under the stars, hence this idea. But you will need to respect campsite rules where exactly you can set up your bonfire. In this case, safety first counts double when you share a campsite with other travellers. Some campsites do allow campfires at all, please respect it. I am sure you find other ways to prove your romantic side to your partner.
When wild camping, it’s best not to set up a fire – use a camping stove instead. But if you have to or you are in an area that allows that – it’s still better to keep it far from your vehicle as it might damage your paint or your car will be full of smoke that you won’t be able to get rid of for days.
6. Leaving your food unattended
Animals do roam. To campsites, too. Check our experience at the Croatian Camp Baldarin. Be aware of that when finishing a meal in front of your tent or car or when leaving the premises of the campsite.
Bring your own portable food containers to store food safely. Also, no matter how tempting it might be, avoid feeding wildlife. It will do more harm than good. To the animals, as well as to campers who come after you.
7. Exposing your valuables
The fact that only hippies with limited budgets do camping is a myth. There are all kinds of people staying at the camps, and one of the mistakes some of those wealthier campers do is that they follow the urge to showcase their valuables, especially electronics or other gear.
Not saying you should not enjoy your fancy brand-new camping table set, but there is no need to put on that table your costly camera or jewellery. Although in most cases campers are a bunch of friendly pals, and we haven’t had a bad experience yet, better be safe than sorry. Especially on the campsite with no 24/7 security or camera system.
8. Leaving a comfy cushion at home
Although I am a big fan of minimalism when it comes to packing for car camping, a comfortable cushion is a must. Surely, you can replace it with a rolled-up sweater, a mat or your backpack. But if you need to put on that sweater due to cold temperatures, and your backpack is full of food or electronics, you can forget about quality sleep. A small cushion will do, but why not take your favourite home cushion? The car won’t mind and your back will thank you. For more handy tips, check out our post Gear up for your summer camping trip.
9. Sleeping on an inflatable mattress
You want to feel as comfy as possible when sleeping in the woods, totally understandable. But if you convert your car into a proper camping vehicle, no need to bring any redundant stuff. Moreover, without a proper mat, those mattresses tend to crack anyway. Bring a regular and a good quality sleeping bag, that makes a miracle. I’ve written a post about car mattress options and alternatives.
10. Relying on nearby groceries/restaurants
This is one of the most common beginner mistakes when camping. Even if you check the availability of supermarkets, groceries and some local bistros when looking for a campsite, remember to do some decent food preparation at home as well.
Here are some basic tips when camping further from the convenience stores:
- Buy some fresh fruits and veggies
- Take some cooked food for the first day or two if not carrying a portable cooler
- Stock up on canned food – beans, legumes etc last forever and can be eaten warm or cold
- Always have enough drinking water with you – best to have an emergency canister somewhere in the car.
- Have some emergency food supplies like nuts, protein bars, dried fruits, canned food, you name it. It will save you time commuting to the grocery store every time you get munchies.
11. Underestimating the weather
This includes poor tent, sleeping bag and clothes choices. Keep in mind that temperature in places at higher altitudes might get high during the day, but drops drastically at night.
If you feel warm when getting to bed, just put an extra jumper (best with a hood – you can lose a lot of body heat through your head) next to you, or even better — wear some long sleeve shirts and leggings or underwear. These will definitely keep you warm all night and won’t make you sweaty.
It is also always easier to insulate yourself (your body) with good clothing and a sleeping bag than having to insulate the entire car – so make sure your sleeping bag is designed for the temperatures you are planning to sleep in.
12. Forgetting about the sunlight
When you camp during the scorching hot months, you want to pitch your tent ideally under a tree (only when you are sure there is no storm approaching!), or at least facing the north so the sun doesn’t hit your tent from early morning. Unless you are a big fan of sauna retreats in the woods.
13. Missing essential camping gear
No need to go on shopping spree when packing for your camping adventure, but it’s good to bring some handy essentials that would make your camping easier. Let me mention three of them: a headlamp, a first aid kit (if you do car camping, you are already covered), and a hammock. The last one might seem like a luxurious item, but once you get that dreamy camping spot among pine or palm trees, you’ll be grateful for squeezing it into your backpack or a car later. Not sure what to pack? Check our tips on car camping essentials with a printable checklist.
14. Leaving trash behind
The rule is simple. You leave the camping grounds in the same (if not better) condition as you found it. That includes taking away all your trash with you, including food leftovers. In the article Leave No Traces Behind they summed it up nicely.
15. Not saving your location on the map
Heading out for a hike? Remember to save the location of the campsite on your phone map, especially if you are in the area for the first time and you intend to venture a bit further from the campsite. The last thing you want when car camping is getting lost and desperately waiting for the night so that you can see some lights in the distance in order to get back.
16. Keeping all windows closed
This is one of the most frequent mistakes when car camping — being too afraid to leave your window open. You are going to occupy a tiny space, breathing will make the air stiff, it also creates moisture, and all your camping experience might turn into a sleepless nightmare.
Should it rain, your life will be easier with window deflectors.
17. Not having an awning or a car tent
It is not a necessity to get a car awning or car (tailgate) tent, but they do make a huge difference, especially when you are camping for a longer period of time.
The key advantage is having dry space outside of your car – for when you need to pop out during the night, leave your shoes or prepare food and it’s raining. A tent will also extend your living area a lot – for storage, food preparation or even sleeping. Not sure where to start? Read what car tents or awnings are best and where to get them.
That additional dry patch outside of your car in any weather will make a world of difference.
18. Packing too many luxuries
It’s nice to have some luxuries, but we often make the mistake of packing them all – just to realise later that our car is too full and we can’t find anything or we have to move 15 things around before reaching that one thing we need. It’s better to have more room and order in your car storage. But – a car can carry more than your back, so you can always pack a bit more when car camping compared to camping in a tent without a car.
Take the essential camping gear plus a bunch of things you know you will really value (like a good coffee maker or a quality pillow, a foldable chair to sit on outside) and leave the rest at home – so you have something to look forward to upon your return!
19. Leaving your dry clothes far from you
Are you one of those who stays constantly with their feet cold? Here is one of our favourite tips when camping — stuff the bottom of your sleeping bag with your dry clothes. They will not only warm up your frozen toes but also keep moisture away. Read more of those cool camping hacks here.
These are our tips when camping and how to avoid possible mistakes so you get the most out of your holiday. Hopefully, you’ve found them useful, and if we’ve forgotten about something important and you are keen to share, do it in a comment below!
Founder of NimbleCamper.com, avid traveler and outdoor enthusiast. Car camping and microcamping allows me to keep traveling and exploring with a much greater level of freedom & privacy – to go anywhere and sleep anywhere. I didn’t have 30K to buy a VW Multivan, so found my way to the world of everyday car camping conversions. Here I share my experiences and what I learn.