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Beginner’s guide to campsite life

A key ingredient in any camping and caravanning holiday is freedom. And for the first timer, holidaying with your tent, caravan or motorhome really opens up new horizons

We assume at this point that you have the kit sorted: your tent is the right size for your party; the caravan is correctly matched to your tow car; the campervan is not overloaded with dead weight. We assume you have planned your safety equipment (hi-viz jackets, warning triangles etc). And we assume you have all the paperwork in order (appropriate insurance, legal necessities for foreign countries and so on).

All that is required is to arrive at your chosen destination, be it a campsite in North Wales or a campsite in the Dordogne, and start getting in to the swing of being a fully-fledged camper or caravanner.

Girl with dog and luggage
Girl with dog and luggage

New to campsite life?

For the uninitiated, today’s family-friendly campsites are a revelation. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder of course and not all campsites appeal to all campers. It’s very much a case of ‘horses for courses.

You’ll need to choose between campsites which are smaller, quieter and really quite simple, with lower prices and campsites which are more all-singing, all dancing with a wealth of facilities and, yes, higher pitch fees.

Father and son toasting marshmallows over campfire
Camping is often a lot more civilised than you think but there is always time to enjoy the simple pleasures

Continental campsites tend to have pitches that are well-demarcated, often with attractive hedges and colourful shrubs. These are usually around 100 square metres (often smaller as you get closer to the coast). Many are exceptionally attractive, created in the grounds of a country house or an old farm. UK campsites are more open plan, with a few trees dotted about, and with gravel or hard standing pitches.

Campsites are friendly places so be prepared to greet strangers with a friendly greeting. Nowhere is this more apt than at the washing up area! On many sites, this is a busy and sociable place where the washing of the dishes and the exchange of gossip, banter and top tips makes it less of a chore than one might expect.

BBQ with sausages
A group BBQ is a great social event

Campsite entertainment

There’s always something going on a campsite. Something to entertain, even if it’s only people watching. Evenings are often an opportunity to enjoy a little organised entertainment. This does not have to strike terror into the heart of hardened haters of ‘organised fun’. Depending on location it might be Breton bagpipes, a Scottish dancing demonstration, a cheesy song and dance routine or a just-for-fun mock talent show. Continental campsites will often lay on a culinary special such as a massive paella or barbecue, along with local wine, so it’s not that difficult to enjoy a convivial evening.

Wake up to croissants!

Eating and drinking

Where the campsite has its own bar and restaurant, catering was never so easy. Many UK campsites have some kind of snack service, possibly a bar. On the continent, the sky’s the limit with fully-fledged restaurants, frequented by locals and convivial bars, often in attractively converted outbuildings.

A campsite bar is of course a convivial meeting point but also a place where you can pick up local information and tips on where to go and what to see. And a takeaway service can be a lifesaver, meaning minimal cooking but the convenience of eating ‘at home’ where you can keep an eye on the younger kids perhaps. 

Girl on treetop adventure course
Discover the range of entertainment programmes that are offered

Campsite activities

Where campsites have a swimming pool it is often the focal point. On the continent impressive pool complexes are increasingly the norm for the more commercially developed campsites, with waterslides and chutes, lagoons and bridges being commonplace. Expect to find bigger and better aqua parks the further south you travel, with some epic examples in southern France, Spain and Italy

Use of the campsite pool will be free and there are other ways for the kids to enjoy themselves on site at no extra cost. Depending on location you may find adjacent woods where they can have adventures in a safe environment, an open grassy area for kicking a ball around, or a play area with swings and slides. Above all kids want action and there’s nowhere better to find it than on a campsite. 

Some facilities offered by campsites require a small charge. These may include activities like mini golf, bike hire or canoeing. Other activities often found on campsites might include tennis, fishing, riding, windsurfing and archery. 

Larger sites may have full-on aqua parks or golf courses

First timers’ tips when abroad

Yes, a campsite is a campsite but there are certain considerations when travelling across the English Channel. 

  • Campsite receptions can be open long hours, but often close over lunch – try to arrive after 2pm.
  • On disembarking from the ferry follow ‘Toutes Directions’ signs until you pick up your route.
  • Continental routes are easy – just follow signs to the next major town or city on your route.
  • In some countries (eg Netherlands or Italy) you may find cars are not allowed on the pitch, for safety and quietness. Separate parking areas are provided.
  • Remember you may need to order your morning bread (and croissants) the night before – saves disappointment.
  • Don’t be alarmed if you come across unisex toilets or showers – some still exist, especially in France.
  • On returning late from a night out, you may find the barrier locked (often at 11pm). Ask at reception before departure and expect to leave the car parked outside the gates.
  • When departing early (to catch a ferry perhaps) remember that the barrier will be closed – check the night before and make arrangements at reception.
  • If planning on using the campsite’s electrical hook up, you’ll need a euro electric socket, widely available from accessory shops. A 25m lead should be ample, so you can plug in to the nearest socket conveniently. Most campsites are well used to welcoming guests with differing international electrical standards. 
  • If in any doubt, just ask. People are generally very happy to assist first timers and you’ll soon be completely at home.