A night under canvas won't appeal to everyone, however, if you are looking for beautiful locations, getting closer to nature, saving a few pounds or taking advantage of organised leisure activities it may be the choice for you. Modern campsites offer a whole host of features in many lovely settings. This article looks at what camping under canvas has to offer and how to go about booking your trip.

Why choose tents

Changes in lifestyles, the growth in festivals and books such as cool camping have all helped re-invigorate the camping market with a whole new generation of campers. Regular campers will advise you that some of the benefits of camping under canvas include:

  • Cheap costs.
  • A fantastic range of locations.
  • Living in the great outdoors - Children in particular find it great fun.
  • Many sites have organised leisure facilities such as kids clubs, activities.
  • Flexibility - You could decide to go camping on the day, and are likely to find a pitch easily enough.

However, I appreciate that the lack of a bathroom & running water in a tent still make it a big no for many people.

Whether to take your own tent

Once you've decided to give camping a go, then one of your first decisions will be whether you want to take your own tent or go for a pre-erected tent as part of a package.

The advantages of a pre-erected tent are that there's no tent or camping equipment to transport, leaving you more room in the car (or plane luggage) and free time when you arrive / depart. Also the camping package tour operators can offer very competitive prices due to the cheap pitch fees they negotiate with many sites. This can mean that taking your own tent isn't always the cheaper option.

On the other hand buying a tent gives you the flexibility to go where and when you want, rather than a list of resorts. Researching and booking your pitches selectively can cut down costs. Joining the Camping and Caravanning Society for instance gives you access to lots of good deals that they have negotiated with sites.

One thing I would say is that before you buy a tent; do check out whether camping is for you. EBay for instance lists many tents that have been used the once and then re-sold a few years later.  If it is going to be your first time under canvas they why not consider using one of the camping tour operators who supply you with a pre-erected tent or borrowing a tent from family or friends.

Where you want to go

This is where you really need to do a bit of research. Bear in mind the following factors:

Weather With any holiday is an important factor, but it's particularly important with camping. Staying in a tent during a week of torrential rain can be a trial for many people. Others might describe it as part of the camping experience. However, researching the time and location carefully can increase your chances of good weather. There are several websites that can help with weather research, advising on historic average rainfall in areas such as weather2travel or Weather.

Facilities With campsites these can range from toilet facilities to swimming pool complexes, play areas, shops, bars, kids clubs, lakes, beaches, etc. There are plenty of websites where you can research facilities provided at campsites, please refer to the booking your trip section below.

Attractions nearby As with any holiday it's always handy to have places to visit nearby. Particularly if the weather turns bad and you don't want to be sat in the tent. The campsites own web site will normally list what is available. You can also search for tourist information on the area.

Journey times It's likely with a campsite that you will take your own car. So travel times and distances to get there with all your stuff is a big consideration. Use a website like the AA, RAC or Michelin to work out journey times. Also if it's in Europe you need to consider ferry costs and journey times.

Booking your trip:

Your choices are:

  • The campsite direct,
  • Package operators

I haven't found a comparison site for camping or caravanning yet.

Campsites Direct

One of the first places to start if you are planning to go camping a few times is the non-profit making Camping and caravanning society. Joining it gives you access to lots of good deals that they have with campsites. There's also a regularly updated book listing over 4000 campsites in the UK. The Club provides a variety of other services and is a not-for-profit organisation, run by its members.

There are quite a few independent web sites out there listing campsites, with reviews, contact details etc. A number of the bigger sites include:

UKCampsites Contains thousands of campsite details and over 55,000 independent reviews, links to web pages and more.
KwickBreaks 2,650 UK campsites and holiday parks with search facilities.
BigFreeGuide Caravan and camping directory that lists parks at no cost to the owners.
EuroCampings Very handy listings of European campsites, but doesn't go into much detail about each site.
CampingFrance Simple directory style. Have pictures, but limited information.
AlanRogers Since 1968 the Alan Rogers Guides have been the one of the market leading campsite guides to the best inspected and selected campsites across Europe. This site lists campsites and information and allows bookings etc.

Package Operators

Many of the campsite operator's coverage spans tents, mobile homes and chalets (includes lodges/cottages). So I've put details of all the main operators together on one article entitled Campsite Operators.



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