Camping: just you, your tent, the open air, the hard ground, outdoor toilets... what could possibly go wrong?
WAIT, WHY WOULD THAT BE FUN?
Because being woken up every morning by streaming sunlight and a dawn chorus worthy of a Disney princess is the best accommodation you can get for £15 a night; because despite a terrible reputation, sleeping bags are in fact one of the world's greatest inventions (when was the last time you woke up fully enveloped by your duvet?); and because contrary to popular belief, campsites do offer electricity and running water, although sometimes at a slight surcharge, so lights, phones, toilets and hairdryers don't have to become a distant memory of civilised life. Unfortunately, sushi does.
OKAY, WHERE SHOULD I GO?
The UK is great because every campsite boasts a lower proportion of flies/mosquitoes/spiders, and the ones you do encounter will be small, swattable and largely non-poisonous. Europe is better because you're more likely to see a little sun. America is such a vast country that naturally it has a lot of beautiful camping spots to choose from, not least its 59 vast National Parks (but watch out for the rattlers). Australia will burn you to a crisp, Tanzania involves climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and most other countries south of the equator will see you eaten alive by things with wings and too many legs.
WHAT SHOULDN'T I FORGET?
A tent - stranger things have been left behind.
Tent pegs - these are never where you left them after your last camping trip.
A hammer - and not just for swatting.
Sleeping bag, mat and pillow - (the latter two for the faint-of-heart only).
Chairs (ideally the folding kind) - there is nothing more soul-sapping than putting the final touches to your Swiss Family Robinson-rivalling encampment, breathing a sigh of contentment and then realising you've got nothing to sit on.
Cooking devices - something more sophisticated than a kettle and a handful of pot noodles.
Torches - as soon as you venture outside of the M25, things get pretty dark at night.
Insect repellent - however tempting it is, don't recreate the scene in The Parent Trap where the uptight step-mother falls prey to Hayley Mills/Lindsay Lohan's tricks and smothers herself in sugar water. Smokers will be happy to hear that lighting up is a useful, if self-destructive, way to keep the midges at bay. This is the only argument for smoking in the clean, open air.
String - useful for stringing between trees (as a makeshift washing line), for tying torches and bins to branches and bits of tent to other bits of tent.
IS THAT ALL?
As with a lot of things in life, there's camping and then there's camping. It's almost impossible to find a forest or a field dangerous enough to scare you witless in the UK, but if you're headed out to America or Canada, aka bear country, you might want to add a few things to that checklist: bear canisters, flares, a radio (preferably working). Malaria tablets are also key if you're journeying further than Slough.
WHAT IF I DON'T HAVE A TENT OR EVEN A TORCH?
If fiddling around with Halfords' assembly instructions and tent poles doesn't sound like your particular cup of boiled-on-a-trangia tea then you might want to look into glamping. That's glamorous camping. Made popular by celebrities and their festival 'tipis', glamping ensures your canvas home will be just as swish as your actual home, oftentimes more so. You can rock up sans rucksack or survival skills and still get to call yourself an intrepid camper, well, a happy one at least. Somewhere Bear Grylls is turning over in his four-season sleeping bag.
MAXIMUM BLUFFING VALUE
DO SAY 'Living en plein air is so much better for the soul than tramping through the city streets every day - in fact, I just threw my Oyster card into a recycling bin on Lake Garda.'
DON'T ASK 'Got the pegs?'
AND FIVE USEFUL CONVERSATIONAL GAMBITS WHEN CAMPING
1/ Mention Mike Leigh's unmissable camping play 'Nuts in May', and remember the following quotes: 1/ 'Keith, do we have to stick to the schedule?' 2/'You're not listening Candice Marie'.
2/ 'Take nothing with you except your memories. Leave nothing behind but your footprints.' (It's a hoary old cliché, but the sentiment is correct.)
3/ 'There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.'*
4/ 'Was that a shooting star, or a UFO? Or an airbus?'
5/ (Looking at the night sky): 'Where does it end? Come to think about it, where does it all begin?'**
* (Read The Bluffer's Guide to Hiking)
** (Read The Bluffer's Guide to the Quantum Universe for as good an answer as you're likely to get on this.)
Happy Bluffing from Bluffers.com