By Hayley Doyle
A week ago, I don’t think I would have said, I hate camping.
I’ve never been chased by a bear. Never had to poop in poison ivy. In fact, most of my camping memories are pleasant, if not a little dull. But last week, when a friend told me she was going camping, followed by, “…and I hate camping,” I had to laugh. Then on impulse I said, “So do I!” We felt instant relief telling each other this dirty (a-hem, well, clean) secret. We unleashed the demon. We listed all the things we simply hate about the whole faff. And no matter what way you look at it, even if you’re genuinely the most loved-up camping-lover ever; it’s a faff. Still, our conversation ended on a sour note. My friend was going camping. And she was dreading it.
Whenever the option of camping has been thrown my way, a voice I don’t recognise escapes me and says, YEAH! Woop! Then my shoulders tense a little. A knot forms in the pit of my stomach. I think about the cool box in the cupboard and start panicking about the fact that it’s never, ever big enough, but buying another means I’ll have to find somewhere to store that one, too. My head goes into overdrive. What we’ve got. What we need to borrow. There’s always a lot to buy. So in the same tone of voice, I try to suggest that we just stay in a hotel instead…won’t it work out cheaper anyway? And I’m snarled at left, right and centre for being the ultimate spoil sport.
Why is there so much pressure on being a happy camper? Why do we go, when we really, really don’t want to? Why do others make us feel rotten if we’re not up for it? I know plenty of people who’d rather poke their own eyes out than sit through a musical, so I don’t force them into the theatre to watch Les Mis. But I’m always scared to admit that I hate camping for fear I’ll be frowned upon. A disappointment. A misery-guts. A shallow, needy and self-indulgent princess who has no appreciation for the natural beauty of the earth. I mean, that’s one heck of a label. And as paranoid as I might be, even if my happy-camper pals have never called me by these names specifically, the look on their faces mixed with the sigh and eye-roll says enough. I am all of those things. When - and only when - it comes to camping.
But here’s the thing.
I believe there are more of us. Way, way, way more of us.
Honestly, there’s a whole world of people out there who hate camping. They’re just afraid of being shamed. With their head held high but their soul in the mud, they go. They post pics of the view, the tent, the fire, until their battery dies. They pretend they’re loving it. But wow, they’re glad to get home and crawl into their own bed three days later.
Whenever I’ve been camping, I’ve thrown myself into the spirit. However, I’m always amazed at how I seem to be enjoying myself more than the devout campers surrounding me. Their levels of stress are through the tree-tops before the “holiday” has even started. You see, I love to travel light. So when I followed the crowd to my first music festival, I borrowed a pop-up tent, took a sleeping bag and one bag of clothes and toiletries. I bought food and drink on site. The gang I was with - self-confessed camping enthusiasts - just fought solidly. From pitching to poles, from the gazebo to a set of fold-up chairs, somebody had either forgotten something vital, or broken it. There’s a lot of talk about the weather. It’s too hot. Too cold. Too windy. Too wet. Too dry. Yes! Some avid campers pray for rain to liven things up…I mean, I’d suggest that if the weather being perfect is a major factor in your enjoyment of a weekend away, don’t - erm- go camping.
Once, I remember spotting a family unloading their car. It was astonishing to see the amount of stuff they’d brought, much of it completely unrelated to camping. One kid had brought their whole bedroom; beanbags, cuddly toys, dolls, Lego (eek, fancy stepping on a bit of that when you stumble through the darkness for a wee). The boxes just kept on coming, as if the boot was bewitched with the same powers as Mary Poppins’ bag. It must have taken a day to pack up that vehicle, not to mention the hell of having to shove it all back in again come Monday morning. And all I heard was whining. The parents were whining at the kids to please, for God’s sake, stop constantly whining. Please!
These days, I have two small children who - surprise, surprise - love camping. We took them “glamping” last summer, but please don’t be fooled. Yes, we didn’t have to set up the tent. Yes, we had our own port-a-loo. Yes, we had mattresses on the floor with blankets. Yes, yes, fine! The setup was much more convenient than classic-style camping. But once settled in our tent, the glam became a regular cam quite quickly. My husband and I spent three days bent over, picking up stuff and tidying, but once we took our eyes off the kids for a nanosecond, they were halfway across a field. Due to this, we didn’t dare cook. Instead, a small fortune was spent on fancy food trucks, most of which sold spicy street grub, so our little ones survived on chips and lollipops after all attempts at introducing them to a more adventurous cuisine failed. And oh, how they cried. They were too cold. Then they were too hot. When it rained, they slid in the mud until the novelty wore off a minute later and they wanted to be carried. When the sun shone, finding shade was a mission, unless we stayed inside the tent. And boiled.
I thought about the simple pleasures of a hotel room. Four walls and a level ceiling so you don’t have to duck. A table to put stuff on. A toilet with minimal threat of spiders. You see, it’s not the being outdoors I don’t like. That’s lovely. And I’m a huge fan of sitting outside under the stars; genuinely love it. But it’s being crouched over for the best part of three days. The constant accumulating rubbish mixed with mud-sand-grass, and getting all of the above lodged into my things. It’s the stale stickiness of hand sanitiser that no matter how much you use, never makes your hands feel clean. The awkward morning queue for the shower amongst strangers, holding your toothbrush like a defence weapon. The lack of loo roll. The constipation. Come on, I know you’re nodding along with this.
Finally, who likes unpacking? Hands up? Ha. Exactly. Post-camping unpacking is the worst. Not only do you have the usual piles of washing, but you drag the mud-sand-grass combo into your home, and probably a few uninvited crawling guests, too. The cool box - yes, the one that was thought to be too small - is warm with leftover snacks and sticky liquid (?!?), so bring on the disinfectant.
To wrap it up, I’m going to hold my hands up and unashamedly admit it; I hate camping. I love eating alfresco, being under the stars, dancing, staying-up-late, singing, snacks, talking, laughing, the moon, more talking…I just don’t want to get bitten, then get cold, then hot, then wet, then dirty and staying dirty all the while bent over picking up rubbish and smelling a bit eeughh. If you’re into that, great. You do you, and I’ll do me.
Now, where’s that door card for the penthouse on the Palm…