Step one: pack for all weather. It doesn't matter if it's supposed to be sunny and 30 degrees for the entire length of your stay. If you're going camping, you need to pack as if you're going to be pounded with Siberian snow, and then soaked in a biblical deluge, and then treated to every other conceivable weather pattern there is.
Trust me, I've been there. I've been lying on the cold earth in the middle of the night, my airbed long since deflated, drips of rain falling from the roof of my tent, shivering violently in the freezing air and praying for dawn, all while trying to ignore my girlfriend's furious glares that were boring into my back.
I didn't plan that camping trip well. Here's another tip for making this stuff work: if you're going to introduce a loved one to this rustic, fun hobby of yours, make sure you get it right the first time. Because all it takes is one disaster, and there will never be another camping trip again.
I got it wrong that year at Falls Festival, down in Lorne. It can get cold in Victoria in the middle of summer, and I hadn't planned for it. Not even close. It got down to two degrees at night. It drizzled constantly. We didn't have the right clothes, and we didn't have the right equipment. The tent was leaky and smelled of mildew. The air mattress went down in the middle of the night, leaving my girlfriend and I resting on the cold, hard ground.
That was the time I'd chosen to introduce her to camping. We never went again.
Camping done right is one of travel's great experiences. It's brilliant in its simplicity, a way of communing with nature while getting around on the cheap. There's romance in a campfire and an easy meal. There's joy in listening to the sounds of the night through those thin nylon walls.
But you have to get it right. And with summer approaching and thoughts turning to plans of tent-bound adventure, it's time to consider how to do that.
The first trick is to prepare for all possibilities, or at the very least do some careful checking of the weather forecast and plan accordingly. Camping can very quickly go from the best thing in the world to the worst if you don't have the right gear.
Take a jumper. Take a raincoat. Take hiking boots. Take thongs. Throw in a beanie. Bring a towel.
Next, pack far too much food. It's better to have too much than too little, because if you're camping there's a good chance you won't be able to buy any extra supplies if you run out. Take more water than you need. Take more alcohol than you need. Take beer, take wine, take port, take whisky. (This is a valuable insight into how I run my camping trips.)
Choose one person to do the cooking on any given night. It sounds fun to have everyone pitching in for a camp dinner, but generally there's not enough space for one person to slice and dice, let alone three or four. Too many cooks really will spoil the broth. Get everyone else to sit down and work on those beers.
Choose one person to set up the tent and take it down again. Many a camping trip has been ruined by arguments over tent set-ups. If one of your party thinks he (and let's face it, it's a he) knows how to set the tent up properly, let him go gangbusters at it. Lend a hand when you're inevitably asked.
Lock your food up when you're not using it. It might just be in an Esky with a strong seal. But it has to go into something that wild animals can't break into. Because they will. I've had food stolen by everything from kookaburras to lions. Lock that stuff away.
Plan to be woken up early. Your attempts at a sleep-in while camping will inevitably be thwarted by everything from extreme heat to chorusing birds to really loud little kids. Prepare to bear the full brunt of your hangover when this happens. (This can be alleviated, however, with the consumption of cold sausages left over from the previous night's over-catering.)
Don't worry so much about showering. You're camping. You're going to be constantly grotty. Embrace it. Plus you'll probably be swimming at the beach or in a river or at a waterhole fairly regularly.
Try not to have to attempt to set up camp or pack it up while it's raining. It's a miserable job and everything will end up soaked. Leave it for a few hours if at all possible.
And then there's the most important thing to do on a camping trip, the number one priority: roll with the punches. Things are going to go wrong. This isn't a five-star resort with butler service. You're cooking your own meals, setting up your own flimsy accommodation, and leaving yourself open to the elements. There will be disasters.
Just be prepared to cop it. And make sure you pack a jumper.
What are your secrets to a successful camping trip? Have you had any disasters?