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Alastair Humphreys' Tips For Microadventures With Kids

The idea of a family microadventure – sleeping outside, away from home comforts and technology - can be a daunting one for parents and kids alike. But, with the right kit and a bit of planning, it can be one of the easiest and lowest-cost ways to get the kids outside and foster that valuable time together. Don’t just take our word for it, though – here are some tips and a bit of inspiration from parents who have actually done it, collated by National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and microadventure expert Alastair Humphreys.

Sam and Katie, parents of a two-year old and a baby on the way, from Edinburgh:

Tell us about your microadventure with kids.

Good weather in April is the prime window for camping in Scotland, before the dreaded midges emerge. Seeing high pressure forecast for the weekend, we jumped on the chance and left Edinburgh late afternoon on Friday, chucked the camping gear in the car, and drove down to Dumfries and Galloway. I wanted to revisit a remote and beautiful beach I used to go to as a child, which is about a 5km walk along a track to the end of a headland. We set off from the car around 5pm, and took Arthur’s balance bike - he loved zooming along the track for a couple of km before his legs tired. 

 

We arrived at the beach around 6.30, and it was as I remembered. A beautiful stretch of white sand clasped at the end of the headland. It was deserted and we pitched our two-person tent on the sand above the high water mark. Arthur shares the excitement of most children about getting into a tent once it’s first up. A dinner of quick cook pasta and sauce, followed by custard, on a small gas stove. Then we collected a good pile of driftwood together, with Arthur clambering about looking for sticks. We watched the sunset, lit the fire, and Katie and I shared the single beer we’d carried in. We tried briefly to put Arthur to sleep in the tent alone, but soon realised, with a small two-person tent, it would be easier to wait a bit and all turn in together. The night was reasonably cramped, and as usual the smallest person ended up taking most of the room, while I rolled downhill into a heap in the bottom of the tent.

 

The next day dawned calm, clear and blue skies. We spent the morning playing on the beach, damming a stream and making pools, paddling in the bracing water, and clambering over rocks. Apart from us, the beach remained deserted. Around 12 we had lunch and walked slowly back.

What was good about your microadventure? What would you do differently next time?

Camping in April means no midges, and it does not get light too early. Camping for just one night means you don’t need too much food, keeps the weight low. Choosing somewhere with a relatively short approach means you can take your time, go at toddler pace, and it’s not too far back if the weather changes or something goes wrong. Don’t set your sights too high. All we had planned after the night camping was to play on the beach and wander back. There was no hurry to pack up, no schedule to keep. Once you slow down to a toddler pace and allow them to lead, life become much simpler and more relaxed.

 

I think eventually we will have to get a bigger tent, once the next baby arrives, as three of us in a two-person tent is getting cramped! Also, the balance bike was probably not worth the extra weight, although it did provide some variety and independence.

What advice would you give to the parents of children who like the theory of family microadventures but are daunted by the reality?

Start small, and work with the weather. Pick a good forecast, and camp somewhere even if it just the back garden, the local woods, or a nice spot just a few hundred metres from the car. Scale your ambitions to the children, it’s for them to enjoy!

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Charlie is a mum of two boys, aged 9 and 11, from Cornwall:

Tell us about your microadventure with kids.

My boys love camping out and have always wanted a den of their own. Unfortunately our house is not surrounded by countryside and our garden is the size of a postage stamp so my husband came up with the genius idea of building them a den in the garage where they can hang out and also sleep the night.

What was good about your microadventure?

My sons felt like it was a real adventure fitting out the den with all their camping gear like sleeping bags, pillows, torches and special twinkly lights. They are only sleeping three meters away from their own bedroom but they absolutely love this little bit of excitement and independence.

What advice would you give to the parents of children who like the theory of family microadventures but are daunted by the reality?

It’s not always as hard as you think it’s going to be, and you never end up needing all of the tons of stuff you’ve squeezed in the boot of the car. Most kids are capable of much more than we parents realise because they are so rarely outside of their comfort zones. We all want to keep our kids safe but adventure alongside a little calculated risk lights them up. I have noticed that when we go on an adventure my kids seem more contented and chirpy for days, sometimes even weeks after and nothing makes me happier than hearing them regale their mates with stories of their expeditions. Let them test out their own limits and capabilities, even if it means two or three nights of broken, restless sleep for the parents (I can’t sleep a wink in a tent!).

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Wanda, mum of two from Wiltshire:

Tell us about your microadventure with kids.

One great microadventure last year, we went to the playing field about 800m from our house. A meteor shower was forecast. We took a highly-visible pop up tent but no one asked us about it as we didn’t see another soul. We’d brought all the camping gear, plus lots of woollen blankets (the scratchy ones which are actually warm). Being so close to home meant bringing loads of gear wasn’t a problem.

What was good about your microadventure?

The 8-year-old climbed into his sleeping bag while my 12-year-old and I wrapped ourselves in said scratchy blankets and watched the meteor shower and talked about life, the universe and everything. It was magical. Next time, I wouldn’t share a sleeping bag with my child. They wriggle. All. Night. Long.

What advice would you give to the parents of children who like the theory of family microadventures but are daunted by the reality?

Start small – go somewhere so close you could easily walk/drive home if you’ve had enough. Maybe even plan not to camp out the first time but set up the tent, eat your wild supper, and then sleep at home. Or try a micro-adventure in the garden so you can be sure you have everything you need when you’re further from home.

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Nina, mum to three girls aged 9, 13 and 16, from Cornwall:

Tell us about your microadventure with kids.

I am a pretty skint but happy single mum of 3 girls. We have very basic kit so we like microadventures because it is free and you don’t need any stuff! Also can’t afford a ‘proper adventures’ abroad so this boosts our confidence and makes us feel that we have a life! 

 

We have decided to microadventure once every month throughout the year. January was the woods in biblical rain with mates, February was dark spooky woods, me and Sunny (daughter aged 13) in orange survival bags on a school night, Mach was a field next to the Camel Estuary with mates.

What was good about your microadventure?

We always feel as if we have had a much bigger trip and adventure than we actually have. It never needs much planning, we just do it. Even in dodgy weather we still go and still love it. Whatever happens it’s OK as it’s only one night. We overcome fears and anxieties about things like the deep dark woods.

 

The first time in January we were going to use a tent for some of us as it was cold and super wet, we forgot the tent poles so used the tent as a ground sheet and slept under a tarp and were actually fine. I think that’s the point, it’s one night, it doesn’t matter what goes wrong.

What advice would you give to the parents of children who like the theory of family microadventures but are daunted by the reality?

For wild camping especially, be subtle about where you choose. I make sure that we are not drawing any attention to ourselves when we arrive. I usually don’t even park anywhere near where we are sleeping so as not to arouse any interest or nosey-ness! Don’t take much kit, it will look like you are just on a walk. Make sure you have mobile signal. You may be nervous but act like you’re not and in the morning everyone feels like a million dollars for having done it.

 

I would ask them to come with us (https://nikwildartist.wixsite.com/curious-and-wildon) a fair weather day and time of the year, provide them with things they don’t have to take all of the barriers away. I would also take their kids with us if they were not up for it and let the kids use pester power when they get back! Offer to go camping with them but then camp out without a tent, use a bivvi or hammock instead. I think some people need to see it to believe it.