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Parkers' guide to camping: cars, campers, pets, kids and kit

  • Camping is becoming more popular as households look to cut costs
  • If you're thinking about a UK staycation, there are a few things worth considering 
  • Read on to find out Parkers' top tips for a great camping trip

Written by Graham King Published: 13 May 2024 Updated: 13 May 2024

Folding chairs and ground-level sleeping arrangements may not be for everyone but camping has always held a special place in the hearts of many British holidaymakers. Though interest may have waned pre-pandemic, since 2020 camping culture has been back on the rise.

Camping holidays offer rich and unique experiences, usually for a lower price than a trip abroad may cost. Though campers may have previously suffered from aching discomfort in the name of finding fresh air, with the support of a camping vehicle, there’s no reason why modern camping can’t be comfortable and hygienic.

Exploring the countryside may also present British motorists with the opportunity to drive some of the nation’s greatest roads, all without a passport in sight.

On this page, we’ll explore what makes a great camping car, what to look out for when considering a camping vehicle, and what extras you may want to take. We’ll also explore what makes a great campervan along with a breakdown of some great portable amenities to take along, too.

What’s the best car for camping?

There are plenty of options to choose from with lots of features to consider. Ultimately, though, we recommend opting for a car with a decent amount of boot space for all the camping kit. An SUV would make a top voice by virtue of their high ground clearance – great for traversing rough terrain on the way to the camping spot – along with plenty of room for your kit.

Motorhome by the beach
Motorhome by the beach

If you’re looking to venture far into the unknown, you’ll want the right car for the job. When crossing uneven or potentially slippery terrain full of sharp protruding terrors of the natural world, there is no substitute for a great off-roader.

While all SUVs will offer you the space, some are better at off-road driving than others. Be sure to check out our Off-roader of the year 2023 or learn more about how to drive off-road. Want to take the full family along, too? Why not opt for a great used family off-roader and pick one up on a budget.  

If your camping car demands start and end with space in the back, a van might be the perfect camping vehicle for you. Our own Adam Binnie put the Ford Transit Custom Trail through its paces as a camping vehicle during a long-term update, investigating just how well a van would fare as a camping car.

However, estate cars also feature great boot space for all your camping kit and could be more practical for day-to-day use. These family workhorses are usually more efficient than SUVs, too.

It’s worth noting that, if you intend on towing a trailer, you should check the towing capacity of your vehicle to ascertain that it’s fit for the job. For more information, be sure to check out our towing capacity guide.

Camping extras

There’s nothing like the clean air of the countryside for a moment’s respite from urban life, but that doesn’t mean a little bit of civilization can’t come with you on your next camping trip. Along with your tent, cooker, and any other extras, you may want to consider a few portable amenities to ensure you stay clean and hygienic on your next trip away.

We recommend starting with a portable toilet – you don’t know how long the queues may stretch for your camping site khazi every morning if it features public toilets at all. Rather than doing away with every ounce of dignity, invest in toilet – there are sanitation options aplenty.

If you’d like to maintain a certain degree of hygiene while away, you could also opt for a portable washing station. Many campsites offer public showers as standard but why not go for a portable bathtub instead? Amidst the vivacious midges of a long summer evening, a soothing soak among nature’s finest may just hit the spot.

If you’d like to keep your living quarters fresh for a comfortable camping trip away, consider an air conditioning unit for your campervan. It’s also worth noting, Tesla cars, such as the Model 3, have a ‘camp mode’ which keeps the cabin at a comfortable temperature for sleeping in overnight.

Though we advise packing as light as you can to save space and weight, we also recommend investing in a decent bed to ensure you get some valuable sleep while away.

Invest in a cot bed for some much-needed shuteye and don’t forget to pack comfy shoes, specifically for the camp area (there’s no nicer feeling than whipping your hiking boots off after a full day of walking).

Should I buy a campervan instead?

Campervans are currently enjoying a renaissance and we wouldn’t blame you for wanting to get in on the action. Even Mazda Bongo prices have climbed, and they haven’t been around for almost two decades. As far as campervans go, if you’re sure want a factory-built camper, few models are as popular nor as capable as the VW California.

VW Gran California 680
VW Grand California

The California comes in a range of different sizes, so you may want consider which California is right for you. Alternatively, if you’d prefer a rolling home with a little more space and luxury, you could consider a motorhome instead. Auto Sleepers has been producing some of the most luxurious motorhomes on the market for decades in its Kingham range, though be sure to check out our guide on buying a motorhome for more guidance.

DIY campervans

While factory-bought campervans are comfortable and commodious rolling home solutions, they can also be very expensive. If you’d like to go campervanning on a budget, you may want to consider carrying out the campervan conversion yourself.

It’ll likely cost you some blood and sweat, but a DIY campervan conversion could save you a significant amount of money. Be sure to check out our guide on DIY camper conversions or, alternatively, pay for a professional camper renovation service instead.

What are the rules for camping in the UK?

Nissan Micra with tent
Nissan Micra with a tent

Camping in the UK isn’t as straightforward as it could be. For a start, there are different rules around where you can camp. Scotland allows wild camping, meaning you can pitch your tent anywhere, whereas rules in England and Wales require you to be in an officially licensed campsite.

Top tip: Wherever you choose, pick an area where you’ll do the least amount of damage to the biodiversity in the immediate vicinity.

Can I sleep wherever I want in my campervan?

Within reason. Contrary to popular belief, it is not illegal to sleep in your vehicle in England and Wales, If you decide to stop and sleep in your caravan on a public road, you may be asked by the local authority to leave.

However, if you are over the drink or drug-driving limits while in a public space, on a public road or in a layby, you could face up to three months’ imprisonment, a fine of up to £2500 or a possible driving ban.

The limits for England and Wales are:

  • 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood (the ‘blood limit’)
  • 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath (the ‘breath limit’)
  • 107 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine (the ‘urine limit’)

The limits for Scotland are much lower, at 50mg per 100ml of blood.

While parking up by the side of the road is a recommended solution if you’re feeling drowsy or over-tired behind the wheel, for a full night’s sleep, you might find heading to a designated campsite a bit quieter. Once on a private camping site, you won’t have any legal obligation to stop drinking.

The car parks of service stations see a lot of drivers coming and going, slamming doors shut, etc—not the greatest environment for some shuteye.

Campsite parking

The benefit of staying in a campsite is that you should be able to use all the facilities. Usually campsites will have designated areas for cooking, showering and more home-from-home toilet facilities. Wild camping relies on you carrying your toilet paper in and back out (prep with a Ziploc bag and lightweight trowel) to maintain a ‘Leave No Trace’ policy. 

If you plan on camping with a tent, you’ll need a designated spot—ideally away from water. If you have a campervan or motorhome, you’re going to want to ensure you select a site which allows you to hook up to the mains electricity and water. 

Campervan at night
Campervan at night

Where can I eat?

Campsites operate their own policies about the use of gas stoves, single-use barbeque and portable BBQ sets. Some have their own little shops for essential provisions – in case you’ve forgotten something – but all will have information and directions to the nearest supermarket. 

Keeping things cool, in cool boxes or portable chillers, isn’t easy.

Top tip: While the destination supermarket might be pricier than your local one at home, food spoilt by being out of the fridge too long renders shopping before you travel a false economy. Budget for shopping where you camp.  

Of course, there are probably going to be local eateries if you’re an area that’s not too remote. Remember to check that they’re child and pet-friendly, if needs be. 

What kit do I take camping?

If you plan on camping a fair distance away from the car, you’ll want to pack light to save yourself some energy before setting up. Depending on how far away you intend on camping, though, you may want to pack a few extra luxuries for the sake of your trip.

If your car is on the small side, consider renting a bigger car or retrofitting your existing car with roof racks or a towbar. This way you can pack the majority of your items in a cargo carrier or trailer, though be sure to check out our guide on towing first.


Bike riding is one of the most popular camping trip past times. It’s a great way of getting out and getting some exercise while seeing a lot of the surrounding area in a short period of time. To bring your own bike along, we recommend fixing a bike rack to your car.

For some extra guidance on which bike rack is right for you, check out our bike rack comparison test.

Navigating using Maps on Android Auto (Google Maps), Apple Carplay or Waze can make the journey getting there smoother and less fraught. A holiday isn’t a holiday if it’s stressful. Give yourself plenty of cushion time to allow for traffic, impromptu toilet stops and other unexpected delays. It might be worth configuring the navigation settings to ‘avoid motorways’.

Getting the car packed the night before, then setting off in the morning enables you to travel in the daylight and set your tent up while the sun is still up. If you’ve pre-booked your campsite pitch, you can rock up whenever. If you’re chancing it, many campsites operate an ‘after 1pm’ policy. Turn up just after and they’ll have a better idea of whether they can squeeze you in or not.

Does camping mean no technology?

Absolutely not. While it’s nice to be able to get out of the lounge, away from the telly and into nature (it’s scientifically proven to manage stress and enhance wellbeing, by the way), we understand anyone’s need to have a working mobile in case of emergency.