Interview: Camping with Style

Touring Magazine catches up with Camping with Style to talk comfy camping and the power of nature

Shell, editor of Camping With Style

 

Hi! Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about Camping With Style ?

I’m Shell, editor of Camping with Style a blog about all things outdoors and of course camping! I love the great outdoors and in particular camping, so starting my own blog to share my love seemed like a good idea. I’m delighted to say the blog has grown massively over the last few years and I’m proud to work with some amazing outdoor leisure, travel and camping brands and have camped and glamped all over the UK and Europe and even in the Caribbean!

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How was the idea for Camping With Style born?

The idea came to me after I had a bad snowboarding accident. Laid up with a broken back, I felt like I needed something positive to focus on as I battled my way back to full health and mobility. I knew I wanted to go camping again, but at that point, camping in the way that I used to, in a tiny tent on a thin roll mat, just wasn’t going to be possible. 

I started looking for comfortable camping gear suitable for someone with a back injury and mobility problems, but not only that, I didn’t want a nasty nylon sleeping bag in primary colours and I didn’t want a green plastic camp table; aesthetics are important to me, so I wanted great functionality but I always wanted it to look good. In my search I realised there was a bit of a  gap in the market.  I started writing about comfy and stylish camping gear and was amazed at how quickly it took off and the phenomenal response! 

It spurred me on and gave me something positive to focus on which really helped my mental health during my long recovery period.

Functionality and great looks combined

When did you get into camping? Was it a lifestyle you grew up with or did you discover it later on?

We weren’t a family of campers and my family weren’t into the great outdoors either. We’d get taken to the park to play, sure, and I camped once when I was Girl Guide, but it was a miserable experience and I ended up freezing cold in a soaking wet sleeping bag. But I went camping a few times as a child with my dad and his mate and son, so I think that’s really where my love of camping started.

As soon as I could drive and had a car I started taking off on camping trips on my own and was hooked, though I didn’t discover the many other myriad benefits of the great outdoors until I was much older.

After the accident, it was only then that I realised just how important being outside and immersed in nature was for me, and I finally understood the reason I loved camping so much was because it gave me time to switch off and be at one with nature. It sounds daft that I hadn’t realised this earlier, but it was true, camping was always just a cheap means of getting away for a few days and having a wee adventure, and despite camping in some beautiful spots in Snowdonia, the nature aspect had never really occurred to me until the accident.

Camping With Style is a strong advocate for nature’s healing properties. What are some of the ways being immersed in nature can benefit our mental and physical wellbeing?

It sounds like a cliché but I really didn’t appreciate my mobility or the natural world until I was so close to losing it all. I’d spent my life chasing after the things we are brainwashed into believing will make us successful and happy, I had an education, I had a family, I had a nice car, a nice house and plenty of holidays and didn’t really want for anything and yet I wasn’t happy.

After the accident I took a long hard look at my life and priorities and realised that ‘stuff’ and status just wasn’t important to me, so I then had to start working out what was truly meaningful to me. To deal with the depression that came as a result of being in constant pain and being unable to move much, I had to look elsewhere and go a bit deeper to find ways to bolster my sense of wellbeing.

As I began to heal, I started to spend more time in the woods beside my home, for the first time ever, I planned walks, rather than just walking because I needed to get somewhere.

Embracing nature’s healing properties

I started focusing on the little things, I was grateful everyday that I hadn’t ended up paralysed by the accident and so I began my daily practice of gratitude.

I now actively plan and prioritise spending time in nature and I have a special fondness for spending time in the woods and even have ‘my’ tree that I will often go and sit in and spend 15 minutes or so in quiet meditation when I feel like I need grounding, focusing all my senses, slowing down my breathing and bringing myself back to the here and now.

As someone with diagnosed depression and anxiety conditions, mindfulness and following a much more nature connected and spiritual path have helped me more than any drug I was ever put on. 

Of course I’m not saying people should stop taking prescriptions meds and go hug a tree, it’s not quite as simple as that, but being mindful and more in tune with nature is scientifically proven to calm the nervous system and to boost feel-good hormones. 

Being outdoors gives us a greater sense of perspective too, whether it’s standing beneath the canopy of trees in your local town park, standing on top of a mountain at a trig point or swimming in the middle of a lake; the grand scale of nature not only allows us to experience a sense of awe and wonder, but it can focus our attention on the here and now, so that we are fully immersed in the moment.

Quite simply, making gratitude and nature meditation part of my everyday existence is the best thing I’ve ever done for my wellbeing.

Do you feel humans mantaining a connection with nature is becoming more important to people as society becomes more and more tech obessed?

We live in an increasingly stressful world with overpopulation, too much traffic and intense over stimulation. There’s so much constantly vying for our attention and we’re making decisions all the time. All the while, technology is using a whole host of tactics aimed at keeping us distracted and staring at our screens. It’s exhausting.

Not only that, the way we are consuming information is actually changing the way our brains work as we get more used to information being at our fingertips so our long term memories are used less – when we need to know something, we just Google it, we don’t have to remember anything.

For example, how many phone numbers do you currently know compared to when you were a kid or a teenager? Right now, I know my own mobile phone number and my parents.

Growing up as part of Gen X, I knew all my friends phone numbers off by heart, but now, we just don’t need to remember things.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, arguably things like that aren’t important (though if you ever lose your mobile phone, you’ll learn pretty fast that that’s not the case!), but technology is changing our brains and with more and more of us reporting that we’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed and anxious, it’s the relentless march of technology and living in increasing isolation from the natural world that I believe are at least part of the blame.

The good news is, thanks to neuro-plasticity, we aren’t set. We can rewire our anxious, unhappy brains and I’ve found that removing certain apps and turning off all notifications was a good first step, but it does require conscious effort.

By being less distracted by my phone, I then naturally had a little more time to fit nature into my life and slowly began to actively seek it.

Modern life is extremely complicated and can at times be overwhelming to navigate, a walk in the park or woods however is as simple and as natural as can be and is a great antidote to our tech-connected lives.

Some people associate camping with discomfort but you manage to make it look comfortable and…well, stylish. What do you consider some essential gear for cosy camping?

One of the things I seek to do on the blog is to continually challenge the assumption that camping means roughing it or something that poor people do because they can’t afford a ‘proper’ holiday.

I go on plenty of luxury overseas holidays and stay in nice hotels, but actually, camping is something I choose to do because it simplifies my life and brings me closer to nature. Some people are happy to camp with a really basic setup and that suits them, but for me and my back, it’s all about comfort.

Many people have tried camping and have been put off, usually because they had a tiny tent they couldn’t move in and ended up on a flimsy roll mat or air bed that deflated in the night leaving them cold, tired and uncomfortable.

It’s understandable that a bad experience can put some people off, but the reality is, camping is something that can very easily be done in both comfort and in style!

Camping doesn’t have to be an exercise in endurance!

My own camping set up is considered “extra” by some, but I don’t care. I camp in a way that makes me happy and is comfortable for me. I don’t believe camping ever has to mean discomfort and it doesn’t have to be an exercise in endurance – unless of course that’s yours thing!

I favour tents that are standing height and I always use a tent that’s bigger than I strictly need, so when it’s the two of us going away, we’ll typically be in a 4 or even 5 person tent so there’s plenty of room. 

I have various camp bed options which including a double height air mattress or better for winter camping, a double folding camp bed and on top I use a double SIM (self inflating mattress) which adds extra warmth and padding. I always use a good sleeping bag that’s suitable for the season, something light with an extra blanket in summer and a good 4 season super warm and cosy sleeping bag for Autumn through to Spring camping.

A hot water bottle is a must outside of the summer months and I take extras like blankets, brightly coloured rag rugs, cushions and of course, fairy lights are non-negotiable in my camp setup!

I also have a full camp kitchen with a double gas hob which means I can cook proper food from scratch while camping. I wouldn’t eat a Pot Noodle or beans at home and the same applies to when I’m camping.

A great tip for food when camping is to make something at home and freeze it, I often make casseroles, soups, curries and things like pulled pork which I freeze and pop in the ice box. 

If I’m making something like a stir fry, then to make life easier, I’ll prep all the veggies and fish or meat at home first and I always make sure I’ve got a kitchen essentials box containing things like olive oil, seasoning, ketchup, cutlery, chopping board and so on.

Do you have a favourite camping spot in the UK? What’s special about it?

Snowdonia is the place I’ve camped most and is so diverse, I absolutely love it there and have a few special campsites I love (check out the Camping with Style blog www.campingwithstyle.co.uk/campsite-reviews if you want to see some of my fave campsites), I even got engaged at one very special campsite overlooking Cardigan bay.

Due to where I live, both the Peak District and Lake District are relatively close, so really I’m spoilt for choice when It comes to great camping locations!

But you’re not opposed to a bit of Glamping?

As a result of the blog, I’ve been lucky enough to go on some incredible press trips and have glamped all over the place, from converted horse boxes at Thorpe Glamping in Oxfordshire  to a Caribbean inspired bungalow at Cambrils Holiday Park in Spain,  but I think the most memorable has to be a week spent glamping in Antigua earlier this year. I stayed at Wild Lotus Glamping and with fully furnished canvas bell tents located right on the beach with the stunning Caribbean sea only steps away, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better glamping location!

Bell tents at Wild Lotus Glamping in Antigua

Has camping led you towards discovering other outdoor activities? What do you do to entertain yourself on your camping trips?

In the past I used to go camping maybe once or twice in the summer and it was always just an excuse to go to the beach and have a bit of fun and it wasn’t until I started camping purely for the love of being outdoors after my accident, that I started to seriously fall in love with the great outdoors and discover all it has to offer.

Coming to it late, It still feels very new to me, so walking up hills and mountains is something I love doing and get a huge buzz out of and I can’t resist a good trig point selfie!

Whenever I camp I explore the local area on foot as much as possible and I always take time to connect with the energy of where I am staying through meditation. I’ll generally do a bit of gentle yoga too and always make sure I have a good book and my current crochet project with me. My other love is open water swimming and it’s now something I try to do as often as possible. Without camping, I’m not sure I’d have ever discovered my love for open water swimming and mountain hikes.

Does the idea of a campervan life appeal or are you a canvas purist? What is it about a tent that is so special to you?

The whole Vanlife phenomenon has me so envious of those who have vans and I’m obsessed with #vanlifers on the ‘gram! It’s something I’d love to do, but I’m nervous about driving something as big as a van and with none of skills needed to do one up, the financial outlay is definitely the biggest barrier! I’m not ruling it out for the future, but even with a swanky van, I think there would always be room in my life and my heart for canvas.

If you like the idea of camping in comfort and in style, or if you’re wondering how to use camping and the great outdoors to support your wellbeing, head to Camping with Style where you can find whole sections of the blog dedicated to everything from wellbeing to family travel as well as lots of UK walks, campsite and camping gear reviews and recommendations and more! 

You can also follow Camping with Style on Instagram  and Twitter

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