What can camping teach us about more sustainable living?
“Take only photos, leave only footprints”
We recently spent some time camping down on the Great Ocean Road, at the picturesque National Parks camping site at Johanna Beach in the Otways. There was lots to love about the experience – including sharing my three-year-old son’s joy of his first-time camping! I also noticed that there are a LOT of lessons we can learn about living more sustainably…here’s fifteen for you.
1. Site for you home: I’m sure many people arrive at their site, pull out the tent and put it up without much thought…but experienced campers know that there is an art and science to choosing the best pozzie for your tent. Just like with siting a new house (or prior to desiging a renovation), most of the same rules apply. A quick site review should take into account the slope of the land (i.e. will you be sleeping on a hill and rolling out of bed!), the condition of the earth (sandy, rocky, uneven, etc.), where the sun will be throughout the day (so you can avoid it/embrace it as you wish), where will the winds come from, if it rains what will the drainage be like, where are the neighbours (semi-public and semi-private zones), where are the views, are there any large trees/other site features that could be beneficial/problematic (trees or posts to string up a clothesline or hammock versus trees with large branches overhead that could drop), where is the road and access, and so on… This quick scan of your surrounding shouldn’t take long (or perhaps that’s just me with my trained eye fro these sorts of things!) but will result in more happy campers!
2. Downsize: I’m not suggesting we all live in tent-sized homes, but there is a lot to be said about the “tiny-house-movement” and more efficient use of space – instead of sprawling oversized McMansions. Realising that spaces can be multi-purpose and still functional, and prioritising what sort of space you need for what use, means homes can be much smaller but work so much better for your needs.
3. Live with Less: When you camp, you have to make-do with less stuff. There simply is not room to take everything with you! (Unless you have one of those swanky new caravan/motor-home type things with all the mod-cons, but then I’d argue that it’s not really “camping”!) You have to rely on the bare essentials, and do without all the other things that fill up our homes and out lives…and yet you can still survive and thrive and have a great time and not even notice that those possessions are absent. My 7yo did miss his Lego…and admittedly I missed my comfy bed, but it is also a nice break from routine to stop and realise what we prioritise, and all the extra stuff we could probably do without.
4. Conscious Energy Consumption: When you camp without power, you become very mindful of your energy use. Using torchlight sparingly so the batteries don’t run out, cooking on a small gas camp-stove and using a gas-lantern, having a campfire to keep warm at night (if fire restrictions allow it), maybe using some camping solar-panels to generate some electricity, and perhaps using the car’s “cigarette-lighter” plugs to charge electronic devices. You become much more conscious of where your energy comes from and the amount you use – unlike in our homes where we often take it for granted.
5. Minimal Water Consumption: If, like us, you stay in a National Parks site with limited amenities, you will be using the ‘hole in the ground’ toilets or go behind a tree, and there is minimal water available from a tap at the rainwater storage tank (but it is not potable) – if any water is provided at all. So no showers, no flushing toilets, no drinking water (BYO), and if you need to wash a few dishes (or brush teeth) you manage to do it with a small percentage of the water you would normally use at home. If we can remember to be more efficient with our water-use in our homes, and install rainwater-tanks, greywater-systems, low-flush (or even composting) toilets, and low-flow taps then we can dramatically reduce our water consumption in our everyday lives too.
6. Conscious of Waste: There are no bins – you must take your rubbish with you. We are so used to just throwing waste in a bin (whether destined for landfill or the recycling-station) without further thought. But when camping in a small space, it becomes glaringly obvious that the garbage bag is filling up, with unnecessary packaging, plastics and other waste. You can’t just take it out to the wheely-bin and know it will be taken care of. You have to physically “carry the burden” of your bin bags until you can dispose of them.
7. Indoor Air Quality: I spent much of my time over the weekend reminding the kids; “Shoes off inside the tent!” We also have a no-shoes-inside-rule at home, but stepping in and out of the tent it was often forgotten. Anyone who has been camping knows how quickly the sand, dirt and grass seems to accumulate on the tent floor – and of course this is also where you sleep, and where all your belongings are. The same rule should apply to all our homes – as every time you walk shoes inside, you are bringing so many contaminants into your home and compromising the quality of your indoor air. It may not be as evident as when you’re in a tent – the carpet and large areas of floorboards/tiles means the dirt is dispersed – but unless you vacuum daily it all ends up being breathed in which can be harmful to your health.
8. Shelter from the elements: If faced with extremes in local conditions – strong winds, rain, and scorching sun you certainly know about it when camping! You are impacted more as you are spending more time outdoors with limited shelter. The need for shelter is very primal (and is the most important for our survival after air/water/food)! It certainly does make you realise the importance of good design and having a well-considered shelter/home to protect us from the elements all year round. It is also a sobering reminder about the effects of climate change…and that extreme weather will only become more severe in the future the way we are headed…
9. Less reliance on car: If you’re hiking with a backpack then you really are holidaying with a low environmental footprint! The majority of us will use our cars to drive a fair distance to get to our camping destination…but once there, I find that you rely on them less. There’s a lot of walking to the beach and back (or perhaps lake/river/bush or wherever you are), to/from the toilet block/tap, around the campsite and exploring your surrounds on foot… It’s so much healthier for us and the planet, and once again it is a lesson about mindfulness of our habits and the impact on the environment (and our health).
10. Switch off: No mobile reception and limited opportunity for charging our devices, means you have no option but to “switch-off” and disconnect! It is so important to have this time away from screens and not feel like you’re missing out, but instead the embrace the time away and perhaps re-connect with nature and your loved ones instead!
11: Neighbourly: Generally speaking, campers are usually friendly and helpful with fellow campers – it’s like an unwritten code. There’s an element of trust as your belongings are left out. Neighbours are happy to help out by lending a can-opener or a hammer or toilet-paper or whatever you’ve forgotten (and there’s always something you wish you’d brought with you!) Generally there’s respect too with regards to noise (but not always!). But as you are in closer proximity with your neighbours and living outdoors more, and you’re all there sharing similar experiences, there is that sense of camaraderie – imagine if all our streets/communities could be more like that!
12. Local food: Camping is also an opportunity to be more sustainable with our food choices – whether you catch your own fish, or buy road-side offerings direct from the farm such as blueberries, honey or eggs. Can’t get much fresher than that!
13.Fresh air: Of course on of the best things about camping, is spending more time in the great outdoors! Fresh air (especially being away from polluting cities and cars) really does wonders for the body and soul!
14. Closer to nature: Spending that time walking barefoot on the sand/grass/earth or star-gazing at night, or listening to the sounds of nature such as waves crashing/crickets chirping/frogs croaking or birds singing really does bring us closer to nature and reminds us why we should be doing more to care for our environment.
15. Simple Pleasures: Living with the basics, and simplifying your existence for some time does mean that you can focus on the simple pleasures in life and slow down…and really that is a much more sustainable way for us all to live.
There’s probably more, but that’s enough for now! Really what most of these come back to, are lessons in mindfulness and not taking things for granted, remembering our connection to the earth and slowing down to enjoy the important things in life.
What do you love about camping? Any more lessons that you can share? I’d love to know in the comments below!
Talina Edwards Architecture is a Ballarat-based studio, with a passion for sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes. Click here to ensure you won’t miss out on our monthly news!