On the last trip we took (to Al Ain in the UAE), we decided to make it more of an adventure and car camp with the kids! We had researched that camping is free and permitted in the UAE and that there were several great spots to go to. While nothing specifically was said about camping in a car, we decided to go for it anyway, and actually found it to be totally fine.
We booked a large 7 Seat car from the airport in Abu Dhabi and took blankets with us in our carry on – it was all very minimal, but also fun and fine. The first hiccup we encountered, that put a little worry in my mind was that the car we had booked online, didn’t match up the one they gave us. We had asked for a large SUV, but were given a Santa fe (which is a lower roof and more compact). We did query this, but were told that it was done on engine size and number of seats (good one!). But we embraced our fate and went with it.
Car camping with 4 kids is not for the faint of heart, and obviously with a smaller than planned car, this presents its own issues! But it is a very budget friendly way of travelling as a family, and once we had moved around and found our spots to sleep, it worked out well and we grabbed a few hours sleep.
We camped in 2 places over the 3 nights. Both had beautiful landscape, toilet facilities and felt safe. And, we weren’t disturbed on either of them. Here were our spots.
Nights 1 and 3 – Al Wathba Lake
A short 30 minute drive from Abu Dhabi Airport, out in the desert, is a beautiful and well known camping spot at Al Wathba Lake. It is a free campsite with facilities including; fire pits, BBQs, toilets and play area. The lake is beautiful and surrounding desert views were lovely. I can see why it is so popular for family camping.
We arrived here the first night in the early hours and it was noisy near the entrance, so we moved into a quieter part. On our last night, it was much quieter and we had time to find a good spot. We had most of the place to ourselves (minus some RVs and another car camper), and slept well.
My only regret at Al Wathba lake was not making better use of the facilities on our last night. We were laughing the last day and wondering why we never made dinner on the fire pit and toasted marshmallows with the kids – the kids didn’t see the funny side!
Night 2 – Jebel Hafeet Mountain side!
Jebel Hafeet Mountain has a beautiful road that takes you to the top of it (and is a must in Al Ain). Along this road are various large viewing areas (with toilet facilities, parking and some play areas for kids too). We noticed that a lot of people were setting up tents and BBQs here, and so decided to spend a night on the mountain side!
This was the noisiest of the 2 camping spots, but also the one with the best views! The kids were actually really excited about spending the night up a mountain, and the early morning mists, sun rise over the ridge and just been together on that little adventure was really special to see.
I think that camping in a car made me feel a little vulnerable in the sense that people can peer in! I did hang some muslin swaddles over the windows where the kids were for peace of mind (and their privacy), but the front window still felt a little open!
The kids have varying views of this experience. We acknowledged the very first night, that a smaller car hindered our plans slightly and made it less comfortable than we had hoped. But once we had embraced it, it became a lot of fun together and they talk about the fun adventure of it (and obviously lets not forget it is a budget way to travel). We hope that we can visit other places and do a little more car camping while out here, especially when we have our own car to load up and go. I feel like the memories, watching the sun rise together and seeing the desert at such a peaceful time of day, are absolutely priceless.
Don’t forget to take…
*Plenty of water – both to drink, and also to brush your teeth etc if not near facilities
*Blankets – we all just had thin ones and were fine as the overnight temperatures only went down to 18 – 20s. If you were camping other times of year, you will need to be aware and pack accordingly
*Snacks – easier in the morning to hand the kids an apple or banana and cereal bar each to keep them going
*Phone chargers – for torch, safety and peace of mind
Other than these, we just took our normal clothing and toiletries for a weekend away, and made sure the windows were cracked for extra ventilation. HAVE FUN