One of the great benefits of living in the UAE for my family and I is the easy access to the outdoors and the activities we enjoy there, far from the city. Sometimes even just crossing a couple of dunes takes us mentally and physically away from our everyday lives.
Besides the conversation with friends around a campfire and the delicacies served off fiery barbecues, we usually prepare some sort of activity for the kids and those willing to have a go. One of our favourites is petanque, which is a sort of cross between lawn bowls and curling, except without the lawn and certainly not on ice. It's great fun and the surprise on the dunes is that you're on a 3D playing field, so your options in trying to place the balls closest to the little white target have to be imaginative and always changing. It also requires very simple and durable equipment, and the rules are easily understood, even by the youngest players.
Other sports lend themselves well to an afternoon at the campsite: softball, the timeless Frisbee, or badminton.
Another interesting and more peaceful activity is simply getting up to a nice viewpoint and handing out sketching paper and pencils. The more artistic can bring their own canvas, easel and paints, but even if you're not a skilled artist, time flies when you're sketching landscapes.
Photography is another popular pastime, including macro photos of insects and plants, as well as low-light campfire and star-trail shots. And, of course, action shots of cars kicking up sand can also give the imagination a workout.
In mountainous areas a hike can take you to beautiful spots, but also in the open desert, a brief walk around camp can uncover many surprises. In fact, time out of the car is precious and you can discover that the desert is brimming with life. Insects are easily attracted with an open tin of cat food, if you're so inclined. If you leave it overnight in an empty tissue box buried in the sand, it will be probably trap a good number of beetles and other species. Small mammals are also easily spotted after dark, as they do not shy away from bright lights.
We've enjoyed people playing a musical instrument around the campfire but it's also good to encourage your schoolchild to practice their instrument of choice.
A little preparation and imagination can bring exciting results. We have a "toy bag" that contains all sorts of knick-knacks, and sometimes just emptying it out in front of a bunch of bored campers can get the creative juices flowing.
While camping does carry a de-stressing quality, it does not mean sitting idly around a fire - we are so used to the continuous stimulation of TV, internet and video games that it can become hard to unwind when left to our own devices. That is until we learn to adjust to a more natural pace of life. Activities while out camping in nature are only limited by our own imaginations.