Camping in the desert is a different experience from what you may be used to elsewhere – Paolo Rosetti sums up what you need to know to have fun and stay safe.
The camping enthusiast's guide to making the most of your trip
When camping in the desert or the mountains of the region, there is an art and science to arranging camp so that your group leaves minimal signs of your presence once you leave and also enjoys a certain level of convenience during your stay.
It's not hard to do, and veteran campers will automatically arrange themselves accordingly, but for people who are not used to camping without amenities, or new to this region, or who perhaps are camping for the first time, it would be a good idea to discuss arrangements as you arrive on location.
The campsite is normally best divided into a common sitting/bonfire area and private sleeping quarters, according to where the shade is. The fire goes where the wind will not blow smoke into the tents and a semicircle of chairs forms around it. Large, black rubbish bags are set up to accommodate waste. That's the sitting and dining room.
Cooking on barbecues or gas stoves is best kept to one area only to prevent children - or adults - bumping into hot pots and kicking sand into saucepans. Hot coals must never be dumped onto the sand as they can burn bare feet even the next morning - they should be disposed of into the fire, or let to cool down in the barbecue. Tables and cool-boxes are useful close to the cooking area. And that's the kitchen.
Tents are best spread out upwind from the fire, nicely spaced out to avoid snoring serenades and preferably on soft, flat ground. Inside the tent we place camping cots and pillows - we used to use inflatable mattresses, but they kept developing leaks so we found that foldable cots were more reliable. Sometimes we sleep in the open under the stars, confident that in our elevated position on the cots we're out of reach of creepy crawlies.
It's wise to put the tent next to the car, too, so it can act as a windbreak. We don't mind being quite far from the central fire area, since we have never had any issues with unwanted visitors in the UAE. We feel safe and our privacy has always been respected. That's the bedroom.
Toilets can work two ways, and I'll make my recommendation. A common way is to just select an area "across that dune" or somewhere suitably out of sight - announce its occupancy by daintily trooping off into the dark, whistling nonchalantly, shovel on your shoulder and toilet roll in your pocket.
We prefer to bring a private toilet tent, which is so simple and convenient that most people we camp with have now got one, too. It is simply a super-cheap supermarket tent with the bottom plastic sheet cut out. In it we place a solid bucket and line that with plastic bags, which are disposed of after each use. Besides privacy and comfort, the benefit is that no waste is left behind. We even wash or shower in the bathroom tent, if needed, by piercing the cap of a water bottle with numerous small holes and squeezing it to allow streams of water to flow.
Depending on numbers and ages, children are often allocated their own mini-campsite nearby, where they can be noisy, play games and keep themselves entertained. There is nothing more fun than wolf packs of kids playing together outdoors.
Lastly, before leaving, when all is packed and ready, let's give nature thanks for her hospitality with one final check that there is no rubbish left behind - not one empty water bottle or paper napkin; nothing but footprints and memories of an enjoyable camping trip.