Malaysian family organises camping trips during year-end school holidays


Emily's second birthday party was celebrated at a campsite in Bukit Tinggi. Photos: Nurul Farahanna Zaidi

The school holidays are around the corner, and Muhamad Nidhal Mohamad Syazwan, 10, is looking forward to going on not one but two camping trips with his family.

“We are heading to Pantai Cenang and Tanjung Rhu in Langkawi next week. I am excited to do some of my favourite activities like camping, bushcraft (wilderness survival skills) and stand-up paddling. I can’t wait to build a campfire with my father too,” he said enthusiastically.

“If my family and I are camping by the beach or the lake, we usually set up camp at nightfall and enjoy the sunset or catch the early sunrise. It’s always so fun being surrounded by nature,” said Muhamad Nidhal who lives in Cyberjaya.

As for many students, the school holidays are a time for him to take a break from books and homework. Muhamad Nidhal, who is home-schooled, plans to make the best of the holidays by soaking up the sun and having fun outdoors.

Muhamad Nidhal enjoys being in touch with nature.Muhamad Nidhal enjoys being in touch with nature.

He says being close to nature makes him feel “refreshed” and helps him be focused when it’s time to pick up his school books again.

“I think it’s an excellent opportunity to learn something outside the school syllabus. I don’t think of my phone or games much when I’m in the forest or by the beach. And I get more creative in finding ways to keep myself occupied.

“During these adventure-filled trips, I have come across many types of marine creatures, I’ve seen snakes and even hornbills. Not forgetting the little critters like worms, beetles and butterflies as big as my palm. But my favourite thing to do is setting up my hammock... this is where I will play and sleep too. I also enjoy carving wood with my pen knife,” he said.

This year alone, Muhamad Nidhal and his younger sister Emily Zandra, two, have been on 20 outdoor trips with their mother, homemaker Nurul Farahanna Zaidi, 35, and father, engineer Mohamad Syazwan Ismail, 35.

Being outdoors is an excellent opportunity to learn something more outside the school syllabus, says  Muhamad Nidhal (left). Being outdoors is an excellent opportunity to learn something more outside the school syllabus, says Muhamad Nidhal (left).

Their trips are usually organised during long weekends and school holidays.

Highlights of their camping trips include stand-up paddling, surfing, hiking, cave exploration, boating, and bushcraft. They have travelled all over Malaysia, including to Taman Negara Johor Endau-Rompin Selai in Johor, Rainforest Park in Genting Sempah, Pahang and Sungai Dara Permaculture in Behrang, Perak. The family travels in their trusty 4x4 pick-up truck, which is equipped with a rooftop tent.

Nurul feels blessed to live in Malaysia because the country has a wealth of options for campers like them who crave outdoor activities in lush rainforests, pristine beaches or caves.

“There are so many places in Malaysia that are on our bucket list. And we keep adding to the list every time someone shares a new and cool camping location,” she said.

Nurul and her husband take their holidays very seriously and camping is always at the heart of their getaways.

Syazwan’s trusty pickup truck, complete with a rooftop tent, has travelled all over Malaysia on the family’s camping trips. Syazwan’s trusty pickup truck, complete with a rooftop tent, has travelled all over Malaysia on the family’s camping trips.

“There is always something new to do and every adventure is different. During each trip, Muhamad Nidhal learns to do something new like starting his own campfire or how to set up the tent (by helping his dad). It’s is a huge achievement for him and has helped boost his self-esteem.

“In short, spending more time outdoors teaches kids resilience and survival skills, and sparks their creativity in problem-solving. They don’t even realise they are learning life skills while we are camping,” she said.

During these outdoor trips, Nurul and Syazwan make it a point to teach their young children about nature.

“Educating them about how and why we must care for the environment and protecting Mother Earth is essential. This teaches them empathy and a sense of responsibility.

“These memories are imprinted, hopefully. When they grow up, I hope they will be able to find peace because of these happy memories spent surrounded by nature,” Nurul said.

Roasting marshmallows by the fire is one of the fun activities for the children on their trips.Roasting marshmallows by the fire is one of the fun activities for the children on their trips.

Soaking up the sun

Growing up, Nurul and Syazwan spent most of their childhoods outdoors. They loved being exposed to nature from a young age and, as such, want their children to have similar experiences too. They want them to connect and fall in love with nature as they did.

“I grew up in Miri, and I spent most of my childhood in the outdoors. I’d go to the beach almost every day. My brother and I played in the creek, catching tadpoles, fish and insects. Then, on weekends, my parents would bring us to the waterfalls and parks. I have such fond memories of my childhood.

“Syazwan enjoys sharing some of his childhood pastimes with Muhamad Nidhal too like catching fish in the pond or building a campfire. They also enjoy learning about reptiles,” Nurul shared.

Muhamad Nidhal had his first outdoor experience when he was just three years old. That first trip was to a beach, followed by several outings at waterfalls and jungles. Emily got an earlier start – she was introduced to the outdoors when she was a newborn baby.

Emily with her kid paddle.Emily with her kid paddle.

“We started off with weekly visits to the park, not to play at the playground but to explore the woodlands area where we’d go birding, climb trees, forage for edible plants and have picnics.

“Muhamad Nidhal was about four years old when we had our first camping adventure in Cameron Highlands, Pahang. And from then on our camping trips have increased gradually, year by year. This year, we have been on 20 camping adventures,” she said.

Nurul believes children should be exposed to nature when they are young. But of course, parents must take precautionary measures to keep them safe.

“Often, there is parental fear due to uncertainty of what lies in the outdoors. To eliminate such fears, we parents must equip ourselves with knowledge on the various aspects of being in the outdoors. This includes water confidence, safety protocols and basic first aid knowledge. Be extra vigilant in any surrounding, be it camping, hiking, caving or swimming,” she advised.

Muhamad Nidhal helps his mother to set up the tent. It’s is a huge achievement for the young boy and has boosted his self-esteem.Muhamad Nidhal helps his mother to set up the tent. It’s is a huge achievement for the young boy and has boosted his self-esteem.

Nurul says that an added benefit of exposing her children to outdoor activities is that it takes them away from their gadgets or from being on social media all the time. By encouraging Muhamad Nidhal to put away his devices, she notices that he’s more receptive and focused when doing his tasks and routine work.

“Muhamad Nidhal has good sensory skills. He has a sharp eye and can spot the littlest critters when we hike and do nature hunting,” said Nurul.

“Both my children get to sleep better at night too when we camp. With proper sleep, enough exercise, adequate amount of sunlight exposure (vitamin D), they will have a stronger immune system. Thankfully, they don’t fall ill often.”

The family love the outdoors so much that Muhamad Nidhal and Emily’s birthday celebrations are held at outdoor venues. Last month, their daughter’s second birthday was celebrated at a campsite in Bukit Tinggi.

“Every year, we try our best to plan camping trips to coincide with their birthdays. We invite their closest friends, and they get to play together from the moment the sun comes out till the moon rises.

“(For Emily’s birthday) we got her a cake and put up a little garland banner (re-used from last year) and that was it.

“The kids toasted marshmallows and cooked popcorn over the campfire. It was a fun outing for everyone.”

The couple want their children to be resilient and love nature as much as they do by exposing them to the outdoors from a very young age.The couple want their children to be resilient and love nature as much as they do by exposing them to the outdoors from a very young age.

The tent life

In terms of planning the trip, Nurul does most of the research and the bookings, while Syazwan is the one who is hands-on when they are on site. He executes Nurul’s carefully laid out plans.

“Google maps, reading blogs, watching videos on social media, and joining camping groups on Facebook help a lot in our research and preparation,” Nurul said.

She shares her adventures, campsite reviews, unboxing camping gear and outdoor hacks on her Facebook page, Bagong Overland.

Preparing for a camping trip might seem intimidating, but Nurul reassures newbies that it isn’t as overwhelming as it may seem.

Spending more time outdoors help teaches kids resilience, and survival skills and sparks creativity in problem-solving.Spending more time outdoors help teaches kids resilience, and survival skills and sparks creativity in problem-solving.

It all boils down to two things: Thorough research and preparation.

“It takes a while for one to get a handle on all the prep that’s needed. But, after a couple of trips, it gets easier. This is our best (hack) – we keep all our camping gear in boxes that are sorted by category (sleeping bags, kitchen items, tent stuff, lighting and fans, and power supply) in one place.

“After a trip, we clean them up and put them back in their respective boxes, ready for the next escapade. Most campsites now provide toilet facilities.

“Only when we go off on wild camping trips – places with no amenities – do we bring our portable toilet.”

She advises people to check the weather forecast before embarking on any camping trip.

“Our most challenging camping trip was when we came face to face with a windstorm by the beach in Port Dickson.

“The sand was swirling right in front of us, on our faces and in our eyes. Some of the neighbour’s tents didn’t survive the storm and they had to leave.

“It is vital to check the tide charts and moon phase calendar to avoid going to the beach when the conditions aren’t favourable,” she said.

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