How to Picnic Like a Pro
The onset of the global pandemic saw a resurgence in popularity of the humble picnic. It's now cool to indulge in alfresco dining experiences, whether that's around an outdoor table or throwing a blanket on the ground and cracking open your best picnic basket.
Far from just resting on the packing of some cheese, crackers and drinks, the perfect family picnic or outdoor feasting occasion needs some planning and thoughtful packing to make it special. Here's what you need to do...
Location, location, location
While everyone will have different preferences when it comes to a picnic location, the place you choose (for you!) is super important. Beaches and coastal parks are always popular, lake-side noshing is a relaxing way to spend a day in the sun. If you like spending time in the mountains or you want to Instagram some unforgettable panoramic vistas, there are some spectacular spots - from the Dandenongs in Victoria to Mt Tamborine in Queensland, from the Blue Mountains in Sydney to the Adelaide Hills in South Australia.
But possibly the most popular picnicking locations are the well-resourced and well-maintained parks and gardens in your local or nearby municipalities. Whatever you prefer, there's no shortage of places to choose from when planning the perfect family picnic.
Do your research
Research and a little bit of forethought is important when planning a picnic. Probably the first thing to take into account is the weather. Obviously, you want the best possible conditions, so check if there's a late change forecast in the location you're picnicking (this especially applies for picnickers in Victoria). Also, if it's going to be a warm day, have a look at how windy it's expected to be - beachside picnics aren't much fun when sand is blowing into your food and drinks (this is where a beach shelter comes in handy). Checking the expected UV index, no matter what the forecast temperature, is also a must.
The other things to consider when planning your family picnic might include drive time (and the likelihood of a game of 'are we there yet?' from bored kids), parking options, how well the area caters to people with disabilities or health problems, the availability of shade, toilet facilities (and the distance of these facilities from where you plan to picnic) and whether pets are allowed. If your kids are a bit hesitant around dogs, knowing you're going to a dog-friendly park might give you pause to think about whether another location might be a better choice.
What to pack
This is the fun part! Whether you like to picnic in style or you have a more low-key approach, there are some basics you'll want to pack for the perfect family picnic.
A quality picnic blanket is essential for the perfect picnic. Good picnic rugs should protect you from wet ground if it's been raining or the local council had the sprinklers on that morning. For instance, the reinforced underside of a travel rug can protect you from the ground and offer that little extra comfort on firmer surfaces. Whatever you use for a picnic blanket, it needs to be something you're fine with getting dirty.
The perfect family picnic does not need to compromise on comfort either. Camp chairs and tables can be used to add a touch of style and luxury to your picnic. They're easy to set up and fold away when you're ready to head home, they don't take up too much space in your car, and they are easy to store at home when you're not using them.
When it comes to food and drink, whether it's five-star gourmet all the way or your family is more of a cheese-and-vegemite bread roll kind of crew, making sure you have something to keep your food and beverages fresh and tasty in any kind of weather is vital. Portable fridges, eskys and ice boxes can do the job for you, and you can choose from soft chillers that store easily when not being used right through to large fibreglass units for bigger families. Our guide to getting the most out of your cooler or fridge is full of great tips for getting the best bang from from your picnicking buck.
While it's tempting to use disposable cutlery and plastic cups at family picnics - and maybe, for some of us, a habit - they're not always great for the environment. Thanks to the popularity of camping and people's love for getting outdoors, there's now an enormous selection of stylish and functional reusable tableware and cutlery, insulated drink bottles and hot drink containers that are perfect for taking on your family picnic.
Considering picnics can also get messy, make sure you have wet wipes or moist towelettes on hand. Disinfectant wipes come into their own at picnic spots that provide tables and where you want the peace of mind of knowing the surface is clean.
Shade and some form of protection from the elements are also very sensible to pack in the car, regardless of the weather forecast. Always pack sunscreen, eye protection and UV-resistant headwear and clothing. If you have the capacity to include it in your car or 4X4, a portable gazebo or shade awning can add that extra bit of comfort to your family picnic.
Arguably, the most important part of your picnic arsenal should be having waste bags to take your rubbish home with you at the end of the day. There may be rubbish and recycling bins at your picnic spot but on busy days - especially on long weekends and public holidays - it's not unusual for bins to be overflowing. Play your part in keeping waste to a minimum, and helping preserve the beauty of the area by disposing of your picnic waste at home.
What to do (the even more fun part)
There's no shortage of things to do on a picnic. Of course, finding a peaceful and scenic spot for a long lunch and doing nothing else may be the perfect option for some of us. But, capping off an invigorating hike or bushwalk, is another time when a picnic could be very rewarding.
A picnic is also the perfect foil for a day's kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. Finding a picnic spot that allows ball games or provides playground facilities is sure to work up an appetite with the kids or winding up a day of exploring local communities and cultural and/or historic landmarks with a picnic makes for a great day out.
The family picnic is an easy and fun way to experience the great outdoors, close or far away from home. Making it 'picnic perfect', though, requires a little bit of advance planning but you'll be thankful that you did - your family picnic will be worth its weight in gold.