Barbecuing in the desert and hiking in the mountains, with a side of road trip, are all excellent plans to take advantage of the pleasant weather. But if you're just looking to kick up your feet and relax, a simple picnic spread isn't all too bad. In fact, it's one of the most accessible activities for anyone eyeing the outdoors on a budget.
In recent years, this old-school hangout has become an exciting opportunity to switch off and reconnect with loved ones or even yourself. Picture this: Fresh air, homemade sandwiches and a gripping podcast running in the background could be the sum of your weekly getaways at the park or the beach.
Planning a picnic is as easy as it gets. Start by sorting out the location, snacks and invites a week in advance, says Ruhaan Saigal, the founder of Picnic Dubai (@picnicdubai), an event planning service that sets up elaborate spreads at home, by the beach and in parks.
"It's the best time of the year right now for a picnic - people find it much more enjoyable to be picnicking in these [winter] months. Usually, the most popular [choice of] location is the beach, specifically Al Sufouh Beach in Dubai, which is not too crowded and it's easier to find parking there. It also has a great view of Burj Al Arab to the east," advised Saigal.
Other picturesque spots for the whole group can include the Qudra Desert and Safa Park in the city. For a party of one or two, pick out any park in the neighbourhood or even your backyard to wind down in a familiar but tranquil setting, our expert adds.
While individual dietary restrictions play a major role in planning any menu, don't forget to consider practical constraints. "Avoid packing food that needs to be heated since it can get cold on the way. Opt for sushi platters, finger foods, sandwiches and such that can be eaten cold. You could, of course, bring along a flask of coffee or tea," said Saigal.
Throw in your Kindle, portable speaker and a crowd-favourite board game as a fun icebreaker, and you're good to go. As for the best picnic mat, basket, haul trolley and other basic items, dive into our picnic starter pack below. Make sure to shop with an Amazon Prime membership for free, fast delivery on these.
1. Best Picnic Mat: POSICHE Extra Large Picnic Mat
When you have the perfect picnic spread, everything else follows suit. "Go for a mat that's a bit heavier, so it doesn't fly in the wind," said Saigal. The POSICHE extra-large mat for four is all you need this winter. It comes rolled and strapped into a convenient carry-on, making it easier to save space in the basket or trunk. As for the material, the mat is made of three layers, where a foam filling is sandwiched between a soft fabric top layer and a moisture-proof, insulated foam base layer. Reviewers call it a must-have item for camping and hanging at the beach.
2. Best Hamper: Picnic Time Catalina English Style Picnic Basket
Next, you'll need a reliable basket that halves your preparation time. When the beach calls your name, just pick up this all-in-one Catalina Picnic Basket and go. Featuring a handwoven willow construction, the basket comes with its own cutlery attached to the underside of the lid. You're getting two seven-inch porcelain plates, two 148ml ceramic mugs, two sets of forks, knives and spoons, and salt and pepper shakers. The hamper is for two, but that's easily fixed by tossing in more tableware for a larger party. Buyers say that there's plenty of room for snacks and other picnic munchables.
3. Best Family-Sized Cooler Bag: Hap Tim Soft Cooler Bag
There's not much you can do about reheating meals, but you can ensure chilled and fresh access to perishables. Keep your fruits and cheeses at a stable temperature in transit with a collapsible cooler bag. Hap Tim's insulated soft bag has a capacity for up to 40 cans or 20 water bottles, even after being stuffed with ice. A smaller velcro flap at the top allows a quick and hassle-free window to the items inside, without compromising the rest. Once you're home, fold the cooler bag down into a compact form and tuck it away till the next trip. According to users, the bag has kept drinks cold for up to 24 hours, even in extreme July heat.
4. Best Portable Cooler: Polarbox Portable Cooler
Don't want to lug around a bulky cooler bag? Arrive at the park in style with a much more portable alternative. Polarbox's aesthetically pleasing 12-litre cooler box fits beverages, sandwiches and fruits, and keeps them fresh for the entire event. You can flip the lid and convert it into a makeshift tray, while leaving the contents chilled inside the box. A stylish shoulder leather strap further adds to the retro charm. It's excellent for short outdoor trips, say reviews, who take the cooler to the beach, mountains and the park.
5. Best Beach Trolley: Coolbaby Outdoor Four-Wheeled Cart
The list of things to haul to the beach can seem endless, if you're hosting a big group. Fret not, Saigal highly recommends investing in a beach trolley to take the weight off your shoulders. "One thing that has helped us a lot with setting up is a beach trolley. It can get tiring to carry stuff over to the spot and back, but these trolleys are sturdy and capable of holding everything," he added. Our pick rolls on 360-degree rubber wheels that can handle most terrains, including sand, say reviews. Your goods are held safe in a steel frame fitted with 601D waterproof polyester fabric, which you can remove and wash whenever needed. The entire wagon folds in half for effortless storage in the car trunk. It also features two bottle pockets in the front.
6. Best Flask: Stanley Classic Legendary Bottle, 1L
Hot beverage enthusiasts will need their coffee or tea fix throughout the picnic. Coming from the makers of the iconic Quencher tumbler, this Stanley steel thermos should do the trick. It's a one-litre slim vacuum bottle constructed with superior insulation that keeps soup, tea and coffee hot for 24 hours. The same goes for cold, icy drinks. The leak-resistant lid doubles as a cup, excellent for solo hangouts. Reviewers attest to sipping steaming hot coffee from the flask after 24 hours.
7. Best Portable Table: Lanny Portable Plastic Folding Table
Having a folding table in your corner can be immensely helpful, according to our picnic expert. Bring it out during meal times and put it away right after for more room, or convert it into a temporary station for bags, supplies and drinks that can be easily spilled. Our pick has folding metal legs and a table top that accommodates six to eight guests. Reviewers take it to the park for family picnics and outdoor buffets, adding that it's stable under significant weight.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year accidental damage protection for Dh18.
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