Rebecca Leeds and Matt Wagner play cards in a scene that exemplifies the glamorous camping known as “glamping.” Photo by Pamela Leeds
Gallery: Glamping - Summer 2015 [9 Images] Click any image to expand.
Picture this: It is the early 1970s and I am on my first camping trip as a Boy Scout. My assignment is to hike in several miles and construct my own shelter from the landscape. I wake up wet from the elements and in the midst of a pile of rubble that used to be my home for the night. By the time I earned the honor of Eagle Scout, I vowed to be done with camping forever.
Now, I find myself living in a world that has $250,000 RVs and something enigmatically called “glamping.” According to glamping.com, the term is a contraction of “glamorous camping.” Traditional glamping is characterized by using a tent or other temporary structure along with transplanted comforts of home including rugs, furniture, electricity, formal accouterments and even formal attire.
Glamping has quickly morphed from temporary structures into semi-permanent ones like RVs and even permanent dwellings. These permanent dwellings range from rustic cabins to luxury cottages with comforts far beyond those of home, all designed to pamper you in natural surroundings. This effectively means that anything counts as glamping as long as it is glamorous and provides direct access to the great outdoors. Glamping has spread to every state in the union and prices are as high as $3,000 per night for the most luxurious glampsites.
Trying to uncover the history of glamping is a challenge. Some websites point to the extravagant tent cities of Turkish Ottoman sultans as the first historical evidence of what is now referred to as “glamping.” Others look to the luxurious African safaris of wealthy Westerners in the early 1900s as a starting point.
Although it is unclear exactly when and how glamping, as a trend, got started, the popularity of the concept was helped along 15 years ago when two sisters, Becky Clarke and Maurrie Sussman, realized that many women bought their own trailers and campers, renovated them to look fashionable and reflect current trends in interior design, and often left their husbands and boyfriends behind to camp with an all-female group. Both women were inspired to start their own organization that reflected this development in camping, and Sisters on the Fly was born.
“It’s become really popular with women who are married to very outdoorsy men,” said Janine Pettit, a glamping blogger at girlcamper.blogspot.com, who actively participates in the activity herself.
“These are men who go hunting and fishing and want their wives to come along, but a lot of women will only go if they can bring a nice mattress and linens and tablecloths.”
While it may sound like a form of camping made popular (or non-negotiable) by women, men have become particularly fond of bringing nice things with them on their camping trips.
“I like to bring my fine china, silver and crystal with me when I go camping,” Keynan Ammons, a Central California glamper, said. “I don’t think of it as a big deal, though—nice things tend to get toned down really fast when you’re somewhere rustic.”
Many people find the charm of bringing luxury items on camping trips appealing. The aesthetic of early 20th century African safaris, especially, has informed not just the design choices of those who renovate their campers — think the tent in the movie Out of Africa — but have compelled people to bring along their best goods from home.
“I have an appreciation of nice things,” Ammons says. “It’s important to take a step back when you have nice things, because you’re around it all the time and you can become numb to it. You have to remove yourself from your surroundings sometimes to really maintain an appreciation of the things you have.”
The glamping trend has grown very quickly in the last several years. Sisters on the Fly, now thousands of members strong, has glamping groups in at least five different countries, including England, France and Scotland. Regional groups plan their own trips, and many of them draw large numbers of participants.
“I have gone on many trips with Sisters on the Fly — Joshua Tree, Kernville, Hot Springs, Arizona — and they’ve all been interesting,” says local SOTF glamper, Pam White. “I went on a glamping trip to Ventura earlier this year, and more than 300 women were there. It was a very big gathering.”
White got started with the organization after reading an article in Sunset Magazine about Sisters on the Fly several years ago and, after all the years she spent camping with her daughters as they grew up, thought she would enjoy camping with other women who decorated vintage trailers. She liked the idea of these women who glamped doing it right with vintage trailers.
“When I first joined the organization in 2008 or 2009, I started looking for a trailer right away and found a 1951 Shasta out in Sanger,” White said. “It was pretty rough and pretty old, but my husband and I bought it and fixed it up. We got it all repaired before we started decorating and painting it.”
For more information about places to glamp in one of the country’s most popular and beloved national parks, please see the special Yosemite Gateway Guide.
Written by Bradley T. Wajda. Madeline Shannon contributed to the reporting and writing of this story. Final four photos by Dan Minkler.