ORLANDO, Fla. — There was once a time when camping conjured up images of trudging through the backcountry, backpacks slung over tired shoulders while keeping eyes peeled for bears.
Some might still argue that roughing it with tents and sleeping bags is the real way to camp, but gone are the days where that’s your only option.
Now, glamping has come into the spotlight, with luxurious sites set up in beautiful places from Joshua Tree National Park to Yellowstone, Zion and beyond. It’s a budding industry that’s suddenly exploding and could be worth $4.8 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research.
But what is glamping, and when did it go mainstream?
In 2016, the term was added to the Oxford dictionary: “a type of camping, using tents and other kinds of accommodation, facilities, etc. that are more comfortable and expensive than those usually used for camping.”
The idea behind this phenomenon is that more people can now enjoy the outdoors without first learning how to build a fire, assemble a tent or tie up a bear bag. The trend is growing at a time when camping has never been more popular.
The number of camping households in the U.S. now numbers 78.8 million, according to the 2019 North American Camping Report. In addition, the 2020 report showed that nearly four in 10 campers say they want to try glamping, with one in three prospective campers saying the same thing.
Glamping shows it’s possible to access a beautiful place while enjoying a swanky stay. You’ll still need bug spray but will have a much better chance of getting a good night’s rest.
I spent two nights in the Birdhouse, an open-air cabin on stilts enclosed with screens and complete with three twin-sized beds, a mini-fridge and ceiling fans. It overlooked the Suwannee River and felt akin to a large Florida Room attached to a house, except this one has its own porch, too.
There’s an outdoor shower sans hot water, but visitors might not mind that during Florida’s hot summer months.
It was outdoorsy without the hassle of putting up a tent or discomfort of sleeping on the ground. The accommodation still feels a little warm during summer months, but ceiling fans help. And no need to worry how much ice is in the cooler — that’s what the fridge is for.
As someone who grew up camping and is used to roughing it in a tent, I had the tendency to pooh-pooh glamping when I first heard about it. But after trying it, I’m sort of hooked.
I learned that camping can now involve creature comforts such as air conditioning, plush mattresses, outlets for charging devices and, if lucky enough, a Wi-Fi router or TV.
And I still awoke early, before the sun, listening to owls “hoo-hoo” just as I would in a tent.
More info: suwanneecabinsanctuary.com.
Glamping’s growing appeal
Glamping Hub, an Airbnb-like platform for nature-based luxury stays, has experienced record-breaking growth in the months since May, partially inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic and the desire to safely get away from it all.
Olivia Grafton, a public relations executive at the company, said that glamping fills the void between staying in a hotel and pitching a tent.
“I think people are really starting to appreciate glamping because it is that real mix of waking up in the forest or waking up in the middle of the mountains with a cup of coffee — without having to heat it over the fire,” she said. “You don’t have to take lots of things with you, and you don’t have to buy all the camping stuff. With glamping, everything is kind of set up.”
The platform offers a range of stays — 30,000 options around the world — from canvas tents and yurts to cozy cabins and designer homes far removed from civilization.
“You are not giving up any kind of luxury at all. The benefit is your bed is there, some places even have washing machines. You’ve got a dishwasher, sometimes electrical appliances,” Grafton said. “It’s really about going back and relaxing, reconnecting to yourself and also your surroundings.”
A cursory look at the site’s Florida lodgings shows luxurious canvas tents with queen-size beds, an Airstream trailer near Miami, tiny houses to rent near Orlando, rustic cabins set away from city life and gorgeous countryside homes.
An RV revolution
Earlier this summer, Walt Disney World performer Carol Stein hit the road with her husband, Lee Wolfson, for a six-week adventure exploring national parks around the U.S. Their lodging came in the form of a newly purchased, 28-foot RV.
The couple represents two of the 46 million Americans who say they’ll hit the road with recreational vehicles in the next 12 months, according to research from Ipsos.
“We fell in love with it. We bought one and four days later, we left,” Stein said. “It has a separate bedroom, it has a nice kitchen with three burners and a little oven. It has two theater chairs that vibrate and are heated.”
Americans are seeking RVs in record numbers amid social distancing and coronavirus concerns associated with air travel and hotels. Recreational vehicle shipments reached a four-decade high in July with more than 43,000 units shipped, an increase of 53% compared with July 2019 (RV Industry Association survey).
Stein and Wolfson are just one example of the many people discovering or re-discovering camping in RVs this year, finding joy in visiting stunning natural destinations, fishing and hiking along the way.
This new subset of RV travelers may also be here to stay.
“We’re not selling it,” Stein said. “We like it.”
Explorers of previous centuries relied on the stars to navigate or sometimes set off on oceans unknown to see what was out there.
With the right preparations, there’s no reason present-day adventurers have to endure the same hardships experienced by the globetrotters of yesteryear.
Here are some tools to assist with planning modern expeditions:
• Glamping Hub is the aforementioned Airbnb-like platform for finding luxurious nature-based stays in locations around the world. Explore 30,000 listings. Visit glampinghub.com.
• The Dyrt is akin to Yelp with reviews of campsites and campgrounds by fellow campers. Browse more than 1 million campsites and, in some cases, check real-time availability for sites. A paid “pro” version offers discounts on select campgrounds, trip planning and offline access. Visit thedyrt.com.
• Hipcamp’s platform brings campers a range of bookable overnight stays ranging from tiny homes to tent sites and treehouses across the U.S. Camp on private or public land, and filter listings with options such as “lake camping,” “beach camping,” “pet-friendly camping” and “available this weekend.” Visit hipcamp.com.
• AllTrails serves as a popular resource for recreationists with 100,000 trail listings and 20 million users. View paths for hiking, cycling, trail running and more, filtering options by difficultly or pet-friendliness. Visit alltrails.com.
• Under Canvas sets up luxurious sites with canvas tents, plush mattresses, on-site dining, camp activities and picturesque views near some of the country’s most magnificent national parks. While the company’s 2020 season is coming to a close in the next several months, they’re already accepting reservations for 2021. Visit undercanvas.com.
• Outdoorsy is an online marketplace allowing RV owners to rent their homes on wheels to campers. The company offers some delivery listings for those who don’t wish to tow. Similar RV rental options include RVshare, Cruise America, El Monte RV Rentals and Escape Campervans. Visit outdoorsy.com, rvshare.com, cruiseamerica.com, elmonterv.com or escapecampervans.com.
• Reserve America is the go-to source for many state park campground bookings, as well as some private campgrounds. View real-time availability and find amazing listings around the U.S. at reserveamerica.com.
• Arrive Outdoors offers gear rentals for new campers who want to dip their toes in before investing in their own tent, sleeping bag and other gear. Browse pre-built camping and backpacking sets or rent individual pieces of gear. Receive items at home, hotels, Airbnbs or certain FedEx locations. Visit arriveoutdoors.com.
Connolly is a multimedia journalist for the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel.