Tell a group of people they are going camping, and you will see excitement, horror and every reaction in between. Some will picture being surrounded by the quiet serenity of nature; others will envision bugs, sleeping on the ground and — gasp! — a lack of modern bathrooms.
The hassles have kept many groups from even attempting this a camping trip. But what if you could go camping without any of the negatives?
That is where “glamping” comes in. Short for “glamorous camping,” glamping creatively rethinks camping to keep the desired oneness with the outdoors while subtracting the inconvenience and the discomfort. Glamping guests can enjoy the comforts of a hotel while staying connected to the surrounding environment.
“When people think of camping, they might think of a tent,” said Linda Clark, director of sales for Glamping.com. “You might be in a tent with glamping, too, but that doesn’t mean you are in a sleeping bag. You might have a luxurious bed with a high thread count and a butler on staff.”
Many consider glamping a form of experiential travel since it immerses visitors in the destinations they visit. And like experiential travel, glamping has taken off in popularity with individuals and groups across the country.
Though the buzz about glamping has grown in the United States in recent years, the idea of camping without sacrificing luxury has existed for a while. Early-1900s European and American travelers camping in Africa did not want to forgo their upscale lifestyles. Thus, the concept of glamping was born.
“Africa has been successfully doing glamping since the Livingston era,” said Dan Austin, founder and president of Austin Adventures. “That’s what everyone’s trying to replicate. I’ve been to dozens of African camps, and all of them I would call luxury camping. They are a far cry from a regular camp.”
Based in Billings, Montana, Austin Adventures creates small-group adventure itineraries, including glamping safaris in Africa. On tours of Botswana, for example, groups stay in opulently furnished tented rooms with sweeping views of the surrounding floodplains.
Though luxury camping has gained ground in the United States only in the past decade, glamping has been in demand in Europe for a lot longer.
“Most people think the phrase glamping was coined in the United States,” said Clark with Glamping.com. “People in the United Kingdom have been using the term for the past 40 years.”
Over the years, glamping has evolved to include tepees, Airstream trailers, yurts, tree houses and many other unconventional structures enveloped by nature. An uptick in demand for these unusual accommodations has caused new glamping destinations to pop up across the world.
“When I started working at Glamping.com a year and a half ago, the word glamping was searched for in Google 130,000 times a month,” said Clark. “Now it is searched 145,000 times a month. So people are seeking it out more and more.”
Clark believes that people’s ongoing search for new experiences has contributed to glamping’s surge in popularity. The ability to immerse oneself in the glamping destination remains another selling point for those seeking experiential travel.
“Glamping gives groups the opportunity to come to a unique place and experience it up close,” said Daren Cole, general manager of Moab Under Canvas. “You show up, you have your site, and we take care of everything from there. You don’t have to lug your equipment there.”
Moab Under Canvas offers glamping sites that sit on a bluff overlooking Arches National Park. Groups staying there can soak in the 360-degree views of the Moab Desert instead of taking a quick picture and heading to the next location.
Besides the ease of connecting with the outdoors, nostalgia for previous camping experiences also plays a role in motivating potential glampers.
“I think a lot of people want to recover those camping memories from childhood,” said Mark Waltrip, COO for Westgate Resorts. “People don’t have long vacation times, so they have to figure out how to recapture those memories. Glamping helps them do that within a shorter time frame because they just have to show up and start having fun.”
Westgate River Ranch helps re-create those memories on 1,700 acres in central Florida. Guests can camp on a dude ranch that hearkens to the original settlers of Florida but has modern glamping amenities.
Deciding where to go glamping can prove problematic for group leaders, since the trend has grown worldwide.
“There is not a continent that doesn’t offer glamping,” said Clark. “Even in Antarctica, you can stay in an ice hotel or an igloo hotel.”
Clark mentioned Portugal as an emerging glamping destination with tepees and yurts near big cities but still secluded. South America has become another glamping hot spot with almost every country boasting numerous luxury camping options. Argentina’s Patagonia region and Ecuador offer numerous upscale tents, huts and tree houses for travelers.
Austin Adventures recently capitalized on South America’s glamping potential by creating the Best of Peru Inca Trail Glamping itinerary. Instead of a fixed camp like those popular in Africa, the tour provides a mobile glamping experience so the camp moves down the Inca Trail along with the group.
“The Peru trip’s glamping experience is over the top because there are four porters for every guest,” said Austin. “We’re packing the camp and moving with the tour. We have massage therapists on the program. We also have a dining tent and hot showers. You are only limited by your imagination with glamping.”
Participants hike past the Andes and Incan cities and up to Machu Picchu during the day, and then retire to their safari-style tents in the evening. Gourmet meals on white linen tablecloths will make groups forget they are even camping.
Groups have their pick not only of destinations but also of level of luxury. Glamping sites can be as simple as a yurt with a wood-burning stove in the mountains.
“Price points for glamping can be very, very low,” said Clark. “That doesn’t mean it’s not luxury; it just means that’s what luxury means to you. You also have some places to go glamping that are the same price as a suite in a city hotel. It’s such a broad range.”
One of the most upscale glamping destinations in the United States is the Resort at Paws Up. States there come with a long list of amenities: ensuite bathrooms with heated flooring, double vanities, hot tubs, electricity and turn-down service.
“Our tents are really outfitted at the very, very high end,” said John Romfo, director of sales and marketing for the Resort at Paws Up. “In the world of glamping, everyone has their own definition of what luxury is. We have really focused on the luxury part. They are basically five-star hotel rooms that use canvas instead of walls.”
Groups worried about the price such accommodations can save money by choosing a tepee at a site such as Moab Under Canvas. Its tepees offer camp cots, mattress padding, bedding, towels, chairs and lanterns but fewer frills. Groups at Moab Under Canvas can choose their level of comfort with on-site glamping options including tepees, safari tents, deluxe sites and suites.
“We have tepees that have cots and foam pads to deluxe suites that have their own sofas and restrooms,” said Cole. “So you kind of get the whole gamut of the glamping experience here.”
Superior views and a secluded location are other key ingredients a luxury glamping experience. The Resort at Paws Up sits along the legendary Blackfoot River, and Moab Under Canvas is near Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.