There used to be two opposite ends on the travel-comfort continuum: Starting on the left, there were those who didn’t mind camping out in the backcountry. And at the far right terminus were those who preferred a private cabin on a luxury cruise, complete with a bed dressed in Egyptian cotton sheets and a down blanket. Never, it seemed, would the two types of traveler meet. The new trend of “glamping,” however, has changed all that.
Short for “glamorous camping,” “glamping” means camping with the amenities of your own choosing. For example, some glampers — who fondly remember childhood camping trips — simply upgrade from waxed canvas tents and sleeping bags faintly smelling of must to cross-ventilated, polyester enclosures and full-size air mattresses. Other glampers may opt to go with an outfitter who’ll set them up in a cushy yurt with a full-time guide and full-course meals. In either scenario, glamping provides a way for those who have found that the idea of being in the wilderness is more appealing than actually being in the wilderness to be there.
Outdoor activity on the downslide
According to statistics from the National Park Service, in 1988, there were 282 million visits to our national parks. By 2008, the number had dropped to a little less than 275 million. A Nature Conservancy study conducted by ecologist Oliver Pergams of the University of Illinois-Chicago and Patricia Zaradic, an ecologist with the Stroud Water Research Center in Pennsylvania, correlated a decline in visits to U.S. National Parks with an increase in television, video game, DVD and Internet use. From 1987 to 2008, the time the average person spent on the Internet per year shot up from zero hours to more than 300.
With fewer people going outdoors for recreation, park officials and retailers are doing everything they can to coax more of us to camp and spend time outside. But is a tent that’s furnished with a four-poster bed, Oriental rugs, electricity and even antiques truly a “nature experience”? Or do such plush accoutrements diminish your encounter with the true spirit of the outdoors?
Over the top
While I have many favorite memories of my nature travels — mostly of solitude in an “untouched” wilderness — I will admit that right up there with them is a recollection of a rather extravagant moment on a glacier in Patagonia. While walking on a glacier was a spectacular experience in itself, it was what our group’s local guides did next that truly blew my mind. They asked us all to sit down for a moment and then, out of their backpacks, they pulled bottles of Baileys Irish Cream. Over ice just chipped from the glacier we were parked on, they poured the liqueur into our glasses. A nature traveler purist might sniff at these seconds of pure creature comfort, but I’ll never forget them.
Does style matter?
So, when it comes to nature travel, does style matter? Is glamping no more than a lot of hand-holding for people whose temperaments and preferences make them unsuitable for enjoying the great outdoors as it should be enjoyed — as simply and “stuff-free” as possible? Or should we applaud the new glamping trend as a means for even the staunchest “indoor people” to be an eyewitness to nature, perhaps familiarizing them up close — for the first time — with conservation efforts around the world? Please share your opinion below.