Most of us love nature, but enough to wrangle a tent and sleep on the ground? This used to be where outdoor enthusiasts diverged in the woods, then glamping hit the scene. A portmanteau of “glamorous camping,” glamping has shot through our Instagram feeds at an increasing rate, fusing all the comforts of a luxury hotel with the close-to-nature aspect of camping.
To find out more about this travel craze, we spoke to the couple who literally wrote the book on glamping: Mike and Anne Howard, the adventurous couple of HoneyTrek.com (they’ve also been on a honeymoon since 2012). Their book, Comfortably Wild: The Best Glamping Destinations in North America, hit bookstores in October, but we got a sneak peak.
In this juicy Q&A, you’ll discover their wildest adventures, most inspiring characters, and where to roast your next s’mores.
The word “glamping” was only added to the English dictionary in 2016. How long has the concept been around?
Most people think of glamping as a 21st-century phenomenon, but as a pastime it’s been around for centuries and as a lodging style it dates back millennia. Nomadic people opted for these portable and easy-to-assemble dwellings (think Mongolian yurt and Native American teepee) for their lives on the move.
Military expeditions also played a big role in glamping’s evolution – from Roman generals’ spacious wall tents to the Ottoman Empire’s mobile palaces. Surrounded by beautiful decor and stunning landscapes, leaders recognized the joys of outdoor accommodations.
Glamping began to take hold as a form of recreation, and a variety of styles played out over the years. Safari tents, Airstream trailers, teepees, and yurts have been alternative hotel options throughout most of the 20th century. But over the past decade, these outdoor accommodations have become so fabulous, glamping finally got a name for itself.
Would you define glamping as “glamorous camping”?
No. And for the record, we aren’t really fans of the word “glamping,” but absolutely love what it embodies. After three years researching the topic, we’ve found the best glamping is the outdoor accommodations that meets this criteria:
1) Comfortable lodging. At minimum, you should find an inviting shelter with a proper bed and all the amenities you need to rest at ease.
2) Creative structures. There are countless glamping styles to choose from – treehouses, teepees, wall tents, geodesic domes, yurts, vintage trailers, shipping containers – and many are so unique they defy categorization. Pushing the limits of outdoor accommodation, there are no bounds to what a glamping structure can be.
3) Sustainable practices. With their roots as nomadic dwellings, glamping structures are inherently light on the land. They all work with existing landscape and many are off-grid, seasonal spaces that can be packed up and disappear without a trace.
4) Engaging experiences. Perhaps the number-one criterion for glamping is the reason most of us travel at all: unforgettable experiences. It’s not just about eating a nice meal; it’s about harvesting the ingredients and preparing them alongside a five-diamond chef. It’s not just visiting a turtle sanctuary but staying there and helping the babies shuffle safely to sea.
5) Inspiring proprietors. The best places have a passionate person behind them. They are nature-lovers, creative-types, and gracious hosts, who’ve taken incredible risks and poured their hearts into a property so they could share it with glampers like us. Glamping is not about glamour; it’s about making the wilderness more accessible and easy to fall in love with.
What should people look for when booking a glamping experience?
This new wave of lodging is hitting every outdoor scenario, from pop-up Marriott suites at Coachella to Tentrrs in big backyards. Stylish glamping spaces are increasingly more available, but we encourage you to seek out small, independently owned properties to support them and more easily connect with the environment, people you love and like-minded guests. Ironically, we went to review one of the most commonly cited “best glamping destinations” and it turned out to be our least favorite because it felt staged, corporate, and like we were just a booking number.
Ask yourself what you want in a vacation. Are you looking for relaxation, adventure, romance, farm-to-table cuisine or a wildly new experience? Most glamping spots offer a great mix of activities, though some specialize in certain areas (wellness, culinary, wildlife, culture, etc). What are you and your travel companions craving right now and how do you want to feel when you return? Another important factor is how much effort you want to put into this “glamorous camping” experiences. Glamping can be total pampering with all-inclusive activities, while others are more DIY – you'll cook your own meals over the fire and blaze your own trail. Pay attention to what’s not provided and how important those things are to you and your time in nature.
Why do you think glamping is so relevant right now?
In our fast-paced, work-driven, tech-heavy society, we need glamping more than ever. According to data collected by Apple, we interact with our smartphones around 80 times a day. While the average American child spends seven minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors and more than 400 minutes a day in front of a screen.
Most of us have become detached from nature in our everyday lives and forget what it feels like to be surrounded by something bigger than ourselves. We need the time and space, without our phones buzzing, to look each other in the eye and chat about our own adventures, not what we saw online. Glamping is good for our health, relationships, and the earth, plus it’s just really fun.
What kinds of travelers does glamping appeal to?
We wrote Comfortably Wild for anyone with a love or even a curiosity for the outdoors. Traditional camping can be intimidating to the non-outdoorsy types, but glamping is all about inclusivity. You don’t need to own any special gear, be physically fit, or have any wilderness experience. Trending images across social media have also made it feel more accessible.
Even city kids who haven’t hiked beyond Central Park are suddenly seeing millennials going camping in Chuck Taylors and think, “Wait, I can do that.” The LGBTQ+ community, who once might have thought camping was only for the good ole boys, now see the inviting spaces and creative people behind them and suddenly feel welcome. In fact, KOA’s 2019 North American Camping Report, found new campers to be even more diverse than the overall US population! Glamping has a wide appeal because kids can run wild, parents get a little pampering, couples have a romantic space, dogs are welcome, and city folks can come as they are.
How much does it cost to go glamping?
There are incredible places in this book for as little as $35 per night (and that includes breakfast!) and the majority are under $200. We also have a few Relais & Châteaux and National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, worth their high price tags for including gourmet meals, fine wine, seasoned guides, activities – even skiing with lift tickets and gear. Epic experiences are worth every cent, but the good news is that they don’t have to cost much and you’ll always be richer for them.
How did this project come about?
From the beginning of our seven-year journey around the world, we were reviewing all sorts of unique hotels for Honeymoons.com and our first book, Ultimate Journeys for Two, and quickly realized glamping was our favorite style of accommodation. It brought us to remote and stunning places, gave us access to incredible adventures, and offered just enough luxury to savor it all.
We were hooked and started to write about it more and more. We set out on a three-year, nine-country, 73,000-mile quest to find the most unforgettable outdoor getaways on the continent.
Driving covered wagons to cowboy camps, ziplining to treehouse suites, and harvesting vegetables for farm-to-table dinners, we quickly discovered that “the best” comes down to the memories you make.
Who are some of the most interesting characters you’ve met along the way?
Some of the most inspiring folks we’ve met on this journey are the proprietors of these glamping destinations. The co-owner of Panacea is a balloonist and artist by trade so when you stay with him, he’ll show you around Oregon’s high desert from the basket of his hand-painted hot air balloon.
The founders of Teton Wagon Train & Horse Adventure are descendants of the first guide to bring pioneers over the Teton Pass in 1889 and are keeping the tradition alive by leading covered wagon journeys from camp to camp.
How many people with polio also teach longbow archery? Linda Smith has had mobility issues most of her life but it didn’t stop her from opening a multi-sport medieval glamping retreat with her knighted husband Sir Daniel. This book is about the dreamers and the doers.
What are some of the stand-out adventures you experienced?
Fat-biking over the frozen Arctic Ocean, splashing through icy blue puddles and past ring seal colonies. River rafting between beach camps in the largest contiguous wilderness area in the Lower 48. Crafting beer from the hops you harvest on a farm owned by a family that’s been brewing since the Middle Ages. Listening to a jam band while soaking in natural hot springs, cascading over red, craggy travertines. Horseback riding through the Colville National Forest to a secret saloon, only open to riders in the know. And that’s just to name a few.
Fifty-six thousand miles is a lot of driving. Any road trip snafus slow you down?
We blew a head gasket between a mountain and a fjord in British Columbia and the nearest qualified mechanic was 17 hours away by ferry with a three-day layover on the First Nations reserve of Bella Bella Island. We limped off the boat in an embarrassingly thick cloud of smoke, and found the nearest plot of land for the night.
In the morning, we found out we were trespassing and the Heiltsuk tribal council was holding a meeting to determine where to move us. While we thought that might be some sort of restricted parking lot, it turned out to be a councilwoman’s backyard with a beautiful ocean view.
We pulled into her driveway, not too concerned with the 2x4 planks covering a puddle – until one of them flipped up and disconnected our gray tank! We were spilling wastewater (from the kitchen, thankfully) all over this nice lady's yard. She could have rescinded her invitation upon seeing this hot mess, but instead she took us in for days, cooked us a traditional Heiltsuk dinner, introduced us to the tribe's canoe carvers, and took us to the island bar where we sang and clinked glasses with new friends.
On our final day, they made sure we caught the ferry and got to the mainland mechanic safely. Bad days are often the most memorable when a positive attitude and the kindness of strangers are on your side.