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That Glamping Life: Trading in My Tent for a Different Kind of Adventure

I am a “glamper.” I have officially traded in my tent for the glamping life.

There. I said it. My backwoods, backpacking, teenaged self-of-old would shudder to hear those words come out of my mouth. 

“THE GLAMPING LIFE (insert eye roll here)?? But you used to pack your zip-off pants, subzero sleeping bag, iodine drops, and bag of “gorp” on your back. You’d hike through the national park, sleeping under the stars! What happened to you? When did you get soft?” she would ask.

Well, I got older, I had a couple of kids, and I found a more feasible way–for this phase of life, anyway–to enjoy the mountains. One that didn’t include sleeping on the ground. As much as I would like to tell you that I am referring to one of those romantic, oversized canvas tents with string lights and fur blankets (or do those only exist on episodes of The Bachelor?), I’m talking about another kind of luxury camping. I’m talking about a camper.

The Days Before the Glamping Life: Giving Credit to My Camping Roots

the glamping life

I have sweet memories of tent camping as a kid. I don’t even think we went all that often, but the few times we did stick out in my mind. My parents would load up our old Bronco with sleeping bags and a cooler. Then, once we reached the campground, my sister and I would spill out of the car with excitement. Eager to explore the campsite and play with our Barbies, we had no problem keeping busy while my parents set up the tent. My mom said she remembers the calm quiet of the woods, how she worried about bears but never let on, and how we’d all pile into the tent at night, snuggling together for warmth.

I’ve never attempted to camp in a tent with my own kids, but several years ago, when my son was younger, my husband and I bought a pop-up camper. It was cute, had a couple of beds, a toilet we never used for fear of the dreaded dump stations at the campgrounds, and was easy to tow behind our vehicles. The only problem was that we barely used it. And therefore, we wasted a summer with the camper sitting in storage more than anywhere else we had intended to take it.

The Opposite of Downsizing Is… Buying a Fifth-Wheel

Fast forward a few years. With two children now in tow and a renewed desire to explore the camping scene around Colorado, we discussed the possibility of buying another camper. But with realistic expectations this time. I laid it all out there. I wanted to be able to give my kids their nightly bath and take a shower myself. And I wanted to have a way to pee in the middle of the night that didn’t involve going outdoors with a flashlight and stumbling toward the outhouse. Or, let’s be honest, squatting behind the camper if the bathhouse felt too far away in the middle of the night. Reasonable, right?

So, off we went to the RV dealership with stars in our eyes and a plan to find a simple, bumper-pull trailer that would allow those few luxuries I was seeking.

Mistake #1: we brought our kids with us. And if your kids are anything like mine, they think that bigger is better. So, in order to appease them and make our shopping experience more pleasant, we let them wander through a few of the bigger fifth-wheel campers first.

Mistake #2: we followed in after them.

Once inside, we were easily wooed by the grandeur of it all. Fireplaces, L-shaped couches, TVs on the walls and kitchen sinks bigger than my own at home. This was the way to go! Suddenly, that bumper-pull felt a lot like roughing it. Surely we could manage a bigger camper. We would have adventures in style, and the dump stations couldn’t be THAT bad.

So, we bought the dang thing.

And Away We Go: the Maiden Voyage

After spending what felt like an entire day in the camping goods section of the dealership purchasing camper-specific toilet paper, hoses, and drainage tubes, and wondering what we had gotten ourselves into, we made our way to Walmart to outfit the interior. It took two shopping carts filled with pots and pans, plates and silverware, pantry staples, a broom and a dustpan. We were ready! 

With camping reservations made, we hooked the beast up to the back of our truck and off we went. We rode the right lane down the highway and chugged our way up the hills on I-70 trying not to lose too much momentum. At 2 miles to the gallon, you’ve got to factor in an extra stop (or five) at gas stations along the way to refuel. And if you ever want to know how a bull in a china shop might feel, I’ve got you covered. Maneuvering through a narrow campground to find your campsite while towing a huge camper behind you is certainly one way to do it. 

Sweet Success

the glamping life

Setting up camp the first time, and the next few times after that, took some strategizing. But we worked out the kinks, threw some hot dogs on the grill, and kicked back at the picnic table. We roasted marshmallows by the fire that night, and my freshly-bathed children fell asleep sweetly in their beds. They even slept in a bit the next morning. Especially if you consider the ungodly hour when children usually tend to rise while tent camping. Blackout shades, I LOVE you. So far, the glamping life was treating us well.

The rest of the trip was spent hiking, riding bikes, and strolling around the nearby mountain town. We found a playground for the kids to play at, stopped to buy a few growlers of beer from a local brewery, and even ate out at a local restaurant one night. We love the outdoors, but there’s something equally special about feeling welcome as visitors in another community. All in all, our first trip was a huge success. So great, in fact, that we have been at it for three summers now.

You Can Go Your Own Way: Owning the Adventure

Last summer, we spent 30 nights in our camper. We drove to Aspen to stare wide-eyed at the beauty of the Maroon Bells for the first time; took a bike ride along the Colorado River through the Glenwood Canyon; played in the hot springs; hiked Fish Creek Falls. We’ve cooked a cajun boil on our outdoor cooktop for dinner, dumping it out on foil spread across our picnic table. We’ve camped weekends with friends and family, and we’ve made more sticky s’mores by the campfire than we can count. We have spent priceless, quality time as a family, praying that our children will savor these memories we are creating together. 

the glamping life
Recent family camping trip along the Colorado River.

The glamping life is one that I was embarrassed to admit to loving at first. It seemed ostentatious and anti-outdoorsy. But the truth is that owning our big old camper has created avenues to bring my family back to nature. My kids have named the camper “Happy Camper,” as if it’s a member of the family. And doesn’t that just say it all? They eagerly look forward to our next camping trip the moment we’ve returned home from the last one. There are days we look at each other and wonder if we could just sell our house and roam from RV park to RV park all year long. 

Glamping may not make sense to everyone, and there are so many valuable ways to explore this beautiful earth. But, instead of feeling awkward or self-conscious about the way my family chooses to camp, I am going to practice gratitude. I am going to treasure our time together in Happy Camper and the travel opportunities it allows us and proudly claim my glamper status as long as I can. 

Holly Johnson

A native to Northern Colorado and raised by a police officer and a flight attendant, Holly left home for her first year of college but returned to Colorado to receive her degree in elementary education. She met her husband while working at a café owned by his mom! After teaching for a number of years, Holly took a hiatus from education to raise her own kids. She and her husband live in Windsor with their fur baby, tenderhearted seven-year-old son and spunky three-year-old daughter. She values the vibrant community of women she is surrounded by, especially since becoming a mother. You can find Holly wake surfing or paddle boarding in the summer and skiing during the winter. Other hobbies include taking barre classes and catering to her sweet tooth. She hopes to bring some added humor to the day-to-day moments of motherhood and to be a voice for those, like herself, who must manage anxiety and the need for perfection in a demanding and imperfect world.

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