Most of us have now heard of glamping, a.k.a. luxury camping, a mix of glamour and camping — the tourist industry’s answer to those who like the idea of sleeping outside but not carrying all the needed paraphernalia. It appeals to aging campers, picky sleepers and tender children. Many may think first of the luxury tents provided to African safari tours, but the idea has caught on worldwide, including our own neck of the woods.
I’ve had two very different glamping experiences. On a trip to the outback of Australia, I carefully suggested to my two female friends that we forego the stay in a nondescript western hotel and try a more rustic tour that provided real beds in tents but a shared bathroom across the campfire. My roommate, Mary Grace, had never camped at all and cautiously signed on to the idea.
We joined native Austral-ians, four French, two Germans, and a handful of New Zealanders in a very full van traveling across the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to Uluru rock and King’s Canyon, stopping at prepared camp sites. The tents barely held two single beds, a bedlight of maybe 20 watts and a bit of floor space for our bags. Mary Grace was pleased with the beds, and we tried not to think of the many Australian snakes we had recently seen at a zoo.
While the beds were a step up from traditional camping, much of the remaining experiences felt like a true outdoor event — early rising to see the sunrise over Uluru Rock (previously called Ayers Rock), sharing coffee with fellow travelers as we awaited our pancakes, night skies undiluted by nearby lights and a common grubbiness from the hesitancy to use precious water to shower. Mary Grace was proud to check camping off her list of first-time experiences, thought her sons would be proud and expected it to be her last foray into the campfire world.
But then there was Morocco. In planning the trip to Morocco with a local tour agency, I saw on the proposed itinerary a night in the desert in a tent offered at standard rate or luxury rate. Being the frugal travelers that we were, we chose the standard rate. But after our guide took one look at our gray hair, he gently suggested the upgrade to luxury — an astute recommendation with little additional cost.
The Tiziri Camp had just opened two months before our arrival, and we were out of sight of the other camps used by various agencies. For our night, the four of us were the only travelers, meaning a very personal experience. In the tent I shared with Mary Grace was a sandy floor entirely carpeted with Moroccan rugs, adequate light, heated sheets and a personal bathroom. Snacks and bottled water were for the taking without charge and Wi-Fi was even available. This was a big step up from our Australian experience.
In the dining tent, beautiful place settings with fine china and crystal glasses awaited the four-course meal. Our smiling waiter greeted us with the traditional tea and then began a parade of Moroccan dishes. After dinner, we were invited to join local musicians around a blazing campfire under the same clear night sky we had seen in Australia. Mary Grace and I even managed to rise early enough to watch the sunrise. We sunk deep into the cool sand as we struggled up the dune behind our tent but arrived in time for a magical moment of the desert awakening.
Closer to home are glamping options — a secluded bell tent near Broken Bow for $160 per night or a unique teepee near Tulsa on a horse ranch for $80 a night. Throughout Texas are opportunities to stay in tree houses, tent, yurts, airstreams and teepees. I love the El Cosmico’s name near Marfa, and it offers all the above. Our daughter used the “Under Canvas” organization’s site near Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota for her family’s first luxury camping experience and loved it. This company is expanding and how has eight locations near many of our favorite national parks. Prices vary significantly but all provide a unique experience.
Many of these locations can be booked on AirBnB as can other interesting lodging options. For me, I’m happy to avoid another stay at the predictable chain hotels that promote their hot breakfasts or comfortable beds when these amenities are equally available closer to the great outdoors. You just have to look for them.
Mary Walker Clark is a retired attorney turned travel writer. Her stories are on her blog, Mary Clark, Traveler, and her podcasts can be found at the website of KETR, 88.9. She lives in Paris and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.