Glamping: 21st Century Rusticating
As summer nears its Labor Day finale, I am already wistful for opportunities to spend warm days and starry nights in peaceful, outdoor surroundings. Recently watching a movie filmed on the steppes of Mongolia (The Eagle Huntress – the best, albeit the only, G-rated movie I’ve seen in a long time) got me thinking about one way to live with just a fabric’s (or sheep’s hide) width of separation from nature: in a semi-permanent shelter such as a traditional Mongolian ger (more familiarly known as a yurt).
Having stayed as a guest in several back-to-the-lander friends’ yurts over the years, as well as having spent part of a college semester living in an oceanside tipi (free housing!), I can attest to how sleeping in a white-walled, round shelter somehow feels spiritually uplifting. Or perhaps it is the lack of clutter, the simplicity of lifestyle, the gorgeous setting, or the combination of all these things that feeds the soul more robustly than dwelling within the squared walls of a solid house.
Reinvigorating the spirit with a return to simplicity was the same motivation that impelled 19th and early 20th century rusticators to flock away from cities into the wilds.
Yet the rusticators of yore also wanted their creature comforts at the end of a day exploring the wilderness, which gave rise to the elegant Great Camp style that we still appreciate in lodges, inns, and private homes today.
The recent rise in popularity of “glamping” (glamorous camping), in which resort-style amenities are paired with overnights in simple structures such as yurts and tents, reveals that not much has changed in the desires of the rusticator demographic. Glamping proprietors proudly advertise tents provisioned with queen beds, sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, mini-fridges, coolers, fans, heaters, electric lights, bath amenities, and lounge chairs. Flush toilets, hot showers, and sometimes gourmet meals are available just a short walk beyond the tent flaps.
At a certain point one has to wonder, why not just stay at a luxury inn that is situated in a gorgeous, isolated setting?
I suppose novelty is one motivation for choosing glamping over a traditional luxury inn – experiencing how it feels to sleep in a traditional Adirondack guide tent, for instance.
Another motivation could be the opportunity to sleep in relative luxury in a remote area where inns aren’t feasible to construct and maintain. The traditional means of accessing backcountry locations that require more than a day’s walk from civilization by carrying in a small tent on your back, crawling into it at the end of a long day and crawling out of it at as soon as possible in the morning, is not for everyone, and is certainly less glamorous than sleeping in a tent outfitted with beds and fresh linens.
I’ve learned, however, that accessing the hinterlands is not glamping’s only appeal, as illustrated by an Australian rental on the rooftop of the Melbourne Central Train Station advertised as providing “an outdoor urban glamping experience” in luxury-style tents “fitted with thick quilts, carpet, heating and other interior design quirks.”
Clearly, the burgeoning glamping industry offers a diversity of options to suit many individual tastes.
My personal preference is for a platform tent nestled beneath tall pines or positioned beside a lake or rushing stream, far from wafting diesel fumes and urban traffic noise, thank-you-very-much.
Glamping tents are more spacious versions of the canvas tents used by 19th century outdoorsmen, from loggers to trappers to rusticators.
State-of-the art glamping tents are not unlike ones I resided in at summer camps, both as a camper and a counselor, but the modern tents are brighter, and presumably less leaky and mildewed, than the canvas tents I grew up with.
The décor of glamping tents also sets them apart from the orange-crate, cot, and clothesline bedecked interiors of summer camp platform tents. Interior design options for upscale tenting range from a bohemian style based on traditional Mongolian yurt interiors, filled with colorful rugs and textiles,
to Euro-sleek, safari-style tent interiors that can include collapsable campaign furniture,
to an American rustic style in which bark-on hickory furniture mirrors the look of tree saplings thriving just beyond the tent walls.
I find the synergistic combination of a lovely outdoor setting with a simple, tastefully-appointed, white fabric structure that is open to the sights, sounds, and scents of the outdoors so compelling that I have started to nurture a scheme to create my own glamping destination – at home. Putting an elegant, safari-style tent on our property would allow not only glamping, but also “staycations” (another portmanteau term) right here in Vacationland (it even says so on our license plates).
There are lots of good options for purchasing high quality tents that include features such as tight-fitting, rain-shedding roofs, that are a vast improvement over the baggy canvas tents that I slept in at summer camps.
We’ve had lots of practice putting up large tents from years doing outdoor antiques shows, so erecting and taking down a tent seasonally should be no problem.
I even have the “bathroom” figured out. My favorite privy design is one encountered on campsites in Algonquin Park, Ontario – simple boxes with a hinged lid set over a hole in the ground and surrounded by lush screening vegetation, which avoids the shadowy, cobwebby, smelly interior of a walled outhouse (just keep a big umbrella in the tent for visits to the privy on rainy nights).
Although the pleasures of at-home glamping can be enjoyed by placing a luxury tent just outside one’s door,
we are fortunate to have a location on our land that feels a bit more like wilderness – a salt marsh that is a brief walk through the woods from our house.
A wooded hummock overlooking the marsh is the perfect spot for an airy canvas platform tent.
Waking up to a misty sunrise over the marsh will provide a dose of nature’s tonic to begin the day.
Walking back towards civilization along a woodsy path will be a soothing way to ease into the routines of daily life and work.
I’m convinced that backyard glamping will be a way to renew the spirit by sleeping closer to nature – in relative comfort – just as rusticators did over 100 years ago. I have a whole winter ahead to refine the plan. Stay tuned!