Are we on the verge of camping's golden age?

view from a tent
© Unsplash / Scott Goodwill

It's a form of travel that is socially distant, cheap, and well-ventilated.

Travel will look different once this pandemic concludes. I suspect many people will feel repulsed by the idea of getting on a plane, of being in close proximity to so many strangers for a prolonged period of time. Interest in cruises will collapse because they feel more like floating petri dishes than luxurious escapes. Even famous tourist destinations that are chronically crowded, like the Trevi Fountain and the Louvre Museum, are less appealing than ever – because is seeing it really worth the risk of infection?

No, I predict that a new type of travel will explode in the aftermath of these strange times, a type of travel that gets people away from others. The inclination to maintain social distance will stick for a long time yet, and so wilderness destinations, remote getaways, and solitary accommodations will take precedence over hostels, resorts, vacation rentals, and packed city streets and squares. In fact, this could be the start of the golden age of camping because camping achieves many of the goals we're working toward (and dreaming of) right now.

Most importantly, it allows us to keep our distance from others. Even when a campground is at full capacity, everyone has their own plot of land. Everyone has their own gear – tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment, dishes, plastic tablecloth (I never camp without one!) – that is typically not shared by anyone else. Camping means you don't have to wonder about who was there before you and what germs they may have left, because it's all your own stuff.

Camping means you're outside in the fresh air and these days nothing feels cleaner and safer than the great outdoors. With recent studies suggesting that indoor ventilation could be a vector for the coronavirus, and medical experts saying you should open windows and keep indoor air as fresh as possible, spending one's vacation in the forest could be a smart move.

car camping© K Martinko -- Car camping with kids in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia

And we are craving that outdoor time after being cooped up in houses and apartments during isolation. Kids in particular need space to run and play, and adults need a chance to destress and calm down after feeling tense and anxious for so long. Nature – and the practice of 'forest bathing', or time spent among trees – is the perfect antidote for that.

Another driver will be cost. Camping costs far less than a hotel room, and that matters at a time when the global economy has taken a hard hit. (Some of the campsites listed on Pitchup.com are as little as $5 per night.) Even though there is the upfront expense of purchasing camping gear, it lasts a long time (20+ years) if cared for properly – and there will likely be lots of sales this year, as retailers struggle to break even.

I've come to realize over the years that kids don't crave the fancy, exotic vacations that parents do (or feel obliged to give them, thanks to social media). Kids just like getting away from home, exploring a new place, being with their family, spending time outdoors. A week-long camping trip to a nearby national park could make a more profound impression on them than flying to a Caribbean all-inclusive. I appreciated what Meagan Francis had to say in an article for NBC News, when she wrote that a passport is not necessary to have an enriching experience:

"Don’t long weekends, road trips and simple getaways to the beach still count as vacation? I’d argue that they do — and that this focus on 'big' experiences (with the big budgets they often require) can add stress, expectations and a sense of dissatisfaction to something that’s supposed to be a relaxing, enjoyable way to decompress."

boys camping© K Martinko – Car camping with kids

We're more skilled than ever at entertaining ourselves with limited resources, so why not head to a campground this summer or fall instead of booking a plane ticket and hotel, once isolation regulations are lifted? Online resources for finding great campsites are expanding rapidly, with companies like Pitchup.com constantly adding listings to its impressive database of 3,200+ campsites in the U.S., Europe, and South America.

Interest has been growing in camping in recent years, with a 64 percent increase in U.S. campers who go out three or more times per year. Six million American families have taken up camping since 2014, according to the KOA's latest annual camping report, so this is a trend that's already on its way up. Coronavirus will only spur its growth faster and further.

Are we on the verge of camping's golden age?
It's a form of travel that is socially distant, cheap, and well-ventilated.

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