Glamping: A getaway for people who don't like camping, but like the idea of it

Safari West, based in Santa Rosa, Calif., is one of dozens of locations nationwide that welcomes “glampers” to experience the great outdoors but without having to get their hands dirty.

“No tent to pitch, no sleeping bag to unroll, no fire to build” says Linda Clarke of Glamping.com, a website that shares information about the fabulous camping craze.

The term glamping (glamorous camping) has been used for a little over a decade, but ever since the concept was introduced, businesses have embraced the term by welcoming those who want to get in touch with nature — but not give up the amenities.

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Courtney Widmann of Santa Cruz, Calif., came to Safari West to stay the night with her family, and says it’s a great all-in-one experience.

“You’re out with nature, but you also sleep in a bed and don’t have to pack everything up. It’s the creature comforts of a place like this," says Widmann.

Across the country, there are a variety of glamping options that range from furnished tree houses to renovated airstream trailers, and even rooftop glamp-outs in New York City.

One of the more unique “glamping” experiences can be found at the aforementioned Safari West, a 400-acre wildlife preserve hidden within the hills of Sonoma County. Safari West gives guests a chance to not only go on a 3-hour walking and driving safari tour, but also invite them to stay the night in African-style tents. While seated on giant safari power wagons, guests view a wide variety of exotic animals including giraffes, rhinos, ostriches, zebras and more, and in some cases, get up close and personal. Tour guide Alex Coburn says this is one of the only wildlife preserves where you can stay overnight and get the intimate interactions that you just can’t find in other places. “People that go on real safaris may only see a few animals, but here you see a lot without having to leave the continent”. 

Despite the look and feel, this isn’t a hotel; this is camping and these are tents. Tent cabins are lined with canvas walls and include modern perks like power outlets, beds and a bathroom. Overnight guests wake up to the sounds of animals in the morning.

Many glampers say it’s the little things that aren’t included that matter the most. Jason Hogarty of Cameron Park, Calif., visited the park with his family and says he appreciated the lack of technology. "There’s no TV in the tent, so it’s actually good that the kids won’t fight over what they’ll watch.”

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Since Safari West is buried deep in California wine country, its only natural wine is a major draw (along with animals, of course). The private wine and safari tours have unique names like “Winos & Rhinos,” “Brews & Buffalo” and “Cheetahs & Chardonnay.” Knowledgeable guides also lead specialized safari experiences that can include wine and chocolates followed by dinner, or even a massage.

San Francisco resident Ben Actis celebrated his birthday with a safari and an overnight stay, and says it exceeded his expectations. “For adults. you have the wine. For the kids, you have the animals. It’s amazing.”

Glamping doesn’t come cheap given the luxurious accommodations and attentive staff. If you’re looking for an economic weekend getaway, you’re better off camping the old-fashioned way. Glamping excursions can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands per night, but for those who can afford it, Safari West glamper Mark Widmann says its money well spent: “You’re not dirty, you’re not on the ground.”

Author Dan White, who wrote the book “Under the Stars: How America Fell in Love with Camping,” notes that glamping is really just a buzzword that’s caught on with society. He says it's maybe a manufactured experience — but since guests are still spending time in the wild, they should always be ready for the unpredictable.

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“Campers aren’t 100 percent immune from things going wrong, even if you pay for a luxury experience," says White.

Regardless, it’s that sense of adventure that so many campures find alluring. And now, with options to do it in an easier way, many more will likely plan to "rough it" sooner than later.