To many people, camping still has the reputation of being a cheap alternative to a vacation. Something that can be done on a long weekend, without the hassle of airplanes or hotels, and for a fraction of the cost of a traditional vacation.
Part of this sentiment may come from the fact that camping is inherently less comfortable than a “traditional” vacation. A traditional vacation takes you to a different city and country, sees you stay in nice hotels, eat foreign food, and see museums and other local cultural sites. Or brings you to a beautiful beach, where you can enjoy an open bar and nightly entertainment.
These trips tend to focus on showing you the most amazing things (priceless art!), and providing you the most comfort (heated floors in your executive suite bathroom!), and serving you the finest foods (um.. pasta!). While backpackers may not be able to afford (or want) the priciest hotels, their trips still revolve around seeing and experiencing things that other people have made.
And although these trips are often incredibly fun and, for some, life changing, they are limited in some very important ways. A traditional vacation let’s you experience the best that other people have to offer. A camping trip, on the other hand, lets you experience the best that nature has to offer.
It’s no comparison. Nature will always impress more than anything we can do. The problem, is that to experience nature the way it’s meant to be experienced, we have to pass through a slightly unpleasant barrier of discomfort. There is no getting around this. If you want to watch the northern lights, you probably need to be somewhere cold, and you probably need to be up past your bedtime. If you want to experience the calm of paddling a canoe down a quiet lake, you probably need to portage to get there.
This is what I believe is the sad truth behind the stigma associated with camping. People fear discomfort, and focus on it to the exclusion of some amazing experiences. Camping in this light is seen as something that people do who can’t afford do travel in comfort. As something that is somehow less than the traditional vacation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I’ve been camping for over 15 years, and have come to see things very differently. Camping to me is a better vacation. Despite the slight discomfort that may be present on some trips, there is simply more to see and more to do on a camping trip than on most traditional vacations I have been on. Where a traditional vacation often sees you jump from program to program, event to event, and place to place, a camping trip leaves itself open to your own imagination. There is nothing that needs to be done when sitting around a fire, or paddling a canoe. You can live in the moment in some of the most beautiful settings imaginable. If you’re bored, invent a game. Talk to each other. Work together to limit that pesky discomfort that comes with camping. Put up a tarp, build an outdoor sauna (check out my earlier blog on that!), chop some wood, or be a photographer for a day.
Camping, in this light, is not a cheaper alternative to a normal vacation. It is a better vacation. Yes, it happens to be cheaper, allowing you to do more of it, but it is in no way worse, and in many ways better.
Last year, I had two weeks off, and decided to test out my own theory by taking two week-long vacations. Of course, there are circumstances that make it difficult to compare (not to mention my own biases and preferences) but it was an interesting experiment nonetheless. I started with a week-long vacation to an all-inclusive to Cuba. For a week I was pampered, fed good food (long story, but the chefs were all Italian and the food was amazing!) has plenty of sun, games, activities, and all the booze I could drink. Not much in the way of cultural experiences, but still a week of relaxation. Next, I decided to hike the LaCloche Silhouette Trail in Killarney Provincial Park. This involved about 90km of walking rough terrain, with heavy packs on our backs, and lackluster dried food. I brought whiskey.
It should be no surprise by now that both my wife and I preferred the camping trip. Not because we’re dirty hippies that like to feel close with nature. We love being pampered. The camping trip was hard work and there were moments where we really felt miserable. But spending seven days on scenic lakes, away from the world, surrounded by scenic mountains and the sounds of lunes singing at night, by breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, was honestly just a better trip. At least for us.
Of course, everyone has their own preferences, and camping isn’t for everyone. But in my opinion, it’s still very much a hidden gem in the world of tourism. If people are able to embrace a small level of discomfort, there is an amazing world waiting to be discovered.