Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Solo Woman's Camping Manifesto

It’s a simple enough concept: you want to go camping, so you do. You want to see the world, you want to see your country, you want to see your home state, and this is the easiest way to do it, you think. You went camping as a kid, so this isn’t a foreign world. You’ve traveled internationally by yourself, so that’s nothing new. You’re a single woman, thirty years old, who wouldn’t trade her solo life for anything.

As with the rest of life, reality is a lot more complex. But who wants a boring life?

You trade in your Ford Escape for a Jeep Liberty with a tow package. Your father gives you an extra stinger he has no use for. You know what you want—a 13-foot Scamp, the camper you’ve wanted for years. So you stalk Craig’s List, eBay, and a few RV sites, waiting. You find a few, lose a few. But then you find one that’s perfect and it’s only two hours away. Thirteen feet, AC, furnace, fridge, the whole shebang. Before the week is out, it’s sitting in your driveway.

Everybody around you worries for your safety, some more than others. A few think it’s just a really bad idea. And for a while, you buy into their worry. You consider getting a dog, but you’ve got two cats already and a dog wouldn’t fit in your apartment. You download a barking app for your iPod instead. You think about taking a baseball bat for protection, but then realize you don’t have enough room in the Scamp to swing it to protect yourself, so you sleep with your Maglite under your pillow. But you’re not stupid. You know how to listen to your gut—and if you don’t feel good going to the campground bathroom in the middle of the night, well, then, that’s why God invented the Porta Potty. But after the first night, you don’t even think about this stuff anymore. You’re aware, yes, but the paranoia goes away, completely.

You feel like everybody’s staring at you as you’re driving down the road and you wonder what they’re thinking. You think that they’re thinking that a woman alone is ludicrous. There’s no way a woman could handle camping like this on her own. And that puts some more steel in your spine. You can do all of this with your eyes closed. You know exactly how to hook up your camper, level it. You know how to use your WD-40. You’re so good at backing up the camper that you don’t even think about it anymore. You know exactly how to build a fire and how to cook your dinner on it. It doesn’t take long to lose your nerves and you’re no longer nervous about being a solo woman, camping. Or a solo woman, being a tourist. You’re still cautious about safety, but not worried. And one night, in Bayfield, Wisconsin, with a view of Lake Superior right outside your door and 50 mph wind gusts battering the Scamp, you’re convinced that the more time you spend in the camper, the more that you understand that this is something you need to do to be happy. Obviously it’s not the sum total of happiness in your life, but it’s an important part. A really important part.

And then you start to mess with your Scamp, to make it more functional—because you know exactly what you want out of it, just like you know exactly what you want out of your life and you’re not willing to compromise that. You know that you’ll be traveling with the cats, so accommodations need to be made for them. The front couch (that would make into bunk beds if you had the right pieces) isn’t really functional space—and since you keep the dinette down as a bed all the time, you decide to take out the couch and build yourself a front dinette. It’s not that hard. Your father helps and it’s a good memory-making activity for both of you. You come from a long line of tinkerers, and camping tinkerers at that. You build closet shelves out of PVC and plywood. You build a drawer under your bed to take advantage of the space. And when you’re done, you stand there, look at what you’ve accomplished with your own two hands and know it couldn’t be any more perfect if you tried.

People will never understand why you do it, you finally realize. Don’t you get lonely? No, you don’t. Don’t you ever feel afraid? Not yet, you haven’t. They might eventually understand what compels you to travel, but they’ll never understand what compels you to travel alone.

They’ll never understand what it’s like to travel with your home on your back, that everything in the world that you need is hooked to your hitch. They’ll never understand the absolute joy that comes with stretching out in your zero-gravity chair with a book in the middle of the afternoon, next to a piece of scenery you’ve never seen before. They’ll never understand why you’re so happy, standing in your camper in the morning, deciding what kind of tea you want to greet the morning, then sitting on the picnic table and doing nothing except drink your tea and breathe. Even the things that don’t go right aren’t that big a deal. Setting up or tearing down in the rain? It makes a good story. The time when [insert story here] happened? Good conversation for later. How about all the leaking that the windows were doing and how much silicone it took to fix it? That’s what it’s all about, right? Stories and memories?

It’s pure, undiluted, absolute freedom. The freedom not to have to compromise in this one area of your life, because the rest of life is all about compromise. The freedom to get up when you like, go to bed when you choose. To do everything because you want to—and because you can. And if you want to just stay around the camper, there’s nothing wrong with that either. Even when camping alone loses some of the absolute, pure joy of the maiden voyage, when you try harder to establish a routine, where things go, how things go, just a general In The Scheme of Things Mindset, the feeling of Can’t Believe This Is Your Life never quite goes away. Maybe you love camping just because nothing else in your life offers that kind of feeling. This is what it means to really live your life, you think, rather than just slide through it.

Sometimes, when the Scamp is parked in your driveway and you don’t have any plans in the works to take it out of the driveway—because life has interfered with your camping—sometimes you just go in there, lay down on the bed, fold your hands behind your head and smile. This is what it feels like when you actually live your dream, something that’s been nebulous for so long. This is it. This is it.


  1. I enjoyed reading this posting. Wish I could write like that.

  2. this is a great Blog, you've started ... very enjoyable !

  3. Thank you for a great post! This is the exactly the kind of life I wish I had - a solo lady experiencing the beauty of this country's less traveled roads.

    Now all I need is to win the lottery and learn to drive. :-)