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Happy glampers: Latest twist on camping isn’t at all about ’roughing it’

By Anna M. Lux, for Gazette Extra, July 2, 2013

JANESVILLE — Maybe you’ve had this conversation:

"What are you doing?"

"Packing my pillows for camping."

"All four of them?"

"Why not?"

Diane Van Horn wouldn’t be caught camping without her decorative pillows. Nor would she leave home without her color-coordinated enamelware. And she certainly wouldn’t appear around the campfire without her polka-dot and paisley apron.

The Janesville woman is a new breed of Ramblin’ Rose who trades roughing it for comfort and style. She combines glamour with camping in an outdoor experience known as "glamping." Around the country, women are buying vintage trailers, decorating them in style and packing the pink barbeque grills.

In January, Diane bought a 1967 Play-Mor camper on Craigslist.

"I saved her from becoming an ice-fishing shack," Diane said. "She was destined to smell like fish and beer."

Diane rewired the trailer, installed a new waterline and hoisted on new tires. When she got all the mechanicals working, she replaced the cushions. Then, she sewed new covers in red and white fabric, with black accent. She also began collecting vintage or vintage-appearing items, including a clock and a radio. She painted the inside of her 10-foot trailer to brighten its dark walls. She even hung a frilly lamp, with a black and white shade, over the compact bed. Outside, she attached real red and white petunias in the window boxes, which she removes when traveling.

Happy glampers such as Diane don’t even need to leave home. They can decorate backyard retreats in themes of their choosing. When Diane is not getting away on weekends, she leaves the trailer set up in her yard, where it offers a gussied-up getaway.

"It’s just perfect for me," said Diane, who belongs to a handful of online glamping groups.

Two summers ago, she traveled west in a teardrop camper to celebrate her birthday. Her husband, Robb, treated her to an unusual bed & breakfast at a canvas wall tent, complete with fluffy down comforter and antique iron bed.

Owner MaryJane Butters offers for rent five fancy tents on her organic farm outside Moscow, Idaho. She once worked for the U.S. Forest Service at a remote station. Today, Butters is well known for coining the word "glamping" and for running many businesses, including publication of a popular magazine.

Originally, glamping attracted a lot of middle-aged women who wanted to get outdoors in comfort and to share campgrounds with like-minded travelers. But now, the fun is more than girlfriend weekends with vintage trailers. Men and women alike set up tents, and young moms and college students flock to the camaraderie of glamping.

"We talk online with women all over the world," said Diane, dressed in shorts, a Farmall T-shirt, frilly apron and homemade straw hat with black polka dot ribbon. "We exchange recipes. We have swaps. We spread the word about when and where there are glamping weekends."

She recently met up near a Spring Green campground with a handful of other Wisconsin glampers she hadn’t met. Some bought June Cleaver dresses at thrift shops to wear around the campfire.

"They were kindred spirits," Diane said. "Most of the women do their own restorations. It’s an addiction. Once you have one trailer fixed and decorated the way you want it, then you want to do another one. Much of the fun is looking at each others’ campers.’

She plans one trip monthly until winter in her "little cabin on wheels."

"It’s all about making a place for yourself so you can get away and have fun," Diane said. "A lot of us are empty-nesters. I want my own getaway and to do something for myself."

Sometimes, she camps with her husband.

"He likes to rough it," Diane said.

On those trips, she tones down the frills.

Among Diane’s glamping friends is Zoe Siperly of Elkhorn, who has a vintage trailer.

"I love cats, so my trailer is full of cat tapestry and stuffed animals," Zoe said. "Someday, I’d like to have another trailer decorated in a western theme. That’s where the madness begins."

At first, Zoe’s husband, Doug, didn’t understand why she wanted the little trailer; they own a modern fifth-wheel camper.

"I told him it was my own thing," Zoe said. "I felt empowered because I could take a trip on my own. It gets kind of crazy when you pack everything up because we take a lot of things. One girl has a teashop in her trailer."

At the campsite, glampers show off their decorated trailers and tents. They go flea marketing, have potlucks and sit around the campfire sharing stories. They have been known to wear secondhand prom dresses to supper.

Zoe did much of the refurbishing on her 1968 Frolic.

"I think most of the women do the work themselves," Doug said. "It is a feeling of accomplishment for them. They seem to really enjoy it."

Doug likes glamping with Zoe.

"I enjoy watching her have a good time," he said. "I enjoy seeing everyone happy and outdoors. It’s just good clean fun."

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email