The number of solo women campers is on the rise, across all ages and in motorhomes, trailers, fifth wheels, and even truck campers.
In fact, the top expert we interview in Episode 412 of the RV Podcast says a significant percentage of all the RVers out there are solo women campers.
While no one can cite a firm statistic – estimates range from 12-20% – it is clear that it is a fast-growing segment of the RV market and that these solo women campers are not always single, windowed, or divorced. Many are married but travel alone because their spouse just doesn't like camping.
Our guest is Janine Pettit, who calls herself the Camper-in-Chief of a thriving business built to serve solo women campers that can be found at GirlCamper.com and consists of a blog, a podcast, Facebook Group, YouTube Channel, and a slick, coffee table-sized glossy papered magazine.
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Behind the rise in solo women campers
Here's an edited transcript of our interview with Janine:
Well, the Girl Camper herself, Janine Pettit, joins us right now. Hey, it's great to see you again.
It's great to see you, too. It always is. Usually, when we bump into each other, we're at a trade show and it's like, “Hey, Mike and Jen. Hey, Girl Camper.” Yeah, so thanks for having me.
I can't believe it was 2017 when we last connected.
You'll have to update us on what's been happening.
Yep, so I know a lot of stuff has been happening, including what's on your wall behind you. So why don't you give us a quick update on what all has happened with the Girl Camper?
Oh, well, every time I get a little window where I think, okay, the podcast is going well, just take a breather. I'm not very good at breathers, I guess, because the ideas are always percolating. And so I got this idea because people frequently write to me and say, why don't you host events? And the problem with that is I'm here in New Jersey and they're all over the country. But you and I, us, all three of us, we do the same thing.
Inspiring people to get out there!
We inspire people and they want to get out there. And I think it's a little different when you're a solo woman traveler, you require a little more handholding. It's not that we don't possess the ability to do it, when you're doing it alone, which a lot of our women are. You need a little more hand holding. And that's where hosting events is a little more fruitful than it is for couples.
What could go wrong? If you get a flat, someone's going to call and you're going to flag them down. You're together. So I opened up the country and I put out a call for Girl Camper guides all over the country. What women would be willing to help other women in their area get their feet wet, hold their hands, show them the ropes. And so now we have 36, I believe, Girl Camper guides all over the country.
And so they become the hand holder, the guide, the mentor for these women, but also they are becoming the tourist guide for their area. So say we have our girl Resa Leppert in Iowa. When someone wants to camp in Iowa, they can go to her Girl Camper page, because she has her own Girl Camper page on our website and find out where a great place to camp is.
Where's the best coffee spot? If you're into this, where should I go? And so they became little tourist guides for their neck of the woods too. So Girl Camper chapters all over the country.
Thought I had that going so well that I was going to start a magazine. So when Covid hit, I had all of a sudden a great deal of free time. I usually am at an RV show every other weekend in the winter. And then all of a sudden everything was canceled and that magazine was in my head for the longest time.
And so I just sat down with a piece of paper and wrote out if I were going to do a magazine, what would I want to talk about?
And I always go into Barnes and Noble and I look at the magazines and I'm like seeing 10 magazines on backyard chickens and no camping magazines. So kind of like writing the book you wanted to read, I created the magazine I wanted to pull off the shelf. So we're in our third year.
We won multiple Ozzie and Eddie awards. I was very proud to have been nominated for an editorial I published in the magazine last year about a 93-year-old grandma who took up camping for the first time. We were nominated lifestyle magazine of the year up against Joanna Gaines and the Property Brothers from HGTV. So we're like the little magazine that could, and I'm very proud of our team.
Choosing the right RV for solo women campers
What pops in my head is, somebody's starting out, is there a certain RV that you suggest for solo women campers that is a good one to start out with?
Well, we try to show everybody all the options, but I'm a big proponent of start small and work your way up. Really, we stay at Girl Camper that there's no wrong way to camp like a girl. So if you're a hammock hanger, a tent camper, a car camper, a van driver, a cabin renter, or an RV puller like we're going to help you.
But if you have it in your head I'm going to tow an RV, start small, get yourself a tear, drop, have a safe place to sleep, get yourself off the ground. But unless you have experience, there's no need to go out there and get a 37-foot travel trailer.
There seem to be more solo women campers than solo men campers
One question I have is it seems to me, and it's anecdotal I know, but from our travels, from the email we get, that there are more solo female travelers than there are solo male travelers. Has that been your experience, and what do you attribute that to? You would think in this culture and society we're in and outdoors and RVs and mechanical stuff, that'd be more solo men, but it seems like the opposite.
I'm going to be very politically incorrect and tell you that women are just more adventurous Mike. And the KOA camping report, annual camping report… Or maybe it's the Go RVing stats. One of those two has stats on it. The numbers are really significant, like 80% of the solo travelers are women and only 20% are men.
So I think it's a couple of things. I think men… if my husband – and this is anecdotal – he doesn't like to be bumped out of his comfort zone. He kind of likes the BarcaLounger. And even though RVs are super comfortable and everything, I really do believe women are more adventurous. Women spend a lot of time at home and traditionally not anymore, but I think women are more apt to, okay, kids are raised, took care of mom and dad, empty nesters, somebody let me out. I got to get going.
BONUS: Click below to see Jennifer's Straight Talk to Wives About RV Living video.
I think that's absolutely true. The empty nest and you want to go see things and often… Oh, it used to be, but I think now it's different, the men traveled all the time and they're tired of traveling. They want to just stay in one spot.
Yeah, my husband has a sales job and he is on the road in his car all day long. Do you think he's getting in a camper to tow it even to Maryland three hours from home? No, he does not want to go anywhere. He wants to park in his living room, enjoy the back porch. No, I get that.
Now you are married. You are a solo traveler. Your husband just doesn't like to travel. I'm wondering how many other women are like that because I think the stereotype is that many of them are single women or recently widowed women, or divorced.
Most solo women campers are married
Mike and Jen, the number of women who are married, who go out there, it's actually higher than the solo women, the divorced or widowed or a single woman. And this is completely anecdotal. One of these days on our Facebook group, I should put this out as a poll, because I just like to know. But all the years I've camped with these women, myself, most of the women around the camper are like, oh my husband took the grandsons out on the lake this weekend, or yeah, my husband's hunting or he got a golf match or they're doing their thing. Men somehow can keep hobbies while they're married and raising children and they continue those.
And then those kids are gone and they have lifelong hobbies and women may be sitting there going, I've always wanted to go to the national parks. I've always wanted to go to that quilting museum in Missouri. Well, now I have the time and the freedom to do that. And they find this group of women who are doing it and they're like, eureka, let me get one of these little teardrops and take off with the girls. And then they find this is a whole subculture. These women are having a blast out there
Tips for solo women campers
Community, community, community, and sharing experiences and ideas on how you can do things differently, decorating inside, outside. Share some tips for solo women campers?
Well, Jen, you're talking about something that I feel like was such a part of the culture when I grew up. I call it that clothesline community. When women really helped each other. When all the moms were home and somebody got sick, another mom took the unwell or the sick kids and you helped each other, and that's what we have here.
So what I love seeing in the Girl Camper community is when someone comes in brand new and they don't know anything and they sign up for a Girl Camper event and the women there are like, let me show you, take that hitch on and off three times. I've done this myself sitting in a campsite going take it off, put it back on, take it off, you're building the muscle memory, I'm making notes, I got this. A year later, you see that same woman out in the campground and she's teaching that to somebody else.
So I'd say share helpful newbie camping advice for women where possible.
So whatever your skillset is, whatever you're good at. Maybe you're a Dutch oven cooker, or maybe you're just really good at organizing your camper. Everybody's out there. There's always a camper tour. So the Girl Campers arrive on mass at the campground and everybody's setting up on a Friday afternoon.
Well you know that there is a cocktail at five and we will start at one camper and everybody makes their way around that campground. And, of course, we're oohing and ahhing over everybody's designs, but we're also like, where did you get those stackable Rubbermaids? How do you keep this? It's all the tips on packing and organizing. It's Just so much fun.
Safety concerns for solo women campers
For the woman out there who is saying, I want to do that, give her some tips. What are their big concerns. Are there issues about decorating? Or what…
Safety is always a big question, so answer some of those.
Yeah, if you've never done it before, let's say you're on our Facebook group, which is 330,000 women now in our…
Wow, 330,000, that's huge.
Is that madness, right? And so you're on there and I read those threads that night when I sit down, see what everybody's talking about. and it's often thank you, thank you, thank you. Or, hey, everybody, I did it, I just got my big girl pants on and I got myself out to the campground and it rained buckets, but I sat in my tent or my camper and I did this and I did that.
And the encouragement and support that comes back is so beautiful to watch. So if you've never done it before and you want to join our Facebook group, Girl Camper, and just put it out there, what's your stumbling block, because it's different for everybody.
Like Jen just said, some people are really hung up on safety. Am I safe out there? So pose that question to the group of what your fear is. And then I would say get the support of people nearby. And if you're doing a trip for the very first time, maybe don't even worry about a tent or an RV. Rent
A cabin at a campground. Pick a nice resort campground and rent a cabin and just talk to people. Get the feel for it. If you don't have an RV at all, borrow a tent from someone and just go. Get your feet wet, close to home.
How solo women campers have changed post COVID
How has the camping world changed for Girl Campers post Covid now? Now that we're getting some say back to normal, the new normal, whatever that is, has it changed? Are you noticing any new trends, besides this 80% that you talked about are solo female travelers of solo travelers, at all?
Well, I think what I'm seeing is a bunch of people are so darn happy to be out there again. But I think what we're also seeing, and you guys have to be seeing it too, is during Covid, everyone was like, I should be camping. I should get a camper. I got to get out of this house.
And so the camping community is full of newbies. So I would say if you are out there post-Covid lend a hand to those people who are still learning the ropes.
Janine's story: How Girl Camper began
You are one of our favorite people, have been ever since we started. Tell everybody just to introduce yourself to them a little bit. Most of your followers will all know that you're on and, oh we know Janine, but for those who don't, how did you start? How long have you been doing this? And how often are you on the road?
Hopefully more often coming up. So my name is Janine Pettit, AKA Girl Camper. Almost no one calls me Janine anymore. I'm camper in chief, a title which my gang at work here gave me and I think is so cute. And I grew up in a camping family and I just always loved camping. It's just some of the best memories of my life, and I always wanted to return to it.
And I had a husband with zero interest in camping. We took our kids camping once with a borrowed camper and I had so much fun and he looked at me and said, I'm so glad that's over. And then I was, yeah, he was just like, phew got that off the list, she's been bugging me about that for years. And then I found out there's just women out there… And men don't wait for us to do things with them.
I drove my parents' motor home from New Jersey to Illinois when I was 17. I was not afraid. I've been in hundreds of campgrounds. So I went online, on eBay, and I bought myself a 1959 Field & Stream little Birchwood beauty camper. It was 10 feet long. It had a bed, a little booth and a kitchen, and it was heaven.
And I had that camper for eight years, and just little weekends with the girlfriends, close to home, never more than two or three hours from home. But then when my youngest graduated from high school, I got myself a beautiful teardrop, the MAX Teardrop by Liberty Outdoors, and I took off. I just took off. I went to the Tetons. I went out to Glacier National Park. I went all over Texas. My husband would call and say, where are you?
And so I just have felt very much like there are women out there who want the skills to do this. And we wanted to create a community of support, but not only support, really practical knowledge, like how often should I be checking my tires? What's the proper air pressure? Is my tow vehicle big enough for this camper?
So that's all online at girlcamper.com and our magazine is chock-full of inspirational stories of women who overcame those fears and got out there on the road and are now helping other women. So we just give each other a leg up. So I started Girl Camper in 2015. So here we are seven years later. I never imagined this. It was a blog. I never imagined this magazine and this community and all these wonderful people and the people like you that I get to meet in my job. I think we have the coolest jobs
We do, we do.
It's community. It is this community of like-minded people. Well, God keep blessing you. And we look forward to seeing you in person and hanging out with you.
We'll be seeing you soon.
Yeah. God bless you Jeanie.
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