Understanding the “Open Road of Life”

Understanding the “Open Road of Life” 1

My findings on the Open Road of Life

by Meghan McHugh, under the advisement of Dr Lorie A. Tuma

Hi! My name is Meghan. I am a senior at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and I am getting ready to graduate. Look out world, here I come! My last year at GVSU took place around the same time that our new Recreation emphasis was approved. As such, I was fortunate enough to take a few classes in recreation and learn more about the industry’s contributions and challenges. I also had time to focus on some of the disparities that continue to prevent women from taking the big leap – going out there, on their own, travelling down those roads, taking photos, meeting new people, making camp, and troubleshooting “stuff” as it happened along the way. I wondered how many women were actually doing this? Were there hundreds? Thousands? Was I just one of the tens-of-thousands that also wanted to go down that road? Well, this [in summary] is what I learned….

According to a 2018 survey, an estimated 6% of women in the United States camp solo. Most are recent college graduates, retirees, and empty nesters who have discretionary time and money. They are adventurous, courageous, and – they want to “go places and do things” (as Janine Petit, GirlCamper extraordinaire would say). They believe solo camping provides them with opportunities to see the country, clear their minds, and avoid distractions. Omg, I NEED that!

As I continued my research, I learned that travelling the open road and solo camping makes women feel independent and empowered. It allows them to make their own decisions, and it creates a generous sense of community that is often demonstrated by proactively offering guidance to other women who also want to camp solo. And who wouldn’t what that? Independence. Empowerment. Generosity. Well, …. me! After all, I was getting ready to graduate from college. I had just completed my last internship. I had one more year ahead and the end was in sight. I wanted that independent feeling, — the one where the wind blows through my hair, and I bask in the #vanlife euphoria. Trust me, I was ALL IN. However, as I continued to read about the open road, I became more concerned.

According to the “other research”, travelling and exploring [on your own] [as a woman], can have several drawbacks such as troubleshooting repairs, experiencing isolation, and remaining safe. Okay, wait. What? I spent a few days thinking about this, and then I called in for backup. In my attempt to learn more, I approached my professor (Dr. Lorie Tuma, Grand Valley State University) and asked her if she would allow me to complete an independent study. I explained how important it was for me to understand some of these challenges. I told her I wanted to use her research and leverage it against the statistics provided by others to further develop my ideas. She agreed and gave me a very specific agenda. For the next semester, I was to join a Facebook group for women who camp, ask questions in forums, and she told me I needed to visit RV dealerships and mega camping stores. And, I was to ask specific questions about every concern I had about the open road.

Well, I eagerly accepted her offer and embarked on a semester-long journey that would change my outlook on this industry – long term. The following is, in summary, what I learned.

  1. Making

    Women have always been inclined to help each other solve problems. However, when it comes to the camping solo, they remain the masters of their science. If something breaks, many women who solo camp know exactly how to fix things. In fact, many solo campers can complete the most complex tasks imaginable: They know how to pack bearings, remove and install new refrigerators, and hook up electrical lighting. In addition, if for some reason, they don’t know what to do, they turn to YouTube, consult other women in Facebook groups, and engage in conversations around the campfire to share solutions and ideas. Make no mistake – women help women, often.

  2. Companionship

    In the forums and within some of the Facebook groups, I asked women how difficult it is to create long-term meaningful and trustworthy relationships as a solo camper. Although many admitted their tendency to overshare too much information, they also realized this was not the safest thing to do when camping or travelling solo. As a result, they have become very good practitioners at limiting the amount of information they share. However, in retrospect, they find it also limits their ability to create long-term meaningful and trustworthy relationships. A double whammy!

  3. Safety

    I asked women for specific tips on strategies for protection. I was worried…well, maybe just concerned that I would be able to protect myself out on the open road. Dr. Tuma encouraged me to further this by visitingRV stores and dealerships to inquire about specific tools and rigs that are built with safety features in mind. This proved to be very beneficial because I learned that some ultra-lightweight campers offer auto lock features and are easier and faster to hookup in an emergency. As I perused the forums and Facebook groups, from these sources, I assembled a list of tips such as using pepper spray, bear mace, and loud horn or noisemakers. More aggressive suggestions included the use of firearms, mounting small cameras outside the RV, keeping keys next to the bed at night, pointing the vehicle toward the nearest exit, and using motion-sensor lights. Who knew?

 

The extras

One additional thing I learned, that I hadn’t anticipated was – the power of social media and its role within the journey on the open road. Ironically, social media has played a huge part in helping women to become more independent and courageous. Women who admitted they generally do not have many close friends, join online camping groups to “make friends” and they post discussions online in an effort to share ideas and seek advice. I know this is true because I joined a women’s camping Facebook group to post my own questions to the forum and within minutes, maybe even seconds – several women gave me advice. And for the record – it was GREAT advice. I had no idea that social media could bridge this kind of gap.

 

Call to Action

Although it seems redundant that solo women campers continue to experience concern out on the open road, during this independent study, I found that many women do still fear to go alone not only on public land but at campgrounds as well. According to a survey conducted in 2016, more than 83 rapes occurred on public land. In the same year, 16 murders occurred on Park Service land. And if these statistics are not alarming enough, some of the YouTube videos in which women describe their experiences boondocking on either kind of land, are indeed a call for concern. Trust me, there were days when I just couldn’t watch anymore.

 

Summary

After spending weeks reading the literature, talking to industry experts, and conversing with women online who are indeed travelling down the Open Road of Life, I have come to the conclusion that information is power. This experience has provided me with a new respect for women who are out there, roaming the roads, exploring this nation, and seeking respite from their stressful lives. I now understand some of the risks we [women] take in pursuit of adventure, and at the same time, I so admire the women that find ways around those risks. In addition to this, I have learned that making repairs, forming companionship, and remaining safe is relevant to whatever adventure women choose to embrace.

However, I must add — it wasn’t until the 11th hour of this Independent Study journey, that I realized – that when women share experiences and best practices online, they connect unconditionally. They do what they can, to share what they know. And by doing so – they learn how to be warriors on the open road. And this revelation trumped everything for me. Because after 16 weeks of Independent Study, I finally realized that the solution to remaining safe on the Open Road of Life lies in personal intuition and collective empowerment. These women not only trust each other cautiously, but they also trust themselves carefully. And as such, my obligation is to pay this mindset forward. I need to pay forward my findings, my feelings about being scared on that open road, and I need to pay forward a philosophical pursuit for life and word of thanks to all the women who so graciously share their best practices with the rest of us. Through this experience I realized – it takes guts to tell your story. And it is the “better woman” that puts it out there so the rest of us don’t have to experience, the worst of it. If I am to succeed in this industry, I need to respect those that know this industry – those that live in this industry.

I want to thank every solo camper [woman] for her resourcefulness, camaraderie, and bravery because I have come to the place where I honestly believe, that solo camping – is not so much the challenge, as it is the journey. And with a little help from my friends (online and other), I will respectfully and courageously take my place — on the “Open Road of Life”.

 

SOURCES

Pettit, J. (Podcaster). ITUNES, Qualities of a GirlCamper [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved Feb 16, 2016, from URL https://itunes.apple.com/

Tuma, L.A., Dr., Gonzales, S., & Packer, M. (2019). Women Who RV: Confidence, Camaraderie, and Comfort in Camping. Journal of Tourism Insights. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1082&context=jti&z=1527767593&preview_mode=1&login=2498174

 

Understanding the “Open Road of Life” 2

 

Guest Author

A recent graduate of Grand Valley State University, Meghan completed a study on women that travel and camp solo.

She shared her findings with Camping for Women readers and is looking forward to a career in the tourism sector.

29 thoughts on “Understanding the “Open Road of Life”

  • March 27, 2019 at 9:26 pm
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    As much as I love solo traveling, solo camping sounds a bit scary to me!
    Good to know 6% of women do take it up. Someone should find the statistics before and after Reese Witherspoon’s Wild movie. I’m sure it must have inspired many.

    Reply
  • March 27, 2019 at 3:39 pm
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    I love to camp and I could see how going alone would be very relaxing. I just don’t know if I would want to do the work alone! haha But, then again, I guess it’s less work with one person. 🙂

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  • March 27, 2019 at 2:49 pm
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    These are great tips for camping alone. I probably wouldn’t do it but I see why others would. Being able to focus more on the adventure and journey rather than the fear of the unknown is a strong mindset I have not yet been able to grasp. The movie 127 Hours, based on the true story of Aron Ralston comes to mind. Aron thought he was out for another great adventure when he unexpectedly got trapped with no way of letting anyone know where he was to come help.

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  • March 27, 2019 at 12:08 pm
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    I love solo adventure and sometimes tense up when folks voice concerns to me that they would never have with a man. Thanks for this post!

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  • March 26, 2019 at 1:55 pm
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    I think it’s great that women want to pursue camping solo. That’s also very good advice to not share too much information while camping solo.

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  • March 25, 2019 at 4:43 pm
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    Definitely, things to think about when it comes to being supportive of one another. But also good things to think about when you are protecting yourself.

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  • March 25, 2019 at 1:49 pm
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    There are 2 things in particular in life that helped me in my personal growth: traveling solo and traveling with female friends. On the one hand, I was able to become more self-aware and independent and on the other hand, I started relying on friends and believing in sisterhood.

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  • March 25, 2019 at 12:29 pm
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    It was quite interesting to read about the stats regarding women and their safety. True, going solo to a camp ground does bring out the jitters in you even if you have been around alone. Good to see that there is some encouragement for women to go down this path.

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  • March 24, 2019 at 10:47 pm
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    Interesting information here. I can understand why many women are afraid to go camping alone. I have not camped in years.

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    • March 26, 2019 at 7:28 pm
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      I understand it too. I still am somewhat scared, at times. The experiences had out on the road definitely outweigh it, in my eyes.

      Reply
  • March 24, 2019 at 1:16 pm
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    I never really thought about going camping on my own before, it looks exciting though, even if it might be a little scary. May need to add it to my want to do list, especially since so many other women are doing this these days.

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  • March 24, 2019 at 3:39 am
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    I am so impressed by the numbers you shared – 6% of women in the United States camping solo is a big thing. I am so glad to know that this trend is catching up in all age groups. Solo camping is a great way to connect with nature and with oneself.

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  • March 23, 2019 at 11:59 pm
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    I am not a huge camper but having a trip like that alone sounds like it can be really restorative.

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  • March 23, 2019 at 6:59 am
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    Solo camping in a remote area is something I truly haven’t thought about before, But I would sure love to do that.

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  • March 23, 2019 at 3:35 am
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    The thought of solo camping can be fun although it can also get scary if you are too unfamiliar with a location. Thank you for sharing your tips.

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  • March 22, 2019 at 6:15 pm
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    Solo travel in general helps women learn life skills for success. Camping solo was one of my first solo travel experiences, since it is often a very inexpensive way to travel. I always enjoyed being on my own, and definitely agree that it certainly encourages you how to solve your own problems.

    Reply
  • March 22, 2019 at 4:55 pm
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    I do solo travel and have never camped before; not my style, but I’d be too anxious to solo camp alone in a remote area. If it’s a group solo camp, maybe, but camping is not be though I appreciate women who love and enjoy it.

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  • March 22, 2019 at 2:10 pm
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    Great that you were able to take some classes about the recreation industry during your final year at college. I can totally understand why travelling the open road and camping solo will give women a sense of empowerment and independence. It must be very freeing! I also take note of your point about the role of social media in open road travel, and how it helps those travelling solo to retain and make friendships.

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  • March 22, 2019 at 1:14 pm
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    I am still afraid on doing camping within nature and not in a special designed place. Even though, I love such moments to disconnect from a city life.

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  • March 22, 2019 at 12:59 pm
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    Man, even I don’t have the guts to do this kind of trip. Kind of hard to pull it of really. Well, your research will be a great help to those who are planning this.

    Reply
  • March 22, 2019 at 11:56 am
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    It sounds like an amazing adventure. Be aware of your surroundings. Always communicate with a friend or family member so they know where you are. And enjoy to the fullest. Those experiences are hard to take when you are committed to a full time job. So, enjoy while you can!

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  • March 22, 2019 at 9:11 am
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    I like the idea to encourage women for doing this kind of traveling. I think one of the biggest aspects is surely safety. It is actually surprising that 6% of the women in the US are camping solo, which is, in my opinion, quite a lot. A good thing is to share experiences about places that are worth to visit for camping and that are safe. I can imagine this gives more trust to other women trying out this kind of traveling when others made already good experiences with that.

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  • March 22, 2019 at 8:36 am
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    I would be so afraid to camp solo, no matter where. I travel solo a lot but as I know myself I wouldnt sleep well. I just need to feel safe to be able to sleep. Can’t help.

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  • March 22, 2019 at 5:44 am
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    I really admire women who can go on this kind of adventure. As much as I wish I could do this too, I don’t think I will find success because I can be clumsy and I don’t have the courage to travel alone. Thanks for this post though. I know a lot of women will find it very useful.

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  • March 22, 2019 at 12:19 am
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    Camping is such a great thing. We love going as a family but it would be nice to go on my own or with friends as well. It is a great way to relax and unplug!

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  • March 21, 2019 at 10:55 pm
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    I am one of those who would be very nervous solo camping both on open roads and camping grounds. I am also not particularly handy in fixing things. I admire women who solo camp. There are some advantages for social media these days as your article states, making women more independent and have the support of other women around them. Your article was an interesting read, with much food for thought.

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  • March 21, 2019 at 8:35 pm
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    I am an introvert so I definitely need my alone time to recharge. It never occurred to me that solo camping could provide a clear minds with no distractions.

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    • March 25, 2019 at 7:46 pm
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      It’s a great way to get to know yourself! I love my alone time, as well. Being out and seeing the country in solitude is an experience like no other.

      Reply

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