RVing and camping have become two big travel trends during the COVID-19 pandemic.
AutoCamp — a luxury campground with converted Airstreams as suites — is the perfect mix of both.
I stayed at the AutoCamp Yosemite site in August and saw why the campground chain has boomed in popularity.
It seems as if almost everyone I follow on social media decided to go camping or road-tripping during our COVID-plagued summer.
I was feeling a bit left out, so I decided to multitask and do both at the same time.
At the height of the summer travel boom in August, I visited AutoCamp, a luxury campground chain, at its location near Yosemite National Park in California.
But unlike most "glamping" sites that offer the conventional canvas tents or cute cabins, I stayed inside one of AutoCamp's Airstream trailers that had been converted into a hotel room.
The experience was so enjoyable that I've recommended the chain's plush glamping quarters to all of my friends, including the avid campers who prefer slumbers in sleeping bags over mattresses.
Think of AutoCamp as the halfway point between RVing and camping.
AutoCamp specializes in the accommodation I stayed in: Airstream trailers that have been converted into hotel suites with a bedroom, kitchenette, living room, and bathroom.
The company used to convert old trailers. Now it uses custom trailers directly from Airstream, which also doubles as an AutoCamp investor, Tim McKeough reported for The New York Times.
Source: The New York Times
But if you're more interested in traditional glamping accommodations, the chain also has other options like tents and cabins.
AutoCamp has two locations in California — Yosemite National Park and the Russian River — and one on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
It has already announced plans to open three more locations: in the Catskill Mountains in New York and Zion National Park in Utah and Joshua Tree National Park in California.
Despite this planned expansion, the COVID-19 era has proved to be difficult for the AutoCamp business.
Last year, the Yosemite location had to close three times: twice because of COVID-19 and once because of an encroaching forest fire, Jason Brannan, a general manager at AutoCamp, told Insider.
But as RV sales and camping both continued to boom throughout the pandemic, so did the public's interest in AutoCamp.
This year, the Yosemite site was closed in January and didn't reopen until February 1.
But by the end of the first quarter, AutoCamp had been "doing well enough as if it had been open the whole year, bouncing back even better than budgeted for," Brannan said.
During the months the Yosemite location has been able to stay open, the company has "exceeded expectations" despite challenges with staffing and lack of corporate group bookings, Brannan said.
"Now we're trying to keep up with how many guests there are," Brannan said. "We don't have enough suites to keep up with the pace of the reservations at some point."
The Airstream trailer is AutoCamp's most iconic accommodation, but its cabins and tents are also often booked up.
"People book AutoCamp because they want to come to AutoCamp, not because they need a place to stay," he said.
Now let's take a tour around the Yosemite site and my Airstream suite to see how the chain has appealed to hordes of visitors.
Upon arrival, visitors can park their car and pick up their room key and a wagon. The latter replaces the need for a bellhop.
I stayed in Airstream suite 49, just up a short hill that was only moderately inconvenient for my little wagon.
The outdoor space of my Airstream suite had a dining set, lounge chairs, and a grill-lined fire pit, perfect for sunset dinners and quiet morning breakfasts.
Heading inside, the trailer includes more than enough amenities for a stay in the woods.
I was immediately taken aback by the number of windows, which provided plenty of natural sunlight during the day.
The natural light helped make the 31-foot trailer seem spacious and bright, more than any hotel I've ever stayed in.
Now let's take a look around the amenities.
The air conditioning kept my trailer cool throughout the beating afternoon sun despite the lack of overhead tree coverage.
Moving on, the suite's bathroom sits just past a sliding door and came with the typical vanity, toilet, and glass-panel-lined shower.
All of the Ursa Major bathroom products are stored in matching amber bottles, a visually satisfying and clean touch.
And unlike most hotel bathrooms I've been in, the one inside my trailer suite was lined with windows.
This, combined with the clean black, gray, and white color scheme, made the bathroom feel modern and luxurious.
The living "room" is just outside the bathroom. The space is simple and comes with a couch (which also folds out into a bed), blankets, pillows, and two side tables.
Nothing too glamorous, but it was more than I was expecting from a trailer hotel room.
This living room space flows directly into the kitchenette.
I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the kitchen space, which proved large enough for me to prepare a full meal without running out of counter space.
The trailers all come with the basic necessities to prepare a meal over a campfire. This includes a cutting board, cast-iron skillet, and knife.
All I had to do was bring some of my own fresh produce and tortillas to create a plate of perfectly mediocre breakfast tacos.
The trailers also come with dishes, utensils, and glassware, so I didn't have to bring any single-use cups or plates, saving both money and waste.
The dishware and glasses are stored in the same cabinet as the microwave and mini refrigerator.
One of the cabinets over the kitchenette holds a full coffee station with a water kettle, French press, and ground coffee beans.
Now onto the bedroom, which is just past the kitchen. It's simple but, like the living room, it gets the job done.
The space has a queen bed, nightstands with charging ports, and plenty of lights to brighten up the curtain-lined space.
There's even a television for a movie night in the woods.
A night's stay at the AutoCamp Yosemite property includes access to any on-site amenities, such as the swimming pool …
… a shaded outdoor lounge area ...
… a small pond …
… a large hammock between other Airstream suites (although the hammock was generally overrun with children during my visit) ...
… and an air-conditioned clubhouse with communal seating and tables, a fire pit, and the general store.
The general store is fully stocked with basic ingredients, premade meals, beverages, and other glamping necessities.
The clubhouse also has a small cafe that sells coffee, meals, beer, and wine for happy hours in the woods.
The property even has a few electric-vehicle charging stations.
I stayed at the AutoCamp Yosemite for only one night, but I enjoyed my solo glamping experience more than any hotel room I've ever stayed in.
The Airstream trailer is a comfortable living experience, and it felt as if I was staying in my own downsized apartment ...
… with the added benefit of having my own outdoor fire pit, which is the best part about camping.
Staying in a trailer also felt private and quiet: The only time I ran into other people was when I was in the clubhouse.
But I can't compare my fond memories of camping and sleeping on dirt to my stay at AutoCamp Yosemite.
In terms of amenities, AutoCamp felt more like staying at a hotel than any sort of camping I've done.
Instead of flimsy tents, I stayed in a fully enclosed and air-conditioned tiny home.
And instead of a cooler full of melting ice, I had a mini refrigerator.
I opted to cook over the fire, but I could have purchased a microwaveable meal instead.
But cooking outside my trailer was more convenient than cooking at a traditional camping site.
Instead of tediously starting and tending to a fire, I was able to purchase firewood at the general store. All I had to do was light it using some complimentary matches, and I was ready to make my meals.
And having a good-sized kitchen countertop made preparing my mise en place easy and bug-free.
But be prepared to pay more for a stay at AutoCamp Yosemite than you might ever need to for a campground reservation or hotel.
The Yosemite site ranges from $175 to $475 per night depending on the season and day.
Yes, it might seem ridiculous to pay almost $500 to sleep in a trailer.
But AutoCamp combines the experience of being outdoors with the convenience and comfort of being in a hotel. Plus it's as private and quiet as your typical campground.
I didn't have to worry about setting up a tent or bringing cookware and camping gear. It's like paying for the luxury and convenience of an all-inclusive glamping experience.
In my opinion, it's a great way for city people to get outdoors while still enjoying the benefits of modern luxury like Wi-Fi and mattresses.
Do I still prefer camping over glamping? Yes.
But will I treat myself to another AutoCamp stay in the future, maybe at a different location? Well, when I have the money to do so, also yes.
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