janine

Girl Camper

Janine Pettit is a blogger, adventurist, podcaster and “girl camping ambassador”. As host of the Girl Camper podcast, she provides inspirational pep talks, travel information, and interviews with fellow intrepid women Airstreamers and RVers. “It made me cry to hear Janine talk about addressing all the fears I have been feeling about jumping into the RV life,” wrote a reviewer.

Pettit grew up in a camping family and later married a non-camper. “I just assumed that when you took a non-camper camping for the first time they would fall in love with it. Not so!” she said. “My husband did not like camping at all. I heard about Sisters On The Fly, a women’s adventure group that promotes travel and uses little trailers to go places and do things. I thought I had found my people. I joined immediately and bought a 1959 Field and Stream trailer with a birchwood interior. I was in love.”

Dressed as a snowstorm at the Sisters on the Fly "It's a Nor'easter" party
Dressed as a snowstorm at the Sisters on the Fly “It’s a Nor’easter” party

She began writing and broadcasting for other women when Go RVing approached her while she was promoting Sisters On The Fly at a Country Living Fair. “They named me the ‘ambassador for girl camping’ and asked me to write a glamping blog for them. I said no!” she laughed. “I’m not really a glamper. I wanted the blog to be for every girl camper, from tenting hikers to Airstream owners.”

“I do, however, like to camp like a girl,” she admits. “By that I mean that I enjoy a cozy trailer and nice sheets and cocktailware at the end of the day. But when I arrive at a campground, I want to get out and see what’s going on around me. I want to find the local museums, hiking trails, and farm-to-table restaurants. I like to research the history of the small towns I’m passing through. I like to get off the highway and have lunch at a local diner. I am not one for sitting around the campground enjoying the trailer itself.”

The Go RVing blog lead to a podcast through the RV Family Travel Atlas. When the Girl Camper podcast was released it made the “New and Noteworthy” iTunes list and quickly rose to number one in the society and culture, travel, and sports and recreation categories. “My kids were hysterical that I was number one in ‘sports and recreation’,” she said. “They had a good time at the dinner table laughing about the time I pulled a muscle in my back while putting on a sports bra.”

Fly Fishing, Davidson River
Fly Fishing in the Davidson River, Pisgah National Forest

So far, Pettit’s own Aunt Sue remains her favorite podcast subject. “I had her on as a guest and received more mail from that episode than any other,” she said. “Aunt Sue is 80 years old and has traveled to 65 countries. After she was widowed she crossed the country seven times in her class C motorhome by herself. She’s still traveling.”

Another favorite is her friend Mary Morey, who “we used to call “Mary Meek and Mild,” Pettit said. “She was painfully shy for as long is I have known her. When she first saw my trailer she went home and announced to her husband that she was going to buy a travel trailer and a truck to pull it. I cannot begin to express how out of character that was for her. This was a woman who would not raise her hand at a PTA meeting! Somewhere in her a fire got lit, and she would not allow it to be blown out. It was as if a lifetime of thinking that these things were for ‘other people’ just receded like a wave to the back of her mind and the incoming wave brought the real Mary forward.” ‘Meek Mary’ purchased a vintage trailer, learned to tow it, then upgraded to a new trailer and tow vehicle to take a 2700-mile road trip—all by herself. “I’ve watched that confidence spread to so many other areas of Mary’s life,” said Pettit. “She’s still the sweet and compassionate Mary I’ve always known, but on a whole new level.”

Deputized
Being deputized as an advocate for South Carolina’s National Parks by Superintendent of Cowpens National Battlefield Park, John Slaughter

Pettit herself enjoys the empowerment that trailering alone offers, and the peace that comes from solitude on the road. “As much fun as I have traveling with the girls, my favorite moments are those in which I’m by myself,” she said. “I can recall a day last year driving the back roads of Ohio to go to the Elkhart RV show. I was all alone and it was a beautiful sunny fall afternoon with blue skies and puffy clouds and I rolled on for miles and miles drinking in the beautiful Amish farms. I was thinking with every mile how absolutely blessed I am and how there was no other place I’d rather be in that moment. Traveling alone has taught me to appreciate life in the moment, and be prayerfully thankful for it. I am sometimes too busy in daily life to really fully express that gratitude.”

Camper college
Hosting Camper College with Mike Harlan of Airstream of South Florida

An advocate for those who want to explore RVing alone, Pettit says the top concern she hears from women who want to go solo is about towing. “That’s the number one thing that women are afraid of,” she said. “I always tell them the same things. Number one: towing is a skill set. Learn the principles and follow them. Number two: it cannot be that hard, or U-Haul would not allow anyone with a valid driver’s license to pull away with a trailer after watching a 20-minute video. Slow and steady wins the race. Arm yourself with knowledge on the podcast and join a women’s RVing group. You’ll get an army of ‘sisters’ to help you.”

Pettit says she doesn’t exactly remember when she first towed a trailer, but it was when she was a young woman and part of a “very can-do family,” she said. “My parents had a motorhome that I drove when I was 17 years old. When I bought my first trailer I drove down to Asheville North Carolina from New Jersey to get it by myself. I didn’t hesitate to tow it. I’m not a fearful person in that respect.”

After eight years she traded her ’59 Field and Stream for a 1966 Go Tag-a-Long, and proceeded to gut the interior and redecorate. “I wanted a Lakehouse feel,” she said. Though she loves the ’66—“a beautiful trailer I’ll never get rid of”—it’s now retired as her writer’s cabin. Pettit just purchased a 2017 Riverside Retro (“vintage-styled but brand new, with a bathroom and air-conditioning”) that allows her to travel further distances and for longer periods of time. Her husband (the non- camper) is now more inclined to enjoy a short road trip now and then in the new trailer. “We took two trips this summer,” Pettit said. “But he refuses to retire, and doesn’t like to be away from home for more than five or six days. As a woman, I have a choice. I can stay at home and wait for him to go on periodic trips with me, or I can head out on my own. I choose to pursue my interests and allow him to pursue what makes him happy.” The couple stays in close touch while they’re apart, and Pettit continues to encourage her husband, a landscape painter, to join her on the road and find places to set up his easel and paint.

Pettit considers it her mission to let women know that “the RV lifestyle is not just for retired couples and young families,” she said. “It’s for everyone, including married, widowed, and single women. I want to help them find an entry into the RV world.”

Fundraising for breast cancer
Fundraising for breast cancer

“Being a girl camper is first and foremost a state of mind. It is a woman with a ‘willing spirit’. It is a woman willing to overcome fear, go places with people she doesn’t know, and experience life in new ways,” she said. “It’s a woman willing to challenge herself.”

Pettit advises newbie and wannabe women RVers to take it slow. “Don’t buy a trailer right away,” she suggests. “Join a group and go in a tent or rented cabin, and ask a lot of questions. Join the online community and follow the progress other women are making. It’s very encouraging to see that from an outside perspective.”

“Be not afraid,” she said. “There are people who will help you. Every single day people get up and do these things. You can do them too if you listen, learn and trust.”

Resources for Airstreaming women

Listen to the weekly Girl Camper podcast. “I like to cover a variety of topics,” said Pettit. “We’ve talked about trailer safety and towing issues, theft prevention, and RV industry news. There are interviews with girl campers, news about the groups they belong to, the places they’re going with their trailers, and their bucket list trips.” Follow along at the Girl Camper blog.

Watch for a “Camp Like A Girl” event near you. “I started a meetup group called ‘Camp Like A Girl’,”  Pettit explained. “This is where I post information on Camper College, which are seminars I developed and are held at RV dealerships to help women learn what is involved in owning, operating, and towing a travel trailer. The other Camp Like A Girl events are when I invite wannabes on a trip so they can experience the girl camping movement before they become involved. It’s the usual campfire fun. Good food, new friends, stories around the fire, and lots of memories being made.”

–By RG Coleman