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[Weekender] Car camping: How solo female campers enjoy outdoors

Campers relish on experience of decorating vehicles, witnessing wilderness in relatively safe environment

March 2, 2024 - 15:59 By Lee Jung-joo
YouTuber Kimseonjji goes car camping with her dog, Gangi, by Gusipo Beach in North Jeolla Province. (Courtesy of Kimseonjji)

After the COVID-19 virus hit, camping caught on among Koreans as an outdoor leisure activity that didn't break social distancing rules. The pandemic may have officially ended, but the camping craze has stuck around.

In the past few years, the popularity of car camping has stood out. As of end-2022, 41.6 percent of Koreans said they went car camping at least once compared with the corresponding figure of 4 percent in the previous year, a survey released by the Korea Tourism Organization in January showed. The survey involved a total 3,079 respondents here.

A noteworthy trend that has surfaced is female solo campers documenting and posting their experience on YouTube. They say that the unique experience of being able to enjoy the outdoors in a customized vehicle and in a relatively safe camping environment are what drives them.

Having fun & maintaining safety

Many of the popular car camping videos on YouTube, are uploaded by female campers. Some are joined by their pets and the content usually revolves around showing off their camping gear, setting up their vehicles for camping.

A list of YouTube videos made by female campers, sharing their experiences of camping alone (YouTube)

“My first camping experience was with my friends, but it was hard to arrange time to go as a group as everyone had their own schedule. This is how I started car camping by myself,” said YouTuber Kimseonjji.

Kimseonjji says the solo car camping experience appeals more to her compared with group camping because she can map out her own trip rather than spending most of the time trying to "reach a consensus with others."

"I have to prepare and set everything up by myself when camping on my own, and I think that helps me strengthen my independence and self-reliance,” she explained.

Most comments written under her videos are positive. One comment read, “Trying car camping alone has always been on my bucket list, but I’ve been scared to go by myself just in case something happens to me. Seeing your video gives me a bit of courage.”

As reflected in the comment, camping solo in a car could raise safety concerns and increase vulnerability for campers. It is why solo campers like Kimseonjji has to draw certain lines to maintain safety.

“Car camping alone in South Korea is relatively safe and nothing that could put me in danger has happened to me so far. But I still always make sure to camp in well-known campsites instead of staying out in the middle of nowhere, since it’s always better to be safe than sorry,” Kimseonjji said.

Car camping is possible in most existing camping sites, as they have built parking areas that specifically cater to such campers. These spaces are cheaper than caravan camping slots. A single night in a parking space usually costs 40,000 won ($30) to 50,000 won. In contrast, camping in a caravan costs at least 150,000 won per night, while "glamping," a word that combines camping and glamour and refers to a style of camping in luxury, can cost between 200,000 to 300,000 won per night.

YouTuber Kimseonjji parks her van at a camping site at Gusipo Beach in North Jeolla Province. (Courtesy of Kimseonjji)

Campsites in Korea are often more than just an empty campsite. Visitors can borrow cooking utensils like pots and barbecue grills or some additional camping gear, such as camping chairs and foldable tables. Convenience stores with snacks or instant foods or sometimes even restaurants are available nearby, and the sites are almost always equipped with clean toilets and showers. These restroom areas also mostly have alarms that make a loud noise and automatically alert the police, in case safety incidents arise.

While most campsites are relatively safe, there are precautions car campers can take.

BongBongCamping -- another car-camping YouTuber -- mentioned that she makes sure to bring at least two portable fire extinguishers in case of a fire, and a portable toilet, as some camping sites could get extremely dark at night, and “it can be scary to go to the toilets alone.”

Kimseonjji makes sure to pack her pepper spray and her stun gun with her every time she goes out car camping.

YouTuber BongBongCamping's winter car camping setup (Courtesy of BongBongCamping)

Customizing vehicles

Some car campers decorate their vehicles to make it almost like a small room, like YouTuber BongBongCamping, who decorates her vehicle “to resemble a small attic.”

“I wanted to decorate my car to make it truly feel like my personal space, with equipment and design of my preference,” said the YouTuber. “It is a small space, but I wanted to make it into a space that would be enjoyable for me -- a space where I feel like I’m playing in a small attic.”

YouTuber BongBongCamping’s vehicle is designed in a style that her viewers say is “aesthetically pleasing,” with a similar color palette and portable household appliances such as coffee machines, toasters and portable heaters to add to the experience.

“I’ve always been interested in decorating pretty much anything, and I took this interest with me when I decorated my car,” said the YouTuber. “After purchasing the products I like, checking the size of my car to install furniture and calculating the amount of electricity I plan to use with some appliances, I decorate my car in a way to make all of it go together naturally. I believe the effort and my thoughts behind how I decide to lay my camping gear out in my car has helped my channel gain the image it has gained today.”

YouTuber BongBongCamping is seen car camping in Wonju, Gangwon Province. (Courtesy of BongBongCamping)

Some others, like YouTuber Kimseonjji, also purchase old vans to remodel them into camping vans to suit their needs and preferences.

After going on a few car camping excursions in her compact SUV, YouTuber Kimseonjji felt that there were certain limitations in terms of comfort for herself and her dog.

“I’ve wanted to build my own camping van since two years ago, so I can model it to my personal preference,” said the YouTuber. “However, I always put it off with excuses like ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘I don’t have enough money.’ Then I realized I may not have as much time (left) as I thought I would, so I jumped into building the van from this year, so I don’t have any regrets when my dog, who is 14 this year, passes.”

YouTuber Kimseonjji added that once her van is finished, she hopes to spend less time installing and tearing down her set-up.

“The van will be remodeled in a way where it has everything I need for car camping, all in the back of my trunk,” added the YouTuber. “I hope this will help me spend more quality time with my dog, and allow both of us to enjoy camping in comfort."

YouTuber Kimseonjji remodels an old van into a camping van. (Kimseonjji)

Campers don't have to be YouTubers to show off their renovation skills.

“I watched a video a few years back of a family that bought a tour bus and altered it into a ‘moving home.’ I remember watching that and thinking that I wanted to do something like that someday,” said Lee Da-yeon, who has been car camping since 2022. “After saving enough money, I bought myself a large vehicle so I can enjoy camping in my car.”

Automakers eye trend

Following the rise in the number of people interested in car camping, Korean automakers and camping gear companies are introducing new products to lure campers.

Hyundai Motor Company and its sister firm Kia marketed their vehicles as “suitable for car camping.” Hyundai’s Casper SUV and Kia’s Carnival are two examples.

According to data from Car Is You, a total of 48,836 camping vehicles were purchased and used in Korea as of September 2022. The figure has increased eightfold in a decade compared to 6,040 vehicles in 2012.

Hyundai Motor also sells its brand of automotive accessories to enhance car campers’ experience, such as roof boxes, air purifiers, camping tables and air mattresses. On online shops, items labeled as “For Car Camping” are also sold, including mini-induction stoves, curtains, portable camp sinks and tents that can be connected to the roof or trunk of one’s car.

Those who don’t own cars suitable for camping can also rent such vehicles through car-sharing services like SoCar. SoCar launched its camping vehicle rental services in August last year with the price ranging from 110,000 won to 130,000 won per day.