Growing up with 10 siblings, my family couldn't afford luxuries like vacations. While my friends would drive down to Disneyland, fly off to Florida, or cruise the coasts during the holidays, I spent my summers at home on the farm in Marquette, dreaming of faraway places.
But I fondly remember the few times my mom rented a trailer at Miami Beach, Manitoba, and we'd get to go camping for real -- not just in a make-shift tent out in our backyard. Those experiences turned out to be some of the most unforgettable of my childhood, and must have entrenched in me the deep-rooted love for camping I have today.
What a thrill it was to play outdoors all day long with no chores to do, eat barbequed hot dogs and hamburgers for dinner, chase fireflies at night, and cram into bunks at bedtime. Miami Beach was where I learned to swim, made my first 'city friends', and fell in love with campfires.
Camping in trailers is the stuff that good memories are made of -- not only for kids, but also adults. It's for people like Dean Cooper, a born-and-bred 'tenter' who made the leap to a 20-foot hybrid trailer in 2009 and has become hooked on experiencing the great outdoors in his home-away-from-home.
"My close friends and their families had camping trailers, so after 'slumming' it for years in my tent, I decided to bite the bullet and join them," said Cooper, a TV and media production instructor at Red River College who likes to make the most of his holiday time.
"It's been one of the best decisions I ever made, and using it as much as I can is one of the highlights of my summer."
Whether driving a recreational vehicle (RV) or pulling a trailer, having all the conveniences of home -- running water, washroom facilities, fridge and stove, heating and air conditioning -- is the biggest benefit to camping on wheels.
Beyond that, it's the personal touches that make trailer camping so interesting, and the camaraderie that makes the lifestyle so desirable.
"As for the so-called 'culture' of it all, there's a certain bond with other campers. Everyone likes to check out each other's trailers, and it's always fun to see how people set them up. Some people hang lights, others have fancy stoves or barbeques. It's a real sharing type of atmosphere.
Cooper said he looks forward to visiting the Manitoba RV Show each year in March to see what's new. "Once you've had your trailer for two or three years, you want to upgrade to something shinier, brighter and newer," he said.
"It's always fun to look and see what else is out there."
While the variety of trailer gadgets and goodies and are almost limitless, so is the list of where to go. Manitoba alone boasts two national parks, 53 provincial parks, and an infinite list of public and privately owned city and town parks, most of which cater to RV camping.
The Manitoba Association of Campgrounds and Parks (MACAP) is a group of private campground owners who work together to promote camping in Manitoba. It has close to 40 members throughout the province, and they're seeing a growing trend in trailer camping.
"Overall, I'd say there's general growth in our industry, and we've definitely seen an increase in seasonal camping," says Dennis Crockatt, president of MACAP and owner of the family-run Rubber Ducky Resort & Campground in Warren, Mb.
"Many of our member campgrounds are full all the time, and there are new parks popping up all over the place, so it's been pretty busy.
"Once you get your camper, and you're all set up, it's a relatively inexpensive way to get out and enjoy yourself for a weekend, or a week, or even an entire season. That might be one reason why it's become so popular."
While campgrounds differ greatly in terms of what they offer for RV or trailer camping, even the most basic sites always have power, water and sewer. Beyond that, the sky's the limit. To help navigate what's available, MACAP publishes an annual Manitoba Campground Guide that contains descriptions and contact information for dozens of different spots.
It also uses 68 symbols to reference the types of services available at each location, like gasoline and propane sales, store, snack bar, fishing licences, showers, laundromat, handicap facilities, and so on. Options like Internet wi-fi and cable TV allow you to get away from it all while still staying connected to your world.
Recreationally, some campgrounds have common areas like rec halls, games rooms, playgrounds, and even hot tubs. For those who love water, there's fishing, boating, jet-skiing, kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, and pedal-boating. Landlubbers can play tennis or horseshoes, baseball or volleyball, go hiking or biking, ride horses, or hit golf balls.
With so many options and regions to choose from, it might be hard for campers to pick a locale. After trying out lots of different campgrounds, Dean Cooper now knows which ones are his favourites.
"I love Hecla because it's very serene, and the limestone rock formations along the shore give it a much different feel than camping in the Canadian Shield," he said. "It has a certain history about it as well that's very appealing."
"Another favourite is Nutimik Lake. It's one of the biggest campsites in the province, so you have a great chance of always getting a site. The lake provides easy access for boating and fishing, and it has brand-new washroom and shower facilities. Plus it's only an hour away from the city.
"Combine all of that with a store close by, and countless trails and sites to see, and Nutimik has most everything campers need.
"Birds Hill is great because it's close to the city, but still feels like you're in the wilderness. It has great biking and walking trails, too."
As for the campgrounds he's yet to visit, the bucket-list remains pretty long.
"There's an almost endless list of places, both within and outside the province, that I'd like to go," Cooper said. "It's always fun to explore new locations. The real attraction and benefit of having a 'home on wheels' is being able to be outdoors. To me, that's better than staying in a hotel."
"Once you've had the trailer or RV experience, it's something that you'll always want to do. There's no looking back."