Camping doesn’t typically conjure up images of air conditioning, running water or electricity. But Joanna Cahill, 34, has managed to marry the ideas of luxury and the great outdoors with her business, Asheville Glamping. Cahill started the company in 2012 with a single yurt, which are tents built on collapsable frameworks. Now, she rents out 17 tents, yurts, vintage trailers and even a soon-to-be-built treehouse from $70 to $275 per night (with a two night minimum). Asheville Glamping comprises three different property sites that are open year-round, all within a 20-minute drive of downtown Asheville. The business has gained attention from media outlets including the Travel Channel and Buzzfeed. Cahill discussed her inspiration and motives in a recent interview.
How would you define glamping?
The way that we define it is that it’s still camping, but with more amenities. We are all about camping!
I think that when some people hear the word [glamping], they think it’s completely different from camping. They hate camping and the outdoors and bugs and they are looking for something completely different: that’s a hotel. There are some [glamping] places that exist like that, like cabins are now considered glamping and things like that. We are still doing tents, you’re outside, you don’t have a full kitchen in every area. But you’ve got something we never had when we were growing up: a real mattress, a real bed, a refrigerator inside your tent, electricity.
Why did you start Asheville Glamping?
I originally wanted to build tiny homes. I spent my early 20s volunteering for Habitat for Humanity on their construction crews. I came to the conclusion that [building tiny homes] was going to be really expensive.
I was actually looking for a place to live and wanted to build a house for myself, but it was going to take too long. That’s when I heard about yurts, and I built one on my first property. I lived in it while I was finishing it. It took me a long time to save up the money to finish out the interior, add the bathroom, the electricity, all that stuff. It really needs everything that a normal house needs. I lived in that for three years.
At the time, I had another business where I was managing vacation rentals and commercial cleaning. I thought, well, maybe I’ll try renting out the yurt on the weekends while I go backpacking. I started doing that thinking it wouldn’t be very popular. All of a sudden, my dog and I were essentially homeless since the yurt ended up being rented out 20 nights a month. I was camping with my dog in a two-person tent.
Then I started looking into vintage trailers, mainly because they were a little bit more affordable than a tiny house but they were still easy to transport. I bought one of those to live in. Slowly, I saved up more money to buy a second property and that’s sort of how Asheville Glamping began. I really tried to capture people’s imaginations and it’s spread from there.
Why glamp instead of camping or going to a hotel?
Our sites are unique and whimsical. Everything is different. When I was a kid playing, I used to be obsessed with building treehouses. When you become an adult, you aren’t really encouraged to do things like that. I think our sites spark the adult imagination. The majority of our guests are between the ages of 21 and 45. They are just looking for something different. Being outside without really have to rough it.
How much money did you invest to start the company?
I like to tell people $100 because when I originally wanted to start this business, I didn’t have anything but $100. Literally, I had no money. I was driving a scooter as my main way of transportation. I started my cleaning business with $100, and I put every penny that I earned into Asheville Glamping. I actually bought my first property in cash.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Building sites is really fun. I love coming up with new creative ideas for places to stay and to see people’s reactions to what we’re doing. I also enjoy getting to meet our guests. We have one family that came when we were first getting started and stayed in the yurt. They’ve actually already pre-booked the treehouse that will be finished next year. That will be their 12th visit.