Every summer while growing up my mother packed us up, all ten of us, and off we went.

My earliest recollections of travel are tents and campfires. By the time I graduated high school I had been to every state except Hawaii, every providence in Canada and every country from Panama north; all via road.

A few years ago we bought our 28 foot Sunnybrook fifth wheel trailer, and named it Heath. Heath is towed by our 2500HD Chevrolet Silverado pickup, which we named Jake. Let me know if you get the reference.

Friends often ask about camping and I hesitate before answering because what we do is not camping per se, but better termed gamping; in Heath we have air conditioning, hot showers, cold beer and a Tempur-pedic mattress.

Gay campgrounds are membership based and charge an annual membership fee allowing them to be gay oriented, but membership fees become onerous for travelers, making an overnight stop at a gay campground costly. At a Passport America half price camping club affiliated campground, I pay $15-20. A typical gay campground will cost two membership fees of about $20 each and an overnight fee of between $30-50; $70-90 is just too much for a twelve hour stop. Gay campgrounds could bring in the traveler by allowing a limited stay accepting another gay campgrounds membership. On this summer’s trip I passed up gay campgrounds in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia.

Most gay campgrounds are very social and the daytime social activity is a pool. All of the gay campgrounds we visited have clothing optional pools, and some are clothing optional all together. Many have wooded areas with trail systems.

I find gay campers to be more friendly, open and inclusive than mainstream campgrounds. You can not pass someone in a gay campground and not get a hello while you rarely get a hello passing someone in a state park or straight RV park.

Our first gay camping experience was Camp Mars; when asked where Mars is I like to say it’s near Venus due west of Jupiter which roughly speaking is accurate. We borrowed my brother’s class A bus, drove it across the interior of Florida and arrived in the middle of nowhere.

No more gracious a welcome could one expect. Dale in his golf cart led us in the bus to our campsite and soon after Koren arrived with fresh eggs from her chickens. Camp Mars offers a variety of campsites from tent sites to full hookup RV sites including wide open pull through spaces for really big rigs. There are trailers and even some yurts for rent.

On visits to Mars over several years we have made friends and often find those friends in other gay campgrounds. Mars is a real treat; a few hours drive from South Florida, there is a great community and is as quiet as Florida can get. Bring everything you want or need because anything worth stopping at is thirty minutes away.

A recreation hall is the evening social center of Camp Mars and the Saturday potluck is not to be missed. I am amazed at the food a gay man or lesbian can cook up in a camper; I am lucky to get a decent ziti done. Bingo is a mainstay of many gay campgrounds and each has its ‘rules.’ Beware erroneously calling Bingo at Camp Mars.

A favorite Florida gay campground is Sawmill; if you can’t have fun camping at Sawmill, well you just need to get rid of the camping gear. It’s close enough for a long weekend and active enough for a week. Some gay men live there, and Sawmill bills itself as America’s first gay community. The property was recently purchased from straight owners and converted to a Coop owned by its residents. Though it has gone through growing pains Sawmill seems to be finding its footing and refocusing on providing a quality experience. Our past several visits have each been better than the one before.

Sawmill is more than a gay campground, it’s an LGBT resort. Accommodations range from primitive tent sites to deluxe cabins, the property is gated 24 hours, there is a limited camp store, new laundry and well done community shower houses. RuPaul recently performed at Sawmill to help celebrate the Coop’s one year anniversary.

The cruise ship like pool is the center of daytime activity with a screened pool bar including food service, cookout style burgers by day and steak and chicken dinners by night, weekend DJ and free Wi-Fi. Nighttime activity is two night clubs, a courtyard with outdoor shows and a shaded trail system. Nearby is the Withlacoochee State Park Rail to Trail providing about 40 miles of converted short line paved for bicycles and hikers.

Vitambi Springs is a new facility opening south of Clewiston. The latest report is they are not ready to serve RV’s, though they did not respond to inquiries for more information.

I can’t finish this article without mentioning Jones Pond located in Western New York. If Sawmill is Club Med, Jones Pond is Ritz Carlton. Jones Pond is a premier property and fosters a strong sense of gay community in its seasonal campers; the campground is open May through September. Each block hosts a block party in the Barn during summer; raising money for donation to local organizations.

Gay camping can be about sex. For most gay campers it is about community; new friends, old friends and permanent friends. It’s about meeting new people, exchanging ideas about campers and camping, inviting friends to a campfire and having a few cocktails under the moon and stars.

Removing the strings, drama, expectations and familiarity of day to day life in the home zone and replacing that with relaxation, camaraderie, freedom of spirit under the stars and new experiences in a less controlled environment delivers a sense of comfort and inclusion rarely experienced in everyday city life.