Janine Pettit Turns Lifelong Love of RVing into ‘Girl Camper’

Janine Pettit

Janine Pettit is known as the “Camper-in-Chief” to the women who engage with the Girl Camper website, her national network of Girl Camper guides, and her quarterly Girl Camper Magazine.

She has been inspiring and empowering women to “Go Places and Do Things” — her company motto — for over a decade with a career that includes writing articles for Go RVing, making appearances at RV shows and engaging in high-profile media interviews with The Today Show and Fox & Friends.

Pettit traces her love of camping and RVing to the camping trips she took as a child every summer with her mom and dad, her six siblings and her five cousins.

“My dad was a super charismatic guy,” she said during a recent interview with Woodall’s Campground Magazine. “He played the guitar and the banjo. All the other campers were at our site because he had the guitar out. Our campsite every night became the singalong site. It was just a blast.”

Pettit carried these wonderful childhood memories into adulthood, but it would be literally decades before she would dive back into camping and become America’s ambassador of solo female campers.

Pettit wound up marrying a man who had absolutely no interest in camping, however. Undeterred, she lived with the hope that he would embrace camping someday if she could give him the kind of experience that she had growing up. “I finally talked him into taking a camping trip about 10 years into our marriage,” she said.

They took a weeklong trip from their home state of New Jersey northward to Prince Edward Island, using a neighbor’s popup camper. They had two young children, Nathanial, 7, and Georgia, 10, and camped at some of the most beautiful lakefront and oceanfront campgrounds in the Northeast, including one at the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, which is famed for its dramatic high and low tides.

“The kids would go out into the tidal pools, picking up shells,” Pettit recalled. “As far as camping trips go, it was as good as it gets. Everybody was having a great time”.

Her husband had so much fun that Pettit was convinced that as soon as they got home her husband would want to rush out and by a camper of their own. Then reality set in. “My husband turned to me and said, ‘Thank God that’s over!’”

Another 10 years went by and Pettit read an article that talked about women camping without their husbands. She shared the story with her husband, but was stunned by his response. “You gotta do this!” he said.

Using part of her inheritance from a family member, Pettit purchased a vintage a 1959 Field and Stream “Canned Ham” travel trailer, which she likened to “a hardshell tent,” complete with an old-fashioned ice box.

By that time, as Pettit approached midlife, she started camping half a dozen times a year with her girlfriends. “When we would get to the campground, everybody had their jobs to do,” she said. “I was always the driver and helped the girls with their RVs. I drove our parents’ motorhome (growing up) and was really well prepared.”

Pettit became concerned, however, when she saw other female campers doing things incorrectly. “I would see these women towing trailers without weight distribution hitches, anti-sway bars or safety chains,” she said. “So, I started a blog about women towing RVs. I would write about the role of the sway bar and all of the related safety issues women need to know about towing.”

Two or so years into her own blog, Pettit caught the attention of Country Living Magazine who asked her to speak about her experiences as a solo female RVer at the 2014 Country Living Fair in Columbus, Ohio.

Go RVing was a sponsor of the event, and Courtney Bias, RVIA’s director of strategic marketing, reached out to Pettit after her talk and arranged a call with Karen Redfern, RVIA’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, to explore the idea of having Pettit contribute content to Go RVing.

Pettit said things moved quickly after her call with Redfern and Bias. “We all agreed that I would talk to every woman who wants to camp, whether they’re a 20-year-old with a Subaru or a 70 year-old-woman whose husband passed away and wants to learn how to drive a Class A by herself. They said, ‘What would you call that?’ I said, ‘Girl Camper.’ I literally came up with the idea over the telephone.”

Pettit’s Girl Camper articles on the Go RVing website, which she launched in 2014, quickly gained a following.

“I told stories about the women who were out there camping. Women who might not have a husband or partner to camp with or didn’t grow up with anyone teaching them. I wanted to make any woman’s RV dreams a reality without the idea that you needed a man in your life to make it happen”.

Pettit is highly regarded by RV manufacturers for her expertise in towing and is often invited to speak at industry events. She said it was a surprise for her to learn that fear of towing is one of the biggest obstacles for women considering RVing. “There’s nothing inherently difficult about towing that makes this impossible to do,” she said. “So, I would write articles about overcoming your fear of towing, logistically and emotionally.”

As her following grew in the camping industry, Pettit was approached by a media company in 2015 to start a podcast. “I said, ‘What’s a podcast?’” The media company asked her to make a list of 20 topics she could talk about, a task that initially seemed daunting. “Then I felt like I could do 20 more,” she said with a laugh.

Pettit said her Girl Camper Podcast was the number one podcast on Apple iTunes’ Sports and Recreation channel on Thanksgiving Day in 2015.

“The podcast was a game changer,” she said. “Almost immediately I was offered sponsorships from Progressive Insurance and Little Guy Manufacturing, which made one of my favorite teardrop trailers. Then Camco Manufacturing (came on board) and before I knew it, I had three major sponsors.”

“I was inspiring women to get out and go camping,” Pettit said, “but they didn’t have a way to connect with other women doing the same thing. For literally years, people would say to me, ‘Why don’t you start a group?’ I didn’t know how I would manage group events across the country.”

Pettit initially formed a meetup group called “Camp Like a Girl” and hosted a couple of events a year. But she wasn’t sure how to expand her network beyond that. That’s when a friend introduced her to Joyce Schulman, who was the founder of the ubiquitous Macaroni Kid, with online communities across the country, each of which is managed by a local publisher (Schulman is also the founder of 99 Walks and Jetti Fitness).

Pettit said there was tremendous symmetry between what Schulman created and what she wanted for Girl Camper. Over the course of what became a six-hour lunch and an enduring friendship, Schulman proceeded to coach Pettit on how to create a nationwide network of Girl Camper chapters with Girl Camper guides. Inspired by Schulman’s advice, Pettit began the next chapter of the Girl Camper journey on New Year’s Eve of 2018.

“I went to my network of friends,” she said. “I knew women in states throughout the country. I reached out to maybe 10 people in 10 days and said, ‘Would you be willing to be a Girl Camper Guide for your state? Would you run your own group?’ Surprisingly, everybody said ‘Yes!’”

Pettit said there are now 30 Girl Camper chapters across the country. Each Girl Camper guide organizes her own camping trips, kind of like the Meetup groups that exist in many communities. “Every chapter is a microbusiness within Girl Camper,” Pettit said, meaning the guides organize their own camping trips, which could range from small gatherings of a few female campers to groups of 50 to 100 or more. One of the larger Girl Camper events this year is a campout with 135 women at a campground in Cape Hatteras, N.C. Girl Camper guides also create local and regional content for www.girlcamper.com.

“Everybody does their own thing,” Pettit said. However, each Girl Camper guide is thoroughly vetted, undergoing multiple interviews by Girl Camper staff members. They are also trained in CPR. “We’re building out new chapters every month depending on the need in that area. For instance, Texas has three chapters as that’s a very popular state for camping.”

Pettit said the women who participate in Girl Camper campouts have often experienced significant changes in their lives, ranging from divorce or the loss of a spouse to having their children move across the country. “It’s truly cathartic for so many women to just join us,” she said. “They don’t have to be the life of the party or even know anyone. Everyone is welcome at our campfire.”

“Some of our Girl Camper groups have quilting campouts and donate the money they raise from their quilts to charity. Others are adventure junkies and plan camping trips at some of the most challenging hiking, biking and kayaking locations in the country. Others are very interested in history. One is exploring sections of Route 66 right now. We work with campgrounds year-round to book events (at their parks).”

Meanwhile, as Girl Camper chapters continued to expand, so did Girl Camper. In the midst of the pandemic, Pettit launched Girl Camper Magazine, a 100-page, luxury print and digital publication dedicated to all things camping. It has won multiple awards at the celebrated Eddie & Ozzies – the Academy Awards of the publishing industry, Pettit said.

“I asked myself, ‘How can there be six magazines about how to keep backyard chickens but no camping magazines for women?’ I created the magazine I wanted to buy,” she said.

Girl Camper Magazine is published quarterly that covers all-things-camping. While the articles and photos in Girl Camper often promote RVing, the magazine doesn’t focus solely on RVing.

“I wanted to create a beautiful magazine that celebrates the outdoor lifestyle – whatever that means to the reader”, Pettit said, adding, “when we pick the editorial content for the magazine, we are conscious about that lifestyle. We have a travel section. We do three features called ‘America the Beautiful.’ We do a section called, ‘Our Favorite Campgrounds,’ which is based on our picks and places people recommend to us. We write about traveling with pets. We have an RV maintenance section. We feature the RVs that various girl campers chose. We do features celebrating women and lots of stories on food, gear and apparel. We have health and wellness stories, how to take care of your pet and so much more.”

While Girl Camper Magazine has diversified outdoor content, the camping industry is well represented. Major Girl Camper advertisers include Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America, Inc. (KOA), Progressive Insurance, Camco Manufacturing, Lippert Components, Keystone RV, RV Share and, of course, Go RVing, among others.

In addition to its subscribers, the magazine is now being sold at a growing number of campgrounds and RV dealerships across the country. “It has a great profit margin for the retail outlets while offering something beautiful and inspiring to your female customers,” Pettit said.

What started as a personal blog has grown into a multi-platform media company with a website that garners more than one million visits a year, a Facebook group with nearly three million engagements per month, over 400 camping events this year across the country, and an award-winning magazine – all to inform, inspire and lead women in the camping lifestyle, Pettit said.

In addition to managing Girl Camper and her growing staff, Pettit is also an Ambassador for Go RVing, creating videos and articles about DIY projects, campground recipes, camping adventures and, of course, towing. She is also a Camco Ambassador, creating fun and informative content that highlights the various products the company produces.

Pettit told WCM she is frequently approached by women at speaking engagements who tell her that her podcast, articles and talks have changed their lives. One woman approached her at an Airstream dealership in Ohio where she was scheduled to speak.

“She said, ‘My husband dropped dead three weeks ago and I don’t know what to do,” Pettit recalled, adding that the couple had planned to purchase a Class A motorhome and take RV trips across the country. “I told her, ‘Let’s just think about this. You don’t need a big camper if it’s just you.”

Pettit gave her a pep talk and encouraged her to give RVing a try, going solo. They exchanged contact information and have been in touch with each other ever since.

Two years later, Pettit said, she spotted her with a teardrop trailer in a campground in Pennsylvania. “She had so many so many stickers on the back of her teardrop,” Pettit said with a smile. “I sat with her and she told me, ‘I don’t know what my life would be without meeting you.’ She is now mentoring other women and encouraging them to camp on their own.”

Connecting and empowering women to camp on their own is itself the biggest reward Pettit says she has received through all of her efforts to promote camping and RVing with her Girl Camper website, magazine and the Girl Camper chapters across the country.

“What I feel proudest about is that we have created a community of women supporting each other. We’ve made it OK to be a solo woman out there,” she said. “Girl Camper has also helped to shine the spotlight on a demographic of women that have the time, money and interest in all-things-camping. They are who everyone in our industry should be working to attract and retain as customers.”

Pettit said those who are interested in advertising in Girl Camper Magazine or carrying it in your store, or working with a Girl Camper chapter to book a future camping event are welcome to connect with her at [email protected].

Source: https://rvbusiness.com/janine-pettit-turns-lifelong-love-of-rving-into-girl-camper/