The COVID pandemic has changed the face of many facets of life—travel included. Not to be deterred, many have taken to camping as a safe way to travel since it’s easy to limit contact with others and practice safe distancing. To make it even more enjoyable, there are places to stay that are outside of typical campsites.
Harvest Hosts is a membership program where ‘hosts’ offer their property to self-contained RV campers to enjoy areas that might otherwise not be available for camping. According to Harvest Hosts founder Joel Holland, hosts participate for free while campers pay a membership fee of $79 a year ($119 a year for added golf services) to access a network of more than 1,900 wineries, farms, breweries, museums and other unique attractions all over North America.
“Most members stay a few months in their RV per year and use Harvest Hosts in conjunction with traditional campgrounds, resorts and national parks,” Holland said.
It’s a great way for the hosts to introduce their properties, way of life and products to others while campers have the opportunity to stay at unique locations. Campers stay for free at the sites, but they are expected to make a purchase to support the hosts and to help keep their businesses operating, Holland explained.
“On average, Harvest Hosts members opt to spend about $50 per visit. Last year in total, Harvest Hosts’ members spent more than $20 million with the hosts they visited, which works out to about $13,000 per location, just from Harvest Hosts’ members,” Holland explained.
For Lisa and Will Alchier, participating in Harvest Hosts has meant not only more camping options, but the opportunity to experience new activities with their toddler.
“We try to balance our stays with hosts that appeal to us with things that she will enjoy, and due to the variety of hosts, we have the opportunity for both,” said Will Alchier. “We also get to meet and talk with new people, and every place we have stayed has had COVID precautions in place.”
When the Richland Township couple decided to travel for a year, they explored various groups and memberships. “We initially joined a group called Fulltime Families, which is a group tailored to families on the road. Through that membership, we learned about Harvest Hosts,” said Alchier. “After doing some research into the group and reading reviews from other Fulltime Families and people on social media, we decided it would be a good fit for us.”
The Alchiers have been able to take advantage of several unique stays including a winery in New York, a cidery in West Virginia, a candle making company in Arkansas and a farm in Mississippi.
“Our favorite stay thus far was at a ranch in northern Florida that raised goats. The owner introduced us to the goats and told us all about her business,” said Alchier. “Our daughter loved getting to pet and play with the goats and the dogs that lived on the ranch.” The family was also able to take advantage of the small country store on site that specialized in local vendors.
Hipcamp is an online resource of public and private outdoor experiences that campers can utilize to find distinctive locations.
“Our community is made up of good-natured people who want to help others discover tent camping, RV parks, cabins, treehouses and glamping, everywhere from national parks to blueberry farms,” said Alyssa Ravasio, Hipcamp founder and CEO.
Ravasio suggested that new users start exploring with the recently announced winners of their “Best Hipcamps to visit in 2021” listing.
“We also recently launched ‘extras,’ a new capability where hosts have the option to offer additional experiences like a chef-cooked meal with local ingredients or activities such as learning beekeeping and horseback riding,” she said.
Hipcamp partners with their hosts, and campers are charged fees based on the locations and services offered. “By connecting hosts who want to keep their land wild with Hipcamp’s community of responsible, nature-loving Hipcampers, recreation can help fund the conservation of land,” Ravasio said.
It is no surprise to Ravasio that camping has become more popular.
“In 2020, getting outside became more important than ever because it is a great source of healing, both physically and mentally. I am a firm believer in biophilia, and that getting outside is essential to human health and happiness,” she said, adding that science is starting to back this up with research.
The outdoor trend is likely to stay.
“By connecting people with the land and each other, Hipcamp works to support those who care for the land and it gets more people out under the stars,” Ravasio said.