Let’s face it, finding a real and authentic experience these days is becoming more…and more difficult. Campgrounds and RV Resorts are turning into glorified parking lots with electrical boxes, water spigots and hotel sized fees. We started RV’ing to find adventure, escape suburbia and enrich our lives. So, we’re ditching the parking lots for farms & wineries!
We’ve been staying at farms and wineries since we first started RV’ing and these stays have been some of our most unique experiences. We usually found these opportunities through friends but it wasn’t something we could do everywhere, much less something we could easily suggest or recommend you to do.
Enter Harvest Hosts; a camping program created by a couple of fellow RV’ers who love staying at unique places as much as we do. We’ve been members of HH for over a year now and have gotten a lot of questions about the program. Especially when we post photos of our free overnight spots like these:
What is Harvest Hosts?
The Harvest Hosts concept is simple: For $44 a year (current 1 year price for 2016) you get access to all of the “hosts” around North America that allow a minimum of 24hrs of free camping. The hosts could be anything from a brewery, a winery like Bar Z, a farm like Lucky Acres, a creamery like Jumpin Good Goat, a Peach Farm, aviation museum or wildlife preserve. You should always expect the accommodations to be 24hrs and dry camping. However, some places have provided free hook ups and offered us extended stays when they’re not too busy. Here is a link to the public HH map http://harvesthosts.com/Maps.htm (you will get more detailed access once you sign up).
The 24hr stay policy is in place as a safety net and not a mandatory rule. If you don’t like the location or don’t jive with the Host, you can pick up and move along to the next place without worry of offending anyone. If the wine goes down like water or the scenery brings you to a new level of Zen and you want to stay longer, just ask! Whatever you do, make sure you follow the Harvest Hosts Code of Conduct.
Why The Free Camping, What’s The Catch?
Why would a preserve, farmer, winemaker or anyone give someone a free place to camp in their RV? The reasons are different for each host. Some are looking to draw in new customers, educate about animals or agri-tourism while some just really like sharing their passion. We like to say ‘thanks for the hospitality’ by purchasing a wine tasting, fruit & veggies, museum tickets or whatever strikes our fancy. Why? Because the program is about having unique experiences and supporting local business, not just free camping.
As with anything the Harvest Hosts program does have its ups and downs.
- Unique experiences with some special access. Whether it’s a free sampling or a morning alpaca feeding you’re invited to participate in, it seems there’s always some extra perk. As an overnight guest you get an experience that not every visitor gets. From watching farms come to life in the morning to winding down with the winemaker over a glass of vino in the evening. Each location is unique in every way. We haven’t had any 2 experiences alike.
- With locals at your fingertips it’s the easiest way to find out where the best food is and to get tips on what to see and do in the area. You are in their backyard after all (sometimes literally).
- You don’t have to worry about drinking and driving! Your home is in the parking lot.
- Shopping doesn’t get any more convenient! The farm stands typically have great prices and a wide variety of fresh local produce
- It’s Free camping!!!
- Some locations can be off the beaten path, which usually means peace, quiet and beautiful surroundings, but be prepared for the occasional dirt road, a longer drive to area attractions or going a little off your route to get to your host’s location.
- Buying the wares. When a place of business is offering free accommodations and just happens to have beautiful produce, divine cheeses or wines that hit your sweet spot, it can be tempting to over purchase. We found it’s important to give ourselves a budget before we arrive. Free camping is great but when you wake up in the morning with $200 worth of wine in the RV…well, it doesn’t seem like much of a deal anymore (the good news is you’ll likely be invited to stick around a little longer). This could be an upside or a downside depending on how much you like wine.
- Pets can be tricky. Some farms tend to have working dogs and barn cats to keep the critters away. We have seen signs that say please don’t let your dogs out or will ask you to please keep pets inside. It’s always a good idea to ask your host up front. Most places have been more than happy to put their dogs inside for a spell so we could take our cats on a walk.
Sometimes 24hrs just isn’t enough. It’s hard to experience the hosts and the area attractions all in a day. If you hit a host at their busiest time, extending your stay for a day or two may not be an option. (either way it still beats the pants off of a Wal-Mart parking lot)
So if you’re like us: on the hunt for unique experiences and places to stay that are more than just a parking spot, Harvest Hosts is well worth the $44. And since everyone likes a sweet deal…Visit the Harvest Hosts website and use the coupon code below for a 10% discount off a one year membership:
If you’re a member of Harvest Hosts already, let us know how your experience has been. If you still have questions, post them in the comment box below and help out our community.
Disclaimer: While harvest hosts sponsored this video, it was all our idea and we contacted them with the ideas because we love the program that much and wanted to share it with all of you. As always, the experiences, opinions and thoughts are all our own!