Nearly every summer since I was nine years old, I’ve done the same exact thing — go to my sleepaway camp in northern Wisconsin. But this year, as it became clear that the pandemic would last through the summer, the prospects of returning to camp looked grim. While I mourned the loss of a summer at camp, my mom decided to take advantage of the situation and plan an activity for what would be the first summer in a long time that my whole family would be together.
After scrounging the internet, she finally came up with an activity that was adventurous but also COVID-safe. We would be renting an RV to explore the middle of the country and the many national parks there. Although we had gone on long car trips before, we had never done anything like this. The RV lifestyle would be completely new to us. We figured we would spend most of our nights in RV parks or random places on the side of the road. That is, until my mom came upon Harvest Hosts.
What Is Harvest Hosts?
Harvest Hosts is essentially a database of wineries, farms, breweries and museums across the country, called hosts. For $79 a year, RV travelers can become members of Harvest Hosts. With a membership, users are able to access over 1,245 locations that offer overnight stays (in all of the lower 48 United States, Canada, Alaska and Baja California).
The best part? Past the initial membership cost, it’s essentially free. Travelers are strongly encouraged to support businesses by buying a product or two –– “please remember to support them for their kindness,” the website reads –– but it is up to the individual to decide how much to pay. Most users, however, do end up paying. After all, a loaf of fresh bread and a dozen eggs for a place to stay is the deal of the century.
Why Use Harvest Hosts?
Traveling across the country is very “in” right now. Whether you’re a college student taking the semester or year off or you’re looking to take some time off of work, there are countless people who plan to skip the planes and try some long-distance driving. Personally, I know many people who plan to take time off of school and embark on a cross country trip.
Before I go any further, I have to disclose that, unfortunately, Harvest Hosts is only available to travelers who have self-contained vehicles like RVs (those with a built-in toilet and holding tanks for wastewaters).
I know that there are many barriers to renting an RV (money, availability, age), and that car and tent camping may be easier and cheaper. However, there are many reasons why RV travel using Harvest Hosts is an option to seriously consider, especially with the threat of COVID-19.
1. Hosts Will Often Provide Amenities
RVs come with a bathroom and electricity; however, this often needs to be topped off at locations throughout the drive. The process of locating a place that will provide such amenities is often hard and, quite frankly, inconvenient. Luckily, many hosts provide electricity and water, making things a lot easier.
2. You’re Supporting Local Small Businesses
Many small businesses have been severely impacted by COVID-19. While many of these businesses received loans or grants, the pandemic has taken a major toll on places like farms and wineries. This is especially true in more rural areas, which many pass through during RV travel. By staying at these locations and buying products, you’re helping to support these businesses and keep them afloat.
3. It’s Pretty (COVID) Safe
Staying at a designated Harvest Host location is much safer than parking at a random parking lot –– a term often called boondocking by the RV travel community. Hosts have specific areas designated for RVs that they keep an eye on. In terms of COVID-19 safety, RVs are one of the safest ways to travel right now. When staying at a Harvest Hosts location, you are often far away from other vehicles and can social distance very easily. Not to mention, hosts and travelers are expected to follow local guidelines and regulations.
4. It’s a Different Kind of Experience
RV and state parks can be pretty crowded, and once you’ve gone to a few of them, they all seem the same no matter where in the country you are. Staying at Harvest Hosts locations is exciting because almost every place you stay is different. No two Harvest Hosts locations are the same. Plus, there’s something truly exciting about parking in a field or alongside a vineyard.
5. The Food and Drinks Are Great
As mentioned before, many of the Harvest Host locations specialize in food or drink. Much of this is locally grown or produced, and it tastes like it. As part of our trip, we stopped at a winery in Montana, a dairy farm in Wyoming and an orchard in Nebraska — and boy did we eat (and drink) well.
Harvest Hosts is an incredible resource that anyone embarking on long-term RV travel should seriously consider. While I wish I could have spent another summer at camp, taking advantage of the strange circumstances and venturing out into the country made for an exciting and unforgettable experience.