If you’ve had it with crowded campgrounds, paying upwards of $30 for a simple overnight stay, yet don’t want to overnight in a Walmart parking lot, you’re in luck because there are alternatives.

One of our favorites is through the service called Harvest Hosts, a unique membership service that lets you stay for free at hundreds of wineries, farms, breweries, museums, and other attractions across the country.

I recently spoke with Joel Holland, the owner of Harvest Hosts, to get the scoop on what it’s all about.

“My wife and I love RVing because we feel this sense of freedom, unbridled freedom when we’re driving down the road,” Holland explained. “That illusion of freedom is crushed when we reach many of these campgrounds where at best, they’re just all the same and you’re 10 feet away from your neighbor.”

Holland calls Harvest Hosts a “huge camping experience.” He such a believer in the program, in fact, that he actually bought it from original owners Don and Kim Green in May 2018.

“We have over 1,200 hosts in the program: farms, wineries, breweries, distilleries, a lot of unique locations like lavender farms, alpaca farms,” he said.

“I think we provide access to the hidden gems of America,” Holland continued. “I went to a vineyard two weeks ago in Kansas. I never thought about Kansas as a state for growing wine. I’ve always driven through it on 70, not thought much about it, and here I was meeting these wonderful hosts that took me on a full tour of the property. The wine maker actually showed me how he makes the wine, and they make really unique fruit wines. I tried a plum wine that was really good and he walked me through the whole process. At the end of the day, I felt like I made two new friends, learned something, and had a very, very enjoyable stay.”

The way Harvest Hosts works is pretty straightforward: pay $79 a year to Harvest Hosts and you can stay at any of these hosts. There is no obligation to buy anything else, though Holland says local shopping is some of the incentive for participating hosts. We always try to do this. If we’re at a winery, we sample the wine. If we’re at a farm, we buy some produce. (Check out our video below for some awesome Harvest Host stops we’ve made.)

“When I went to an alpaca farm recently I bought really nice alpaca scarf for my wife,” Holland said. “It was still less than staying at a traditional campground and the experience was phenomenal. I stayed on a 1,000-acre farm and I parked my RV looking over this endless Kansas farm vista. It was wonderful. It was that freedom I was looking for.”

Of course, the big question is: how do I find hosts?

In short, use the Harvest Hosts website or app to search by state, host’s name, type of host, or route.

“I like to use a route planner,” Holland said. “I’ll say, ‘Starting in Vail, Colorado. Ending in Charlottesville, Virginia,’ and in that case it’ll route you probably down 70 and show you all the different hosts that are very close to your route. That’s how I found most of the locations I’ve stayed.”

Another big question: How do you let a host know you’d like to stay for the night?

“You call and say, ‘Hi, I’m with Harvest Hosts. I’d like to visit you tomorrow and stay with you for the night. Do you have availability?’” Holland said.

Nearly all of the locations are dry camping, which means RVers should be prepared.

“It’s almost entirely boondocking,” Holland said. “Some hosts do offer hookups, but I’d say those are the exceptions.”

RVers who travel with pets should definitely check out a host’s pet policy. Harvest Host does indicate whether or not hosts are pet-friendly.

“Some farms are perfectly fine with pets, some are not, but they always tell you on their page whether they are or are not,” Holland said.

One great thing — especially for those who are looking for alternatives to crowded campgrounds — is the fact you won’t find a lot of others staying at a host while you are camped out.

Holland notes that within the span of staying with five hosts throughout the course of a year, there was only one instance when there was another RV.

“There’s something nice about showing up at the end of the day and feeling space and quiet,” Holland said. “Again, it just keeps that whole concept of freedom, and I love that.”

And so do we because the fact of the matter is most campgrounds are over filled, over booked, and many, many of them need a lot of repair.

That’s not the case as you’ll find when you’re out there enjoying the beauty that Harvest Hosts offers at many of its member sites.

We can save you 15 percent off a Harvest Host membership. Just go to https://rvlifestyle.com/HH

Want to see what it’s like? Jennifer and I visit Harvest Host locations all the time and we’ve done two videos on our experiences.

The most recent was shot this summer. Here…check this out:

Earlier this year, we visited three other really unique Harvest Host spots in the south and southwest. Here’s that video.

Again, if you use our special link, you can het 15% off the cost of a membership. Just go to https://rvlifestyle.com/HH

See you out there!