If you've ever wondered what is Boondockers Welcome, in this episode of the RV Podcast (395), we explain how this awesome new addition to the Harvest Hosts system can literally save your camping trip when you can't find room in a campground.
Ever since Harvest Hosts acquired the Boondockers Welcome service a year ago, CEO Joel Holland and his team have been building it out, adding new sites, and integrating it into the total Harvest Host ecosystem, which includes wineries, farms, distilleries, tourist attractions and golf courses where members can overnight for free.
Now, with Boondockers Welcome the system adds thousands more new sites, these privately owned, often with electric hookups and a more liberal policy on the length of a stay.
To watch the video version of the Podcast, which also includes RV Lifestyle News and audience questions, click the player below.
To hear an audio-only version, listen on your favorite Podcast App – from Apple, Google, Spotify, Sticher, etc. – or click the player below.
Here's a transcript of the interview, with links:
What is Boondockers Welcome – The Interview
Well, we're excited to welcome to the program, again – I think this is about the fourth or fifth time over the past 10 years or so – Joel Holland, CEO of Harvest Hosts on the program. And Joel, it's always a pleasure to see you. Where do we find you today?
Yeah, thanks for having me, Mike and Jennifer. So my wife and I just finished our first extended RV trip as a family of three, took our one-and-a-half-year-old daughter on a six-week trip all over the country from Colorado to Georgia. We went to the masters for a week in Augusta, which is a blast. Then we went to Virginia, did some wineries, and visited some of our hosts.
And then finally last week we were in Omaha for the Berkshire Hathaway meeting. And that was a very special event. Seeing Warren Buffet in person was pretty phenomenal. And now we're back in Vail. So we made it back safely. I'm now back in my office and already missing life on the open road.
Isn't it funny how that just gets into your blood?
I've got to tell you how much Mike and I appreciate this business that you started. And I know people all across the country say, Thank you for your initiative and starting Harvest Hosts. Because we have just had so much fun and stayed in places that we never dreamed of staying in. So thank you.
Well thank you for being members and for being such loyal supporters. We love this business because it's such a community business and we are RVers so we very much agree and understand that having exciting adventures on the roads, it just enhances the lifestyle. And so, as a perfect example, we took Waverly, our daughter, to our first alpaca farm a couple weeks ago.
We've been there. We've been to one of your alpaca farms. Yep.
And it was amazing, right? She loved it. Her eyes just were wide. She's like, “What are these magical creatures?” And we parked right there on the farm, right by a pond. All night long we heard the noises of nature and it was a really special experience. So we're excited to be part of this. We do it because it's fun. It's also a great business that brings a lot of money back to the small business community. So that part is really special as well.
Mike and Jennifer's Summer T-Shirts for your next adventure
Making friends at Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome sites
I think that's the part that I have so enjoyed is meeting some of these small business farmers and artisans and winemakers and beer makers. And we can all tell Harvest Host stories, but I think my favorite was we went to a brewery, a brewhouse, and everybody was enjoying the products they make.
And out in the back, they had an ax-throwing alley set up and so went out there. They're all drinking beer and throwing axes. What could go wrong? Actually, nothing did, but it was fun.
So, Joel, it's even going to be better though, because now there's a whole bunch of other people that we can meet. And there are some differences between Boondockers Welcome now and Harvest Hosts, most under the same umbrella.
There's a price hike coming: Here's how to beat it
So before I ask you to explain all of that though, we need to let people know that there's kind of a neat way to save some money, because there's going to be a, like everything, else there's a price hike coming, but they can take advantage of and beat it right now. Would you explain that?
Yes. So we purchased Boondockers Welcome a year ago and we spent the last year really integrating the products, rebuilding the website and the app so that if you are a member of both, you can now see all the pens and do all the booking through the same place. So you don't have to go to two different places. We fully launched that and it's been great.
So between the two programs, we now have over 6,000 locations in North America, which by the way is particularly useful right now with high gas prices because more and more Americans are doing near cations, right?
We did a survey a couple weeks ago, 63% of our respondents said they're staying closer to home this year. They're still going to RV. It's not canceling their plans, but they're sticking close to home. So luckily we have locations everywhere.
So to your point on pricing, we're not raising Harvest Hosts pricing, but we are raising the price of Boondockers Welcome because that price hasn't gone up in 10 years, it's just never changed.
But what has changed is we now have a full team supporting it, recruiting the new locations, providing customer service, and technology. But like we always do with price increases, we never raise prices on existing members.
That's just something that we've stuck with. We appreciate the loyalty. If you've been a member here for 10 years, you're paying the same price you paid 10 years ago and I think that's great.
And so with Boondockers Welcome right now, it's $50 a year and that gets you unlimited access to 3,000 private properties, 70% of which have electrical hookups by the way. And so you can join and get locked into that rate. That price is going to go up to $79 a year for new members in a couple weeks.
So I think we extended it. Originally, it was going to end at the end of April, we've extended it through May 15th. So if you can sign up on Boondockers Welcome before May 15th, you'll get that $50 rate and it'll be grandfathered in.
Now people will be watching this long after May 15th. So we should point out it's May 15th, 2022.
What is Boondockers Welcome as compared to Harvest Hosts?
And if you found it after that, it's going to be $79, but let's kind of explain the distinctives between these two. Boondockers Welcome has been around for a long time. It has really grown fast since you guys came aboard and acquired it. Explain the differences between Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Hosts.
Yes. So, the primary difference – Harvest Hosts, as we know, small businesses farms, wineries, breweries, museums, golf courses that welcome our members to stay overnight.
Boondockers Welcome is private property. So these are people's personal homes, farms, basically non income producing locations. And it's a community and they're excited to share their space with other RVers, fellow RVers, a lot of times for free. And so like Harvest Hosts, there's no charge to stay overnight.
I mentioned that 70% of Boondockers Welcome locations offer some sort of hookup, water or electric. A lot of times you'll toss them five, $10 just to cover that and pitch in. But there's no cost and the community, a lot of those, almost all of those hosts, are RVers themselves.
And so a unique part of the program, if you are an RVer and you have space for someone to stay on your property, like you've got this beautiful place in Tennessee, I've seen.
How to be a Boondockers Welcome host
We were just going to tell you that. Sign us up!
And then you get a free membership for the life of being a host. And so a lot of the Boondockers Welcome hosts are also users who are out exploring in their RVs. And while their property is sitting vacant, they allow other Boondockers Welcome members to stay overnight.
Yeah. I was going to spring that on you at the end and say, “Hey, we're developing,” and that's why we did. We really have a site for ourselves, but we developed two other sites and we don't want to rent them out or anything. We want to share them with the community. And that's why we are really excited about Boondockers Welcome.
We'll have full hookups at all three sites. We're waiting for the power to come down the road, but we already have water and sewer and we'll let all of our folks know as soon as it's ready.
But the possibility of belonging to both of them now, what's the cost to be a Harvest Hosts member and a Boondockers Welcome member?
Boondockers Welcome is an add on to a Harvest Host membership
Yes. And so if you are already a member of either program to join the subsequent program, there is a discount. And so we've made it a… And it's a pretty substantial discount. And so the best way to figure out what that price will be is to log into your account, either one, and go over to manage your membership. And you'll see the ability to upgrade.
Let's say you're a Harvest Hosts member. You can either upgrade to Boondockers Welcome, which I believe is about a $40 upgrade so it takes $10 off. Or you can go to all access, which then also includes golf courses and that's another $10. So basically for $50 you get an additional 3,400 locations. And so we're really trying to create a well-priced bundle.
So for someone who's brand new, is not a member of any of them, offhand do you know the price for joining Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome and having the ability of both of those?
Yes. The sticker price is $139, but if you use the coupon, your Watchers will use your discount.
We give them a 15% discount if they go to https://rvlifestyle.com/HH and use code RVLIFESTYLE15.
Yep. And then that brings the price down. So what I would recommend is for your viewers, since they get an exclusive discount to follow that link, use your coupon, sign up and then go through the upgrade process and that will get you the best price.
Okay. Now what excites me about when you add all you have, the Boondockers Welcome, the Harvest Hosts, the golf courses, how many spots do you have now in your Harvest Hosts network?
Yeah. I have the real time number in front of me, 6,000.
He's looking at something.
Yes, 6,462. And that's exciting. That is a lot of locations. It makes us the largest private RV camping inventory in the world. No other group has that many locations and it's great because we're everywhere. I mentioned we just did this long RV trip.
Every time we'd get to a new place, I'd pull up the Harvest Hosts map or I'd search along my route. You can't drive more than 10, 20 minutes without finding a Harvest Hosts location or a Boondockers Welcome location in most parts of the country.
And that's the other thing, we really try hard to have good distribution everywhere. Whether you're in new England or the Southwest. And we have a team now that is that actively recruiting new hosts adding over 200 each month, which is very exciting.
Here. I wondered if that number included the Wendlands?
Yeah. That'll be 6,463. Soon. Soon.
Totally. The ticker just went up. I love it.
Demand is way up
Yeah. These are really tough times in terms of demand for camping spaces, even vacant land boondocking spots on public land, they're getting pressure like we've never seen before. That used to be our favorite way of camping.
Campgrounds, they're basically sold out for every weekend through the season holidays. How are you guys… there's got to be times now when Harvest Hosts locations, Boondocker Welcome locations where they're filled too, how is that demand showing itself through your network?
Yes. So I would say demand is up. It's higher than it's ever been. That there's no doubt about that. I'm seeing it certainly with campgrounds, especially in hotspots like a national park, state park. It's really difficult to get in unless you plan really far ahead, which most RVers myself included, don't like doing. I kind of like flying by the seat of my pants, that's the point. And so luckily with Harvest Hosts we have so many locations and a lot of them are a little bit off the beaten path.
So what I always tell people is if you're willing to drive off the highway 20 minutes, which why wouldn't you? You have an RV, go explore. I've never had a problem finding a place in the highest of high times. It could be the height of summer in one of the most desirable locations and there's always somewhere to stay.
So I think that things being overcrowded are a little overblown. You just have to do the work to find the place. And it's kind of fun going off the beaten path. You get a unique experience.
Getting a reservation and keeping it is important
We always recommend getting off the interstate. And most of these locations, they're not right on the interstate like some of those campgrounds where you hear the noise of the freeway going by. You are oftentimes way out in the country.
We think of some of the wineries we've seen and alpaca farms. How far in advance do you recommend people call for a Harvest Hosts recommendation and how are you handling those who reserve and don't show up?
Yes. That's becoming a problem. So, for how far to book ahead, I guess the answer is if you know your itinerary and you know where you're going to be and when, do it as early as you can. Now, when we just did our trip for six weeks, I didn't really know where we were going to be for the most part or when. We knew we needed to be in Augusta for the masters we needed to be in Omaha for the Berkshire conference. Those were only two things we knew over six weeks.
So I didn't book our Harvest Hosts locations until at most two to three days before. And some of the places, for example, when I was in Charlottesville, there were three different wineries. Two of them didn't have availability. I was looking on a Saturday night. So that was always going to be a tough spot, but the third one did and it was phenomenal. So I didn't have any problem finding locations, booking pretty close to the deadline.
And a lot of our hosts now offer same day. They'll, actually let you book the same day. Almost all of our hosts, 80% are on the booking system. And so when you're looking through the calendar on the app or the website, it'll show you. So you don't have to call and be disappointed when they don't have space, you can just look and see what has space. And in fact, our new app now lets you search by availability.
So you could say, “I'm going to be in,” wherever it is, “Houston, Texas. And I want to see what's available in a 30 mile radius for these dates.” And it'll only show you what's available. Or along a route. You can say, “I'm going from Vail to Georgia. What's available for these dates along my route?” Makes it a lot easier.
Now to your question about cancellations and no shows, that's becoming a problem. And it's really a bummer, especially for the hosts, because they put time into preparing members arrival information, telling them how to get here, and they're giving up a spot. They're giving up business. And so when members don't show up, it costs them time and money. And it's really frustrating. So we have a three strike no-show policy.
So if you don't show up to a reservation, three times, you lose your membership and we police that. And we recently started saying the same thing for 24 hour cancellations. We're saying, “Look, don't cancel without notice.” Or sorry, “Don't cancel within 24 hours.” Just like you wouldn't cancel on your dentist within 24 hours. And we started really trying to make that more clear and I think it's helping, but these are important things to remind members. So I appreciate you bringing up.
Yeah. And it's a problem everywhere, everywhere. And I'm glad that you're doing that. We just have had nothing but great experiences everywhere we've gone with Harvest Hosts. And I almost hate to tell everybody about it, even though you guys have been so good with this, because it's like a fishing hole that you have great luck with. You don't want to let everyone know. But we do.
You got 6,462 sites almost 6,463 soon. And that's good. So Joel, May 15th, 2022, for those who watching this right when the podcast comes out or listening to it, that's the time to take advantage and get in at the old rate. But again, the best way for new folks, just go to rvlifestyle.com/hh, you'll see the address on the screen or in the description below and we'll get them signed up.
Hey, Joel, I can't wait till we can share a Harvest Hosts campfire with you sometime and meet that new little baby of yours.
No, I appreciate that. I'll be one of the first to come visit you in Tennessee. You've got me excited about trying to find some property of our own. I just love the peace of knowing it's yours and it's there when you want it.
Yeah, that's exactly it. And we're looking for some here in Michigan where we are right now and that will be a Harvest Hosts also because… Or Boondockers Welcome, because we want to always be around other people in the community.
Joel Holland has been our guest, CEO of Harvest Hosts. Joel, take good care and we'll see you on the road.
Pleasure as always. You guys take care. Travel safely.
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Missed a podcast or two? No worries – here they are.
Mike and Jennifer's Favorite Places in Florida – all 3 ebooks!
We RVers may wander far and wide but it’s true for most of us that we end up with some favorite “Go-To” places – places that draw us back again and again.
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FAQ's about Florida Gulf Coast beaches of interest to RVers
What is the weather like along Florida's Gulf Coast?
The weather along Florida's Gulf Coast can vary depending on the time of year and the specific location. In general, the area experiences hot, humid summers and mild, pleasant winters.
The Panhandle region can be quite cool in January. It is seldom below freezing, but daytime highs are typically in the 50s. It warms up about 10 degrees each month.
You can also generally add about 10 degrees for every 150 miles you travel south down the Florida peninsula.
By the time you hit Naples, daytime highs in January are in the comfortable 70s.
Did Hurricane Ian destroy many beach campgrounds on the Gulf Coast?
While it severely damaged almost two dozen RV parks and campgrounds, about 8-10 campgrounds in the Naples-Ft. Myers area were completely destroyed. Most of the damaged campgrounds have been repaired and reopened.
Check with the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds if you have questions or concerns.
Are there any websites that can help me get a reservation for a Florida beach campground?
One of the best resources we can recommend is called Campnab. This service monitors parks for cancelations and sends you an alert when an opening matches your criteria. That said, it isn’t magic. The app doesn’t create availabilities.
The service works – but it is not free.
Campnab offers two ways to use the service. The first is individual pay-per-use scans. These watch for vacancies at a specific park for a specific date. These work well if you know exactly when and where you intend to camp. Pay-per-use scans cost $10 – $20, depending on how frequently you want them to check availability.
The second way to use the service is through a membership. These typically run monthly and are tailored to those who camp more frequently or are looking to maximize their chance of finding a site. Membership allows you to scan multiple parks and/or dates simultaneously. With memberships, you pay a monthly recurring fee ($10, $20, $30, or $50), depending on your needs.
Are there places in Florida where you can literally camp on the beach for free?
Not many. And they are very pricey. If you want to sleep directly on the sand in an RV, you'll have to stay at a developed commercial campground like Camp Gulf on the Emerald Coast or an RV resort like Big Pine Key Resort in the keys. Some state parks like the Gamble Rogers State Memorial Recreation Area in the Atlantic Coast or Bahia Honda State Park in the keys or Fort Desto State Park near St. Petersburg have beachside sites, too.
But are there free, unrestricted RV beach camping spots in Florida?
Sorry, none that I know of that would work for RVs.
There is unrestricted camping on wild beaches on a couple of islands, but you need a boat to get there, and it is for tent camping only. If you want to sleep directly on the sand, there is Anclote Key offshore Tarpon Springs, and Shell Key in Pinellas County. Another favorite is Keewaydin Island between Naples and Marco Island but that area remains pretty devasted from Hurricane Ian.
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