It’s easy to find the main tourist destinations on any given route. Most are worth seeing, but we’ve all visited a few that didn’t live up to the pictures we saw online or in the glossy flyer we picked up at the local visitor center.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a friend who lives in each of the areas you want to check out? Someone who not only has first-hand knowledge of the local attractions but is willing to share some insider tips about the unadvertised hidden gems as well? With a Boondockers Welcome subscription, you get access to more than 1,700 friends you haven’t met yet – all of them willing to show you around.
Boondockers Welcome lets traveling RVers arrange free camping on the private property of host members all across Canada, the USA, and several other countries. Unlike the name suggests, it’s not only boondocking; many hosts offer electric and water. Most are RVers themselves; they welcome guests with no expectations of being paid in anything more than gratitude and a pay-it-forward spirit. Their kindness will be returned when they call on fellow hosts when they strike out on their next travels.
But free camping is far from the only benefit for travelers.
We’ve stayed with many hosts on our travels.
With each host we visited, we saw sights and had experiences not mentioned in those glossy flyers. We would never have discovered most of them were it not for the tips our hosts shared with us.
When our Florida host, Gypsyweaver, found out we carry an inflatable two-person kayak, they directed us (actually drove us around) to several nearby free kayak launch sites on the Peace River and the Gulf. We had a great paddle through the mangroves with a dolphin swimming right beside us – just as our hosts had predicted.
Another hidden gem for paddlers suggested by our Florida hosts was Telegraph Creek (off the Caloosahatchee River near Fort Myers). The creek winds through scenery reminiscent of Old Florida with natural wildlife sightings along the way. Rounding a curve, we came upon something we only expected because our hosts told us to watch for it – zebras, llamas, and bighorn sheep – as part of an exotic animal farm.
Travlingary now welcomes guests at his summer home in Colorado, but we were his guests in Texas just south of San Antonio where he spends his winters. He and his wife introduced us to their favorite restaurant, Aurelia’s Kitchen, where they serve up large helpings of the freshest authentic Mexican fare we’ve ever had at amazingly low prices. We went back twice within three days! The place was always packed – but it was easy to see that we were the only tourists. Those Texas cowboys were guarding this secret under their Stetson hats!
Pkunk was our host north of Taos, New Mexico. They convinced us to completely change our planned route by reassuring us a mountain pass to the east was not as steep or difficult as we had feared. If not for them, we would have taken a route more familiar to us and missed the beautiful drive through Cimarron Canyon.
We also would have missed having lunch at the St. James Hotel in Cimarron. 20 original bullet holes in the ceiling of the hotel’s dining room date back to the days of the Wild West when many famous outlaws and lawmen stayed in the historic building. At least 26 people were murdered here in those days and folklore claims their ghosts haunt the hotel.
This was just the type of quirky find we appreciate. Yes, it might have been on the itinerary of avid wild west fans, and could have been on ours too, had we planned to drive that route in the first place. But it was only because of our hosts that we realized there was a reason to stop in this otherwise nondescript small town.
In Wadena, Minnesota, we stayed with host member, Carpodiem, who suggested we drive a few blocks out of our way to see a specific property with a cool treehouse that turned out to be a full-scale cottage. Built as a labor of love, the cottage is now open for short term rentals. The owner happened to see us taking photos and invited us in for a tour while she shared the touching story behind the cottage’s construction.
When we’re not traveling, we’re hosts ourselves.
One of our favorite things to do is show off our pretty little tourist town to guests. We let them know which local attractions they shouldn’t miss, we suggest our favorite restaurants (and which ones to avoid), and we point visitors to the hidden gems in our area.
Like most hosts, we list area attractions on our profile. For instance, one of Ontario’s largest year-round farmers markets is just a short drive away in St Jacobs. Visitors can get there reasonably directly from our home and see Mennonite horses and buggies en-route. We always suggest a slight detour over Ontario’s only remaining — and Canada’s oldest — covered bridge.
Nearer to home, we take pleasure in directing guests to the unofficial back entrance (a trail through a break in the fence) that locals use to access the Elora Gorge Park. It’s a 10-minute walk from where our guests are camped (on our property) and offers much handier access than driving to the official entrance. A season pass is required to enter the park, but we lend our pass to our guests to save them the $7.00 per person fee. Don’t worry; sharing passes is perfectly allowed.
Our town is so pretty that many guests want a postcard before they leave. We let them know that the local visitor center sells them, but that they also carry a few for free. You just have to ask for them.
These gestures cost us nothing, but it feels great to know we’re sharing the beauty of our area with our visitors, and at the same time paying-it-forward for the next time we’re on the guests again.
Most Boondockers Welcome hosts list their area’s main attractions. You can search the web site to see the details of everything each host offers to RVers. Based on our experience, the best tips and most memorable, unique, hidden gems are often shared only once hosts meet us in person.
Perhaps, like us, you enjoy the “out-of-the-ordinary.” Whether it’s quirky, natural, historical, free, or food-related, I believe these types of surprises exist all across the country. Befriending a local Boondockers Welcome host will give you a real leg up on finding them.
For a limited time, Outdoorsy customers can get $15 off a 1-year guest privileges subscription at Boondockers Welcome with the coupon code OUTDOORSY. That currently equates to 50% off the regular price. And if you list a host location as well, you get an additional 50% off, making your first year’s subscription free!
Author: Marianne Edwards
Writer, wanderer, and entrepreneur. Co-founder of BoondockersWelcome.com and author of the Frugal Shunpiker’s Guides to RV Travel.