Ways to Support the Local Community When Camping

Those of us who travel by RV have the opportunity to visit areas of the U.S. that many don’t get to see. Whether it’s a weekend away or a full-time lifestyle, these journeys introduce us to new landscapes, new experiences, and new communities.

By supporting the businesses, people, and organizations that make these destinations special, we can help keep the spirit of the road trip alive for those who follow in our footsteps.

Here are five ways to support the local community at your next destination.

Bags of fresh lettuce in a basket on a table at a farmer's market.
Photo by: Sara Sheehy

Buy From Locally Owned Businesses

Buying from locally owned businesses is one of the most powerful ways that you can support communities that you visit. Doing so not only financially supports the owner and employees of the business, but it also keeps money in the local economy for longer. According to studies by the research firm Civic Economics, on average, 48 percent of money spent in local businesses recirculates locally, compared to less than 14 percent of the money spent at chain stores.

Another eye-opening statistic? The National Park Service reported that in 2019, more than 327 million visitors spent $21 billion in communities within 60 miles of national park sites, supporting more than 278,000 community-based jobs.

Locally owned businesses strengthen communities, and independent businesses help create the vibrant and unique cultures that many of us look for when traveling. From campgrounds to restaurants to grocery stores to souvenir shops, there are plenty of options to support local when you travel by RV. Find a farmers market to pick up fresh produce or stop in the local hardware store to stock your RV toolkit.

Want to take your support to the next level? Hop on your favorite review site (like Yelp or Google) and leave kind words for the local businesses that you enjoyed.

Man in winter gear standing at national park entrance booth in front of his snowmobile.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service / Ralph Anderson

Hire a Local Guide

No matter how many guidebooks you read or how much time you spend scanning message boards, there’s nothing that can take the place of hiring a local guide. Not only can local guides tailor an experience or tour to your interests and skill level, but they’re typically knowledgeable about everything from where to get the best pint of beer to the most scenic boondocking spot in the nearby national forest.

Hiring a local guide contributes to the local community and in some cases is essential for safety and resource protection. Some places in the U.S., like Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park’s Antelope Canyon, require a guide to visit due to flash flooding dangers and to prevent vandalism. Even in destinations where a guide isn’t required, it’s worthwhile to look into services—you never know what you’ll learn from a local expert.

Historic Copper Art Museum Building Entrance Exterior in Clarkdale Arizona

Connect With the Community

Part of the fun of traveling is learning from people and cultures who have different life experiences than you. There’s no better way to “travel like a local” than to spend time with actual locals.

Look in the newspaper or on the visitor bureau’s website for concerts, lectures, and events, and attend those that appeal to you. Seek out the regional museum to learn about local history. Find a coffee shop downtown and chat with friendly regulars while you sip a latte.

Ancient Warrior and anthropomorphic petroglyphs on a rock wall.

Connecting with the community not only gives you a feel for the local experience, but you may also uncover helpful information like where to find the best sandwiches or hidden trails with the best views.

Explore With Respect

Remember that when you travel, you’re visiting someone else’s home. The community may not have the resources or expertise to handle some of the challenges that come with welcoming tourists. This is true everywhere you go, but it’s especially important to remember when you’re traveling to gateway communities or tribal nations.

Your actions have big impacts, so make sure they are positive ones: Support local businesses and guides. Follow all posted rules. Know if you need a permit or permission to visit a destination. Don’t litter or leave graffiti. Don’t take pictures of people or private property without consent.

Crop man in volunteer t shirt caressing cheerful homeless dog while working in animal shelter

When in doubt, follow the Golden Rule and treat the locale as you’d want your home to be treated, with respect and care.

Volunteer

If you travel full-time or seasonally in your camper, consider volunteering with the communities you visit, especially if you’re staying for a longer period of time.

Find a cause that aligns with your interests to make it a rewarding experience for both you and the organization. Animal lovers can spend an afternoon walking dogs or playing with cats at a local animal shelter. Outdoor enthusiasts might enjoy joining in on a trail maintenance day. Families can give back together by volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen. Grabbing a garbage bag and picking up litter at a nearby park also helps the local community.

Share other ways to support thriving communities in the comments below!