Guest Post By: Keilah Keiser
Every year, it seems like the time we spend with our faces buried in screens increases while genuine time spent with friends and family suffers. We hear about the damaging effects that human activity has on the environment and the lack of steps taken to help. If you’re yearning to escape your technology-fueled daily life and decrease your carbon footprint, you aren’t alone. Many people escape the distractions of technology and unsustainable practices by unplugging and visiting off-grid communities.
In addition to a smaller carbon footprint, going off the grid has huge health benefits like decreased stress and anxiety. If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, consider taking a road trip to an off-grid community.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
- What is Going Off the Grid?
- Why Take Your Next Trip Off the Grid?
- What to Expect When You Go Off the Grid
- What to Look For in an Off-the-Grid Community
- Best Off-the-Grid Communities in the US
- Going off the Grid vs. Living on the Road
What is Going Off the Grid?
Going off the grid has various implications. At its core, “going off the grid” means living a self-sufficient lifestyle free from the use of the government’s and society’s products and services. The sustainability-focused side of going off the grid means reducing or eliminating your reliance on the municipal electrical grid, water supply, sewer, gas and other utilities. This involves reliance on sustainable energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal. It also entails reducing the waste you produce, plus recycling and reusing where possible.
In its lightest form, people use it to describe taking a break from social media and internet use. To take it a step further, some people use the term “going off the grid” to describe removing themselves from modern technology and its conveniences like digital social networks permanently. Some people use the term to represent self-imposed anonymity where someone lives a private life that’s nearly untraceable. At its most extreme it could mean removing yourself from communicating with others, living somewhere remote and completely removing yourself from society.
A road trip is a chance to get away, disconnect and enjoy every moment. So why not consider going off the grid for your next adventure? If you’re looking for a reset, visit an off-grid community, embrace their lifestyle during your trip and reap all the benefits they have to offer. It’s easy to disconnect for a trip — some people go off the grid for extended periods of time (a month or more), shorter trips (one to three weeks) or even just a weekend getaway.
Why Take Your Next Trip Off the Grid?
Instead of spending your next trip checking social media or taking calls, try unplugging for a while. In today’s world, it’s so hard for us to truly disconnect. According to the EPA, the average American spends only 7% of their life outdoors while we spend 87% indoors and 6% in automobiles. Even when we get away from it all, many of us say that we’ll stay in the moment but often get pulled away by the bright ring of a notification — it’s harder than it seems.
Take a trip to an off-grid location and get inspired by the clarity of mind you can achieve if you turn your focus inward. This will give you a chance to explore your thoughts and surroundings as well as be more present for your loved ones.
Japan has made great discoveries around the topic of “forest bathing,” or shinrin yoku. “Forest bathing” is the practice of immersing yourself in nature (through camping, picnicking, going on a nature walk, etc.) to cleanse and reset your mind and improve your well-being. A Japanese study found that participants who took walks in the wilderness, as opposed to a walk in an urban environment, showed a 12% decrease in cortisol (stress hormone).
Smaller Environmental Footprint
Tourism is responsible for 8% of global carbon emissions. The traditional lavish vacation leads to higher emissions than one spent in nature at an off-grid community. Most off-grid communities have an extremely low environmental impact because they are self-reliant, meaning they provide their own resources. Many communities have a large focus on eco-friendly practices so it’s a great opportunity to learn new skills and practices that can be applied to your life on the grid.
Going off the grid can be a great choice for keeping your travel budget healthy too. The average American spends 10–15% of their income on vacation. Most communities have budget-friendly options like affordable host housing and work opportunities in exchange for lodging.
What to Expect When You Go Off the Grid
Going off the grid is not like your traditional vacation but is just as, if not more, rewarding. If you choose to visit an off-grid community you will effectively become a small part of their tribe. Even though each community has their own values and practices, expect a focus on communal living, eco-efficiency and respecting the surrounding nature. When you go off the grid, expect to feel:
- Peace of mind: Without outside distractions, you will have plenty of time to connect with your thoughts and relax.
- A connection to nature: Being surrounded by the great outdoors may make you more appreciative of its beauty and power.
- Sense of community: Most off-the-grid communities hold values and teamwork very highly — expect to feel a warm welcome!
Your level of commitment to going off the grid will affect what you should expect and how you should prepare. If you’re forgoing internet and cell service, make arrangements with work and family ahead of time. You should give someone your itinerary and have a designated check-in time if you’re going on a long trip.
Since reducing your carbon footprint is one of the benefits of going off the grid, here are some things to keep in mind to stay green:
- Reduce your energy use: Try not to use non-renewable energy. Reduce your energy usage at the communities because they often share their stored renewable energy.
- Support locally or self-produced goods: Cut back on the emissions and unnecessary packaging that accompany imported food and products. Support local businesses or produce for yourself.
- Reusable packaging and products: You’ll likely have to hold onto any non-compostable trash that you create at the community so try using eco-friendly reusable packaging and products wherever possible.
- Repurpose items: Rather than throwing away a non-functioning item try to find a way to repurpose it and purchase secondhand when possible.
When in doubt, refer to the expert members of off-grid communities for tips!
What to Look For in an Off-the-Grid Community
Each off-grid community has something different to offer and finding the best stops means knowing what you’re looking for. Don’t worry if the community you want to visit doesn’t offer your desired time of stay. Book a tour of their site, learn and explore, and then stay in lodging nearby or camp in your van or at a campsite.
If you’re looking to go somewhere far, consider flying in and renting a car to reach the communities you want to visit — there is usually no public transit to reach them.
Most off-grid communities require that you make reservations for tours, visits and work-to-live arrangements ahead of time (the sooner the better because they have limited spots available). Ask any questions well in advance as some communities may be slower to respond. Keep an eye out for the different rules and amenities of each community. Some communities have rules about ecological practices or communal work so it’s best to know about expectations ahead of time.
Some communities have work arrangements where you work amongst the community members for your stay, while others have traditional lodging that you can pay for. The thought of working while you’re on a trip may sound counterintuitive to some, but choosing to do a program like that may be one of the most valuable experiences from your road trip. The “work” isn’t a desk job position — you get to be outside learning new skills and bonding with community members. You may pick up a new hobby along the way, like gardening. These programs also eliminate the cost of lodging and food from your travel budget.
If it’s still not what you have in mind, book lodging nearby or look for communities that offer bookable accommodations on site. Some key factors to keep in mind as you search are
- Climate — Are you looking for a warm, arid climate or something cool and rainy? Remember to keep seasonal changes in mind depending on how long you plan to stay.
- Community — Different travelers will fit in with different communities, so keep your values in mind when planning your road trip.
- Amenities — Amenities vary by location. Research the community you want to visit so you know what to expect when you arrive.
- Road Access — Some locations are not accessible by car or require a special flight or boat ride to reach the location.
Top 10 Off-the-Grid Communities in the US
We selected some of the most unique, well-known and innovative off-grid communities in the United States. We feature communities from east to west and they each have something that makes them a unique community worth visiting. There are many great off-grid communities all around the United States. Search the internet for the specific area you have in mind and you’re likely to find a great community near you. Here are our top picks.
How We Evaluated the Off-Grid Communities
We evaluated each of the locations based on three criteria: how eco-focused, how accessible and the amenities they offer. These ratings are represented by symbols shown below on a scale of 1–3.
When rating the sustainability of the communities we considered their interest in the environment, their practices and the amenities they offer on site. The more leaf symbols, the more eco-friendly or eco-focused the community is.
To evaluate accessibility, we looked at how difficult the location is to reach based on the distance to major roads, cities and transportation hubs. We also considered how easy it is to visit and the types of short-term visiting options they offer. The more car symbols, the more accessible the community is.
How many amenities?
Because going off the grid has many implications, we took all of the elements of being off the grid (access to public utilities, lack of cell reception and internet use, self-reliance, etc.) and combined them to gauge how off the grid a community is based on their amenities. The more suns, the further off the grid the community is overall.
Ecovillage Ithaca (Ithaca, New York)
Best time to visit: Spring and summer
Features of the area: Waterfalls and forests
Did you know? They serve community dinners featuring food from their organic garden.
Explore the gorgeous scenery of upstate New York. This community has a strong focus on sustainable organic farming and solar power. They allow short-term overnight visits, tours and longer visits for people looking for a more in-depth learning experience. You can find lodging around the area for $75–100 per night. Contact the organization for on-site overnight pricing depending on your group size, length of stay and the experience you want.
Earthaven (Asheville, North Carolina)
Best time to visit: Late spring and early fall
Features of the area: Forest and a mountainous backdrop
Did you know? Residents make their living running ecologically sound businesses.
Earthaven is located between lush valleys, forests and streams. They have a large focus on environmental practices and residents make their living running ecologically sound businesses like solar installation and plant permaculture. Earthaven offers camping on site that includes a tour — this costs $30 ($15 for a tour and $15/night for camping). There is indoor lodging right nearby for $50–120 per night.
Twin Oaks Community (Louisa County, Virginia)
Best time to visit: Summer
Features of the area: Farmland and grassy forests
Did you know? Bring your instrument to play with the many musicians who live here.
Twin Oaks is an egalitarian community. They work in exchange for healthcare, lodging, food and spending money. If you’re interested in trying out their lifestyle you can arrange only a three-week work-to-live visit. For the long-term visits, they ask for $50–250 (sliding scale based on what you can afford) for the experience. If you don’t have that kind of time, try scheduling one of their three-hour tours and book lodging or camping nearby.
Acorn Community (Louisa County, Virginia)
Best time to visit: Summer
Features of the area: Wooded areas and farmland
Did you know? The site is a quick 5 minute walk to a refreshing swimming spot on the Anna River.
Another egalitarian community that’s just down the road from Twin Oaks, Acorn Community is more flexible with visitors, offering short visits and tours. They ask a $5 donation for tours and you can find indoor lodging nearby for as low as $20 per night. You can also pay your way with work exchange arrangements. However, they still prefer longer visits from people who are interested in becoming permanent residents.
Serenbe (Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia)
Best time to visit: Late spring and early fall
Features of the area: Lush trees and a small lake
Did you know? They have solar-powered movie screenings and live performances.
Serenbe is a health-focused, off-grid community with modern amenities like restaurants and entertainment. They have a huge focus on sustainability and conserve energy with solar and geothermal energy. They have inns and other lodging that you can book for $50–300 per night.
Slab City (near Niland, California)
Best time to visit: Spring and fall
Features of the area: Desert terrain, unique art installations
Did you know? Its quirky art draws photographers from all over the world.
Slab City may be the most unique community on our list. Its residents consist of artists, squatters and other people looking for a free place to live. It’s not for the faint of heart due to its desert climate and lack of laws and law enforcement — it’s known as the “last free land” in the US. It’s a visually fascinating community filled with quirky art that draws photographers from all over the world. It costs nothing to stay here — you just need your own camping equipment, RV or other lodging that you bring.
Three Rivers Recreation Area (Three Rivers Oregon)
Best time to visit: Summer and Fall
Features of the area: A large lake and mountainous terrain
Did you know? Though residents don’t have cell reception many have solar-powered WiFi.
This gorgeous destination is located three and a half hours southeast of Portland. Residents live off the grid using solar power. They have no cellular service but they do have access to the internet. Camping is available nearby for $15–30 per night depending on the site.
Other US Locations
Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage (Rutledge, Missouri)
Best time to visit: Fall
Features of the area: Spacious fields and farmland
Did you know? They host an open house and fair each year in September.
This well-known off-grid community holds sustainability as a high value. They offer long- and short-term visiting options and have a sustainable inn that’s available for reservation if you can’t be accommodated on site. It’s about $300 for weekend program visits which includes food and a camping site (indoor lodging is available for an additional fee). If you plan to stay for a longer visit with some working hours it costs $200–350 per week.
Living Roots (Patoka Lake, Indiana)
Best time to visit: Fall
Features of the area: A large lake and forest
Did you know? This farm produces over 80,000 lbs of produce on about 5 acres of land.
Living Roots is located near a gorgeous lake and is a small community of under 20 members. They offer tours and potlucks (prices vary for each event) and work exchange visits on their remote farm but if you’re serious about unplugging, this could be a great option. The work exchange visits have a minimum stay of one to two weeks. If you plan a tour there is lodging nearby for $50–150 per night.
Earthship Community (Taos, New Mexico)
Best time to visit: Spring and fall
Features of the area: Desert terrain, unique architecture
Did you know? The Earthship houses were all designed by Michael Reynolds.
The Earthship houses were designed by Michael Reynolds and are unlike anything else. They’re self-sufficient and eco-friendly. You may tour a community of Earthship houses in Taos ($8–15) but not stay overnight. However, there are other Earthship locations where you can book nightly stays for a unique off-the-grid experience with costs ranging from $140–410. These homes can accommodate one to six people depending on the property.
Going off the Grid vs. Living on the Road
There has been a growing trend of people traveling in a van or campervan in order to live out their migrant dreams and explore. Another appeal is being free from permanent housing, material items and all of the costs that come along with it. Many who live on the road like to settle in mobile communities along the way to feel a sense of community and meet new people.
Unless you use solar power, living out of a van or RV is not living off the grid, since many people plug in at mobile communities. Truly living off the grid is living free from reliance on resources that you didn’t procure yourself. Living on the road can still be a great way to unplug from the daily grind and become more connected to living in the moment.
When it comes to disconnecting and going off the grid, remember that anyone can do it. It’s a great way to reset your mind and reflect without distractions. Going off the grid is not only good for your wellbeing but it’s kind to the environment as well.
As you travel through these communities you’ll meet groups of caring people that are committed to their off-grid lifestyles. It’s a refreshing reminder that we can live much greener and make small changes in our everyday lives that make a big impact in the long run. Happy and safe travels!