When we’ve fallen in love with a place, it’s as much about the people we’ve met as about the scenery we’ve seen: a half-hour of conversation with a long-time local can teach you more about a new town than two days of wandering its streets and trails.
Because of this, and to help get outside of our little bubble, we’ve found a few ways to meet people in the towns we pass through. As we roll into town we’re checking Yelp to find likely places to check out, and we try to visit a few of these early in our visit:
- Bartenders at microbreweries and taphouses – If the bar is quiet, we’ve had bartenders share the ins and outs of local recreation, politics, and economy. Never sit at a table- the bartender is a captive audience, but waitstaff always need to be somewhere else. Chatting with the bartenders at the Craft Bierhaus in Revelstoke and the Avalanche Brewing Company in Silverton shaped our impressions of the places so much that as far as our favorite small mountain towns go, these two are way at the top.
- Better yet, a kombucha taproom: Usually much quieter than a microbrewery, these also won’t have loud music, annoying tourists, or drunk patrons- and instead they’ll have funky, hippy employees who aren’t afraid to be different. We first got tuned into this at the Big Island Booch in Hilo, and later had great luck at Dave’s Zesty Booch in Bozeman.
- Gear shop employees are passionate about the outdoors, are embedded in a community of outdoorspeople, and get outside more frequently than Forest Service employees. They’ve likely passed up other career options because they fell in love with the local mountains, so are a great source information, ideas, and itineraries.
- Ski patrollers are dirtbags who live to ski and party, so are likely to know the best places for steep lines, good snow, cheap beer, and free hot tubs/hot springs.
- Campgrounds in outdoors towns and climbing areas are good places to meet people- if you’re willing to walk over to your neighbors and ask them if they want to share a site or come over for dinner/drinks/games. We’ve made great friends by asking to share campsites- but on other nights we’ve chosen to be alone in our campsite, our own little bubble of wilderness. Our best experiences have been in the Red Rock Campground outside Vegas and the Wonderland campground in Joshua Tree (both meeting hubs for climbers) and the Telluride and Ouray campgrounds.
- Old friends in new places. At the end of the day, people are the most important part of our human experience, and #vanlife can be isolating as we move from place to place. When we know friends will be nearby for a weekend trip, or another van lifer’s travels bring them near, we try to prioritize seeing them.
We haven’t used organized events, apart from a few climbing events like the Flash Foxy women’s climbing festival and Climber’s Coffee at Joshua Tree. Most of the towns we’ve visited are too small (population < 4,000) to support active Meetup groups or well-organized Facebook pages, and we also usually move around too much to plan ahead for scheduled events!
Here are some amazing folks we got to spend time with on the road. This, in no way, is a comprehensive list.