How to Share High-Quality Reviews & Descriptions on The Vanlife App (& Why)!

Words by Amanda Winther & photos by Matt Swartz @van.project // www.thevanproject.com


vanlife app find free campsites 1.jpg

We’re huge proponents of slow travel here at The Vanlife App (we’ve even written about it here). There’s nothing quite like digging around in google maps (better yet: paper maps?!) and finding the perfect, remote campsite.

But sometimes, we just need a good, safe, flat, quiet place to spend the night. Or, we need strong enough cell signal to jump on a morning call, but would rather not spend another night in a Walmart parking lot.

We created The Vanlife App to help all road travelers spend less time searching for resources like quiet places to sleep, clean drinking water, and free wifi, and instead spend more time doing what you love. 

We also created The Vanlife App because we recognize that, as people who recreate in nature, we have a large collective impact on these places we love. The Vanlife App’s mission is to make vanlife synonymous with sustainability, to take responsibility for the places we stay, and help create systems and tools to keep these places accessible and respected. We do this by working hand-in-hand with you, our community, to create a database that includes Leave No Trace principles and education at its very foundation. As Leave No Trace Proud Partners, we also give back to our public lands through education, advocacy, and action, including hosting cleanups. 

We’ve got big plans to add features that spread Leave No Trace awareness and education throughout the app. But in the meantime, we need your help to spread this kind of education and create a culture of “Leave it Better” in each and every location description and review we add to the app. 


Good and Bad campsite reviews and descriptions.jpg

What makes a “good” location description or review?

A good location and/or review should help someone understand exactly what to expect when they get to their home for the night. It should be clear and concise, provide useful information about getting to the location (including the road conditions, length, etc.) and details about the campsite including relevant environmental concerns, local customs, and laws. Of course, it should also include a Leave No Trace message! 


Here are some tips to help you add descriptions and reviews that will be both useful and educational!


When adding the location for the first time, use a descriptive “Location Name”

“Alabama Hills Dispersed BLM Camping” is better than “Free Dispersed” and “Palisades Reservoir Free Camping” is more helpful than “Reservoir”

What if I don’t know the name of the campsite? Sometimes campsites don’t have official names. In this case, we recommend naming the spot after the road it’s on or the National Forest it’s located in. For example, we recently added a location for dispersed camping in the Targhee Caribou National Forest along Darby Canyon Road, so we named it “Darby Canyon Road Dispersed (Targhee Caribou NF).’


Feel free to elaborate in your “Description”

We left the “description” open-ended for a reason! Use this section to add relevant details about the road leading up to the campsite and the campsite itself. Here are some examples of things to include that might be useful to the next visitor:

  • Road conditions: Is there anything someone might want to know if they decide to navigate to this beautiful, remote spot after dark? Is the road narrow, rutted, washboard, big potholes? Did you have high clearance, or did you get there in a 4x4?

  • Public Land Jurisdiction: Is this BLM, Forest Service, private land, unknown?

  • Length of stay limits: How long are you legally allowed to stay at this site?

  • Details about the Campsite

    • Size and/or size limitations: How large is it? Approximately how many vehicles could fit? Could a larger RV or skoolie fit?

    • Grade: How flat is it? Are the sites mostly flat or would it be a good idea to bring leveling blocks?

    • Privacy: How private is it?

    • Noise level: Is it close to a busy road or railroad track? Are there any established “quiet hours?” What are the local norms? Were other campers using generators late into the night?

    • Other: Are there any cool features (rock climbing, hiking trails, biking trails, water source, etc.) that make this site extra special?


Leave some Leave No Trace!

the van life app leave no trace.jpg

Are there any fire safety or wildlife regulations? Did you see wildlife near the site that others should know about? It’s important to include education language about *why* people should “Leave No Trace!” Exactly what you’ll say here will depend on the site type and location, but here are some of our favorite ways to include “Leave No Trace” language in our reviews.

    • Dispose of waste properly → Did you know that Leave No Trace suggests we should dig catholes at least 200 feet from water, trails, AND CAMPSITES? If there are no toilets available and it’s not possible to get 200 feet away from the campsite safely, or if it’s a high-use campsite or sensitive (alpine and high desert) environment, packing out poop is the best option! Examples: 

      • “This campsite is in a high-use AND extremely sensitive high desert environment. It can take much, much longer for human waste to decompose here. Since there aren’t pit toilets available, please PACK OUT POOP! ‘

      • “Dig cat holes 6-8 inches deep and 200 feet from water and carry out *all* toilet paper (otherwise animals will likely dig it up)’

      • “Even biodegradable soap can harm aquatic ecosystems. Shower & wash dishes 200 feet from the lake. Or take a soap-free dip.’

    • Fire Impacts  → Are there existing fire rings? You could include a note about this and suggest that other visitors use existing fire rings and not create new ones. Excessive fire rings are unsightly and unnecessary, and every campfire that is created will sterilize the underlying soil microbes which means plants won’t be able to grow there for a LONG time afterwards. 

      • “Please use only existing fire rings and keep fires small. New fires sterilize the underlying earth and can make it difficult for plants to regrow again in these spots for many years.’

      • “Do not burn trash or food in your fire pit as it can attract animals as well as release harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil and environment. PACK OUT ALL TRASH!’

    • Be respectful of others → Consider the impact our actions have on our ‘neighbors’ when we are enjoying public lands. If you’re in a high-use campground/area, consider leaving the following review:

      • “Please be considerate of your neighbors and keep music and noise to a minimum after 10pm.’

    • Respect wildlife → It’s awesome to see and enjoy the presence of wildlife, but we as a community need to be respectful and responsible in the ways that we interact (or don’t interact!) with wild animals. Don’t touch or handle wildlife, don’t allow your dogs to chase wildlife, and don’t allow wildlife to get into your food.

      • “This is bear country! Please store all food properly in the provided bear boxes or inside your locked vehicle - if a bear gets into your food it may eventually become aggressive towards people and need to be removed (or euthanized) by the Park Service.’

      • “Squirrels are cute but DON’T feed them as this can result in them being habituated to our food. Habituated animals chew into packs, bags, and tents to get food (that isn’t meant for them).’


Adding a location? Feel free to leave a review too!

If you’re adding a location and have stayed at the site, add a review and rating to the app after your stay! Adding a review is important for a few reasons.

  1. First, as we upgrade our in-app search functionality, we will be able to pull from the reviews to help us all find better campsites and resources.

  2. Second, and perhaps even more importantly, we will be using the “cleanliness” section of reviews to help inform where we plan future clean-ups and environmental advocacy efforts.


Found a Spammy or Inaccurate location or review? Use the “flag” feature!

how%25252Bto%25252Bflag%25252Bspammy%25252Band%25252Binaccurate%25252Breviews%25252Bthe%25252Bvan%25252Blife%25252Bapp%25252B.jpg

Here are a few things to avoid in your reviews and descriptions:

  1. Don’t leave descriptions blank

  2. Don’t use inappropriate language

  3. Don’t promote yourself or your website

We’re so excited to have you on this journey with us to create an app that’s both by the community and for the community, while at the same time helping spread advocacy and environmental responsibility. Have ideas to make the app even better? Reach out to us at feedback@thevanlifeapp.com!


JOIN THE MOVEMENT

DOWNLOAD THE APP TODAY!

 
 

Amanda WintherComment