Alyssa Ravasio is determined to make camp site discovery and reservations easy for everyone! To do this, she has created Hipcamp, an amazingly simple online application that allows you to find nearby camp sites, learn about their available amenities, and find out how to book a reservation. Think AirBnB, but for camp sites. We caught up with Alyssa to pick her brain about her inspiration for developing Hipcamp, the use of online technology to facilitate outdoor activity, and her inside information on best times to book camp site reservations.
Alite Designs: Alyssa, we are very excited to talk to you about Hipcamp! But first, please tell us a little about yourself.
Alyssa Ravasio: I grew up in the oceans, mountains and creek beds of Marin County. I love nature and expressed my love by catching as many animals as I could. Lizards, toads, snakes, fish, turtles, mice...you name it, and I have probably caught it. I still can’t stop; I recently impressed my city-raised boyfriend by catching a Bluebelly lizard with a grass lasso in Pt. Reyes.
At UCLA, I discovered another deep passion: the Internet. I fell in love with its potential to create a more equitable, simple, and responsive society. Ever since that moment, I have been working to help catalyze the possibilities I see for a more equal, connected world. First, as a member of the internet policy team at the US Department of State, next, at Revel Systems, and most recently, Hipcamp.
AD: What is your first memory of the outdoors as a child?
AR: Waves. I used to spend hours at Stinson Beach, jumping in the waves, intentionally getting caught in the washing-machine, enjoying the loss of control, the feeling of flow, the connectedness with this greater force that encompasses our entire planet and brings life to us all.
AD: Hipcamp is your brainchild, and we think it's amazing! Please explain what it is and what inspired you to create it.
AR: Thank you! Hipcamp is an online service that helps people discover available campsites. We are a growing community of passionate campers who love the outdoors and want an easier way to access it.
The original spark of inspiration for Hipcamp came during a camping trip on New Year’s 2013. I wanted to welcome the New Year by watching the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean, so I needed to find out where I could camp by the ocean on the evening of January 31. I thought it’d be easy, but finding an answer to this question was near impossible. National parks, state parks, regional parks, and private campgrounds all exist in silos. You can’t get an overview of availability. Furthermore, the important information about each campground was also scattered. Photos lived in Flickr, reviews were in Yelp, and reservations were in Reserve America.
After hours of research, I finally chose Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur. I felt pretty well-informed, but upon arrival I learned that Andrew Molera is home to an amazing right point break. The waves were pumping, and almost every campsite had a couple surfboards and wetsuits hanging from the trees. I love to surf, but I hadn’t brought my board. I couldn’t believe that after all the time I had spent researching, I had missed the most important thing.
So 2013 began with frustration. I had my sunrise, but I spent it watching other people surfing. On the drive home it hit me... I NEEDED TO FIX THIS. At the time I didn’t even know how to code, but six months and one Dev Boot Camp later, I had a working prototype of Hipcamp.com.
Over the past months, the inspiration for Hipcamp has evolved from a personal quest to fix my own frustration to something much larger. As I learned how many people shared my pain, I realized a solution would be instrumental in helping to get more people outside, which I see as one of the most important things a human can do. Being outside connects you with yourself, your loved ones, and the planet. I also see getting outside as a key to the environmental movement. If people aren’t spending time in nature, why would they fight to protect it? Finally, camping is an excellent way to promote sustainable local economies and native land ownership.
Here's the Hipcamp homepage! An aesthetically pleasing user-friendly interface..your camp possibilities are now endless!
AD: How will Hipcamp make it easier for folks to explore California and connect to the outdoors?
AR: My favorite thing about the Internet is that it combines the bidirectional capacity of a telephone with the broadcast powers of a television. At Hipcamp, we aim to make the most of both. Information posted on Hipcamp will be based heavily on user feedback and user-created content. Of course, this will be balanced with official content that really can’t be crowd sourced, such as whether or not there is running water, or if campsite #3 is available. Hipcamp will also broadcast, making these insights available to everyone.
Finally, our upcoming mobile strategy will make it easier to find a campsite while you’re on the road.
AD: Many campsites get booked well in advance. If you are planning to reserve a campsite, when is the best time to reserve?
AR: There are two strategies here. If you’re a planner, learn when reservations open up and be there at the opening bell. Unfortunately, the rules are esoteric. For example, State Park campgrounds become available in monthly blocks, normally seven months in advance. So, at 8am on November 1st, you can reserve any State Park campsite for the whole month of May. That’s right - you are supposed to plan your Memorial Day camping trip on the day after Halloween! It’s pretty crazy, and what’s even crazier is that the rules for National and Regional Parks are different. For example, Yosemite reservations open up exactly six months in advance, so to reserve a Yosemite campsite for Memorial Day, you need to be online on November 22nd at 7am.
For the more spontaneous adventurer, the second strategy is winning cancellations. People cancel all the time, so if you check Hipcamp every day you can eventually get a spot at any campground you want. It might only be available for a couple hours before it’s reserved again, but it will be there. Again, it's crazy, but we are building tools through Hipcamp to make this reservation process far simpler.
AD: When selecting a campsite, which amenities do you believe are crucial for folks just starting to get into the camping game?
AR: Don’t skimp on good food. Everything tastes better outside, and cooking is so much of the fun in camping. You don’t need a camping stove to make something delicious, wrapping food in tin foil and putting it straight in the fire works a lot like an oven.
Aside from food, I think the amenities really depend on the group’s comfort levels. Make sure to ask your friends if anyone is going to freak out if they don’t get their morning shower. If so, make sure you’re going somewhere with hot showers, and bring quarters to use them!
As we head into the winter, my personal top priority would be fire pits. S’mores and heating up by the campfire is such an essential part of a winter camping experience for me. And of course, this should all be enjoyed from your Alite chair! (Ed note: plugging the Alite chair was completely unsolicited, but we certainly appreciate...and agree!!)
Thinking about going to Salt Point State Park to camp? Hipcamp will give you details on amenities, availability, and contact information ...
AD: What are your future plans for expanding the features of Hipcamp? How would you like to see the application evolve?
AR: Hopefully, we are at the beginning of a long journey. Our mission is to make it easier for people to enjoy nature, and right now discovering a nearby campsite is a broken process. Coming soon will be photo uploads, reviews, and camp site cancellation alerts so folks have an easier way of booking sites at the more popular campgrounds. We'd also love to streamline the whole camping process by assisting with gear, food, and transportation.
AD: Alite and Hipcamp have a common mission: We both want to make it easier for folks to spend time outside. What vital piece of advice can you offer to folks who are newly interested in learning to camp and/or spending more time outdoors?
AR: It is not as scary as you think. I think the aspirational marketing style of many outdoors companies has convinced too many people that getting outdoors means dangling from an overhanging cliff with your ice pick, left-handed. The reality is that nature is our home environment, and we are native animals on this planet. You’re far more adapted to surviving outdoors than you might anticipate. And when you get out there, leave your technology behind! Turn off your cell phone. Unplug. Disconnect to reconnect.
AD: Fantastic advice! Alyssa, thank you very much for answering all of our questions. We are extremely excited to follow along as Hipcamp continues to grow!
To learn more about Hipcamp, visit http://www.hipcamp.com and check out their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/hipcamp.