Marianne Edwards is the founder of Boondockers Welcome, a website that connects private property hosts to RV/van dwellers, allowing them to stay on their property for free as they’re passing through town. It’s pretty easy for a typical homeowner to open up their driveway for a night or two as someone is passing by, and for the traveler, it means a lot. It’s an incredibly worthwhile exchange for the homeowner, as they get to meet and chat with someone with countless stories from traveling all over who knows where. Her business is very unique so we wanted to get to know her a bit better. Here are a few questions we asked her about her life and business:
What inspired you to live in a van?
We don’t “live” in our van full time. We have a sticks and bricks home in Ontario, Canada but travel for 5 or 6 months at a time in the campervan. It’s got everything a larger motorhome has (double bed, running water, toilet, stove, heat, A/C, fridge with freezer) just a lot more compact. We mostly “live” outdoors when we travel. So the tight space doesn’t bother us but, if we didn’t have a home base, we’d probably choose a larger RV.
What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from living on the road?
When we’re on the road, every day is a new adventure, we’re much more in tune with nature, we meet the greatest people, and time seems to expand. By comparison, when we’re “home”, our daily routine has much less variety, we tend to spend way more time indoors, and time flies by. And we meet very few new people, except for when we host Boondockers Welcome guests. We have so much in common with them, and love hearing about their adventures. We know many hosts feel the same, so it’s one of the reasons we created the website.
How has living in a van impacted your business, both positively and negatively?
Modern technology makes running a web-based business from anywhere in the world quite possible. Sometimes we are in a place where we have limited connectivity. That’s when it’s especially important to have a business partner who can step in to cover for me.
How did you first start getting people to join your website as a host? As a guest?
I already had established a trusting following online through my other website, www.frugal-rv-travel.com. I pitched the BoondockersWelcome.com website to them via a newsletter and we had our first 300 members (many of them both as hosts and guests) signed up within the first six months. Many of them are still with us more than 6 years later.
What has been the biggest challenge with running Boondockers Welcome?
Getting it right. We’ve completely revised the website twice – based on things we learned as we grew. The switch to the current site (just 7 months ago) was a huge change, affecting our entire business model. But it was necessary to attract, retain, and better reward our hosts as well as ensure we could better match guest and host preferences. We’ve solved a lot of what wasn’t working as well as we wanted it to. Now the challenge is to get the word out. Regular social media posts have never been one of my favorite jobs, but I’m learning how important it is and trying to use it to our best advantage. We’ve never been in a big hurry to grow – we’d rather go slowly enough that we can keep offering the level of personal support our users tell us they appreciate. I also know that, if not for my partner and CTO (who also happens to be my daughter), the website could not exist. If I had to pay someone for her work (all the tech behind the creation and support of the site), it would definitely have bankrupted me long ago.
What do you enjoy most about running Boondockers Welcome?
I really enjoy answering the support tickets. It’s nice to know I’m helping members and prospective members to use our service so they can connect with like-minded people in real life. I also LOVE working with my daughter. It’s so rewarding to have created such a positive thing together. Something that, according to feedback from users, adds value and joy to their lives – both when they’re traveling and while at home hosting others.