A number of nomads ask when the next gathering/meetup/caravan/event will take place and whether it will be near them. My reply is usually to not wait for someone else to supply it for you. Flex your independent, self-directed nomadic muscles and create a gathering yourself or along with a fellow vagabond. Pick a date and location then spread it on social media. That’s how the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous started.
When I first met Debra Dickinson she was brand new to life on the road, unsure of herself, and dealing with the effects of traumatic brain injury. Now she’s a pro at this stuff, sharing her knowledge and huge heart through videos, books and meetups. So I asked Debra to tell us what she learned about organizing her annual KOKO FEST. — Al
I WAS BLESSED TO BE ENCOURAGED BY BOB WELLS to start my YouTube channel in 2016, and he also encouraged me to hold my first annual meetup in 2017. With the exception of 2020, and having to cancel because our country was basically on lockdown, I have held a large annual meetup and many mini-meetups ever since. My large annual event is known as KOKO FEST. KOKO stands for Keep On Keeping On which is one of my mottos.
KNOW THE LOCATION
This doesn’t mean just knowing where your preferred place is for holding a meetup. You also need to know the weather for the time of year that you are considering, as well as the proximity for the people that want to show up. Is it somewhere a lot of people can easily get to? It’s not as easy as you think.
I used to have my annual meetup in December, in Quartzsite, AZ – before January when things get crazy busy in town. I held it at the now defunct Rice Ranch. That had its benefits. Prior to January, there are less crowds so we were able to walk the vendors together and for three of the days, we walked to nearby restaurants for lunch. I had made prior arrangements with the owners at each location and they were expecting us.
The location was great, wide open, and cheap but holding the event early in December made it difficult for a lot of people to attend because of the holidays. It also only accommodated those who were already out West. For every one else, southwest Arizona is not on the beaten path.
For the last two years, my annual gathering has been held at City of Rocks State Park in New Mexico in early November. The location is still remote, but it checks most of the boxes I need for a large gathering over several days.
PERMITS AND LICENSES
I’ve never tried to hold my meetups on public land. You will hear all kinds of suggestions and opinions about whether or not such a thing is allowed or appropriate. People will say that a permit is not required if you keep the attendance below a certain number. That gets questionable for many reasons. One, when you announce a public event, you really don’t have control over how many show up. And, what was a law, rule or guideline one year can quickly change the next. My best advice for knowing whether or not you need a permit is to call the governing office or ranger station that is responsible for the location you have chosen.
I know many people whose event has been shut down and/or they get fined. A simple phone call can prevent that.
My first four events were held at Rice Ranch because management there was responsible for all the rules, laws, regulations and guidelines. As always, I encouraged attendees to abide by the rules but if someone chose not to, park management could step in if need be. It is a lot of work to hold an event. Adding police duties, or management duties, or baby-sitting to your task list can make the whole thing seem overwhelming and definitely not as much fun.
The same is true for why I hold my large event at a State Park now. The rules are straightforward and they have staff to help with anything needed.
Something else that can require permits or licenses are vendors. This can include selling personal items. I am an author. I’m currently writing my 8th book, and would love nothing more than to sell my books at every meetup I hold. Sometimes that is not possible. Cities and counties often have ordinances that require licenses. The same is true for public lands. They often require different permits for different types of businesses and vendors. There are too many variables to cover in this article so as always, it is best to call the governing office or ranger station to be sure.
The other reason I hold it at a State Park is that there is a combination of dry camping and hookups available. People get to choose and I’m not in charge of assigning campsites. Everyone makes their own reservations. The last thing someone wants is to plan on attending an event and drive there, only to find out that me (or any event planner) has lost their reservation or misunderstood and put them somewhere where they don’t want to be. Holding the event where all of that is managed by a lot of systems and people that are already in place helps ensure that everyone knows what to expect when they arrive.
Likewise, ADA accommodations are already set up. Bathrooms are on site if needed, as well as showers and even trash bins. Those are things a lot of campers need if they are going to be somewhere for several days. Otherwise, on public lands, sometimes they mandate you provide porta potties and trash bins. Again, make that call to the governing office and find out ahead of time. It can save you and the people coming to your event a lot of hassle.
Another thing to consider is where do you want to have the main gathering area. Do you need or want a covered area? Maybe even a shelter or building structure of some kind? Regardless, even if you are going to have an open area, it needs to be centrally located for easy access. Without reservations, there is really no way to know how many will show up so you want to make sure there is more than enough space for everyone – including those who may be in a wheelchair or scooter.
People will want to bring their dogs or other pets. The size and location of your central meeting area will have an impact on that as well.
Whenever you have a group of people camping together, there are always differences. Some run generators, others cannot be near them for a variety of health concerns. A lot of people have dogs, some well behaved, others not. Some people like outdoor lights, others find them annoying.
At Rice Ranch, I was able to map out parking to pretty much accommodate special needs. If you are going to hold a meetup and it is going to be a free-for-all, or if you are responsible for site assignments, be prepared for the different needs your attendees will have.
Everyone is there to have a good time, and the hope is that everyone will chill over both large and small concerns, but that is not always the case. Just be prepared and know what your plan is if something happens.Medical emergencies happen too. As the Event Coordinator, people will (and in my opinion should be able to) come to you if something happens. We had to call an ambulance last year for someone at KOKO FEST 2022. I was concerned it was their heart. Fortunately, it wasn’t and they were able to come back to the park the next evening. Their camper and their dog needed to be taken care of in the meantime. Sometimes people show up solo to events so that they can meet people. They often don’t have someone they can rely on ahead of time. Be prepared to step up if something happens.
It is a good idea to know the emergency contacts for wherever you are holding your meetup, as well as the locations of emergency clinics, hospitals and veterinarians. I also try to have all of that on a handout or posted on a bulletin board so that everyone has the information.
CLASSES AND ENTERTAINMENT
If you are going to hold classes during your meetup, you will need to schedule the dates and times for each speaker. You will need to find a way to get that information to attendees.
You will also want to have something in mind for what to do if an instructor cancels. For example, if someone has agreed to hold a Cast Iron Cookoff Challenge or a Cast Iron 101 tutorial (2 of my favs at KOKO FEST), do you have another attendee that can fill in if they can’t make it? If you’re going to have games of any kind scheduled, keep in mind equipment can get lost, forgotten or broken. It is a good idea to have a back up plan for that as well.
Do you want to have music or movies during your meetup? Same thing applies. Be sure you have a backup – not only for the equipment but for whoever is in charge. Be sure too that you check with park management, public land officials or whoever may be in charge of the rules for your location to make sure you know the quiet hours. Some parks don’t allow outdoor speakers.
Will you need electricity to hold your classes or have entertainment? For those of us who boondock a lot, we usually have ample power to maintain our rigs and personal items. Having power left over to run additional equipment, especially at night, could become an issue. Some have offered to run generators at center camp, but again, not everyone can tolerate them. You can’t please everyone, but these are some things to think about ahead of time.
SIGNAL AND INTERNET ACCESS
In an ideal world I suppose we would all have Starlink or something similar and this would not be an issue, but the truth is, finding a place that has signal and internet access for everyone is tricky – especially when you get a lot of people together and the tower(s) get stressed.
All you can do is your basic research to determine what is available. Let everyone know what to expect and encourage them to do their own homework because it could change before they arrive.
It would be nice if everyone could do without phones and the internet for several days, but many people will still need to work during your event. Others rely on the internet for safety and connection, and some may even need it to make their presentation or provide streaming for entertainment. Some carriers may work better than others for the location you’ve chosen. Research ahead of time is key.
This isn’t just a consideration for the person (or people) organizing the event, it’s a factor for those attending as well. I have enjoyed holding KOKO FEST at City of Rocks, and will probably do so again this year. The biggest issue on budget for attendees at KOKO FEST are the reservations (from $0-$20/night) and the gas/fuel to get there. It’s a trek. I also advise people to be well stocked on food before arriving because there are no nearby grocery stores.
I budget my expenses for KOKO FEST monthly throughout the year, setting aside enough to pay for the pavilion and group area as well as incidentals that come up during the event. Right now, that cost is $350. I willingly and gladly pay for the luxury of having help with the reservations, center camp and management. That does not include my personal expenses such as gas, food and my own reservations.
Throughout the year, when I can, I also hold mini meetups. If I’m going to be in an area for awhile, I will scope out a city park or somewhere that a small group of us can hang out for 3-4 hours. Often parks have a pavilion or picnic area that works great. Sometimes there is a fee to use them, but it’s usually a small fee of $20 or less. It’s a great way to meet a lot of people as you travel and since I usually hold my mini meetups in town, no one has to travel or plan very far in advance.
I have the privilege of a YouTube platform to let people know I’m going to hold a meetup. I also publish posts on Facebook and Instagram when I have dates and locations confirmed. Other platforms you can use to let people know you are holding a get together are Meetup.com as well as various Facebook groups. You can also create your own Facebook Event Group. Keep in mind that by doing so, it makes you the official Event Coordinator – especially to officials.
I have made lifelong friends at Nomad meetups. I have been on the road fulltime since 2015 and some of my greatest memories are from being at meetups. If you want to host a meetup and hold that space for others to gather and make friends and memories, I hope you do. And I hope you found this useful. I will see you down the road. KOKO!
KOKO Fest is a major production, but meetups can be much simpler. For example, as I write this, Debra is having a mini-meetup tomorrow. She simply posted on her social media accounts that she was going to be at a particular restaurant between certain hours and to drop by if you wanted to. Easy. You could do something similar. If ambiance isn’t high on your list, you could meet in a parking lot. That’s where I stumbled upon someone who would become a good friend. — Al