Lifestyle Podcast Post

Have Fun Camping with Sarah Smith

George Grombacher March 16, 2023

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Have Fun Camping with Sarah Smith

LifeBlood: We talked about how to have fun camping, the reason behind the increased interest in it, how to have a more curated experience, and how to get started, with Sarah Smith, Founder of The Dyrt, a community helping people enjoy their outdoors experience and share it with others.   

Listen to learn about dispersed camping and how to have a great experience doing it!

You can learn more about Sarah at, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Sarah Smith

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
Well, this is George G. And the time is right welcome. Today’s guest is strong and powerful. Sarah Smith. Sarah, are you ready to do this?

Sarah Smith 0:08
I am ready.

george grombacher 0:10
All right, let’s go. Sarah is the founder of the dirt. They’re an organization helping people find campgrounds, remember their own experiences and share them with others. Sarah, excited to have you on tell us a little about your personal lives more about your work, why you do what you do?

Sarah Smith 0:27
Yeah, well, thanks so much for having me on. I’m excited to chat with you. Um, I, you know, my husband and I moved to the Pacific Northwest, specifically Portland about 12 years ago. And as avid campers, we were really frustrated with the experience of trying to figure out where to go camping in a new environment that we didn’t know. And so day after day, we’d be looking for campgrounds to go camp out that weekend. And we would be like, Why doesn’t someone invent? I don’t know, the Yelp for camping, the TripAdvisor for camping? Why doesn’t someone build an app for this? And eventually, we said that enough times we’re like, well, let’s let’s do it. We’re somebody, you know, let’s go give this is a shot. So, you know, fast forward 10 years from when we started the dirt, we now have 30 million annual visits for the top ranked camping app and website. And what makes us really unique is we have 8 million pieces of user generated content. So photos, reviews, tips of campgrounds all throughout the United States, to make it easier for people who like to go camping, to figure out where to go.

george grombacher 1:42
Amazing. Does that surpass your wildest imagination? Or is it right?

Sarah Smith 1:49
No, I mean, I just I pinch myself, sometimes I’m just like, I can’t believe that. What I always dreamt of creating has been created. And it still keeps getting bigger. And you know, there’s so much more room to go. But like it’s it’s pretty exciting. Yeah,

george grombacher 2:06
for sure. All right. So how do you define campaign? Or do you define campaign?

Sarah Smith 2:11
Yeah, that’s a great question. Um, you know, its allotted 80 million Americans camp, probably about half of those people camp in some sort of a vehicle, whether it’s an RV, or a van, or a pull behind trailer. Other people camp in tents, obviously, which is how a lot of us grew up starting to camp. But glamping is also a form of camping cabins, we consider that camping. So anything that helps you get outdoors and closer to nature is how we define camping.

george grombacher 2:49
And what is it that you? Like? Why did how did you fall in love with it? Why? Why do you like camping so much.

Sarah Smith 2:56
So some of my best memories, we were just talking before the show started how we’re both originally from Minnesota. And my dad was a teacher. So we had summers off. And every summer we would, at some point, spend a week going around Lake Superior, and 10 Camping and some of my best childhood memories. Were doing that and fishing and being with my family outside. So you know, I think cambian is something that really helps bring families together, it helps people clear their minds, it’s helped. It’s funny that I’ve created technology that helps you get outside to get away from technology. But you know, it’s just, it’s a great way to just take a break from everything else. And yeah, it’s just something I’ve always been really, really passionate about. And so has my husband and co founder.

george grombacher 3:52
Yeah, I think it’s amazing. And I certainly had similar experiences growing up. Always trying to maximize the nice days in northern Minnesota, because it seems like they’re few and far between. So try to really get out there. So 8 million user generated experiences. So you started off one way with with with the site I’m sure that it’s it’s gone through multiple iterations. But walk me through the walk me through the user experience when when when I come to the site?

Sarah Smith 4:25
Yeah, well, you know, our goal is to make it easier for everyone to go camping. So no matter how you go camping, and for us originally, why it was hard is because there was not a community not a place to go to be a part of a community where I could see hey, where did George go camping last weekend? And what did the pictures look like? And was that a good spot or not a good spot? And so we wanted originally to create a place kind of like Yelp where people could put up photos and reviews and their tips about which campgrounds are good and which one ones aren’t. So that, you know, when you go away for the weekend, you’re making a better decision. And you’re not just wasting your weekend sleeping next to the highway, and you’re kind of like I wish someone would have told me that site to at Rainbow campground is right next to the highway noise because that would have made a difference in my decision making. And then fast forward, you know, to, like I said, the 8 million pieces of content that we now have in this amazing community of campers, we’ve also started offering something called the dirt Pro, which is upgraded tools that campers use while they’re camping. So things like a trip planner feature to help you if you’re going from Duluth to Phoenix, and you want to figure out a camping route along the way, you know, we have the tool to help you or offline capabilities, you’re gonna go up to Mount Hood this weekend, and you know, you’re going to lose cell service, but you want to be able to access the information of the dirt, the dirt Pro, which is our upgraded feature will help you do that. And that’s, that’s our upgraded tool that’s $36 a year annual subscription available to to our users. But all the rest of the dirt is absolutely free.

george grombacher 6:14
Nice. All right. So I go to the site, and I say okay, I’ve been thinking about just getting started with camping. And there’s, there’s a way for me to do that. Is it? Is it just geographical? Or is it like a search by certain kinds of experience?

Sarah Smith 6:31
Yeah, you can, you know, there’s the first thing you can it’s kind of like Airbnb, you know, if you went to search on there, you can search a map, you can go to a state, you can zoom around to a certain region of a state, you can put in a search term. So if you know you want to camp near, you know, Lake Tahoe, you can put that. So all sorts of different ways of searching. And then you can filter down by the sort of experience that you really want. So, you know, maybe you have a dog or dogs allowed, maybe you want to camp somewhere, knowing Wi Fi is something they offer, you can filter by that. So we try to make it something that’s a very useful tool for people. And be aware that the 80 million Americans who camp all camp pretty differently. So making sure we’re we’re figuring out how to really tailor the product to the needs of campers.

george grombacher 7:30
For lack of a better term, how many folks out there are camping curious. Is that knowable?

Sarah Smith 7:38
That’s a great question. I don’t know. But we do know that, um, you know, 15 million new campers have camped in the past two years. So it was about 7 million in 2020. And about 8 million more in 2022. So at first we thought it was maybe the pandemic had this you know, big bump in numbers for people camping, and that maybe it would die back down but it just increased again the next year. So more and more people are getting outside and learning about camping. And if you know if they go to a cabin to do that, and that’s their first experience camping, great if they’re glamping great. You know, there’s there’s no way you know, there’s no right way to camp. There’s all sorts of different ways to camp. Yeah,

george grombacher 8:29
it strikes me that that’s a there’s probably a lot of people out there who are who are adventurous and they’re not worried about it. But then there’s probably a lot of people who live in a city and they’ve raised in cities and they’ve never been out in the woods and the thought of getting eaten by an animal terrifies them even though that’s that’s a very very, very rare thing. But you get the idea.

Sarah Smith 8:51
Yeah, it’s funny, you know, I grew up in a tent camp tent camping, and I don’t I don’t think I would do that anymore. I have this nice campervan. I have a bed I have a duvet day I have feather pillows. You know, it’s it’s funny how your camping can change as you get a little bit older.

george grombacher 9:10
Yeah, yeah, that is, uh, I appreciate you being honest about that. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of it. But no, no. I think that that’s great. What is some of the things that have been most surprising about about your entrepreneurial journey about this this this 10 years? Is there anything that really jumps off the page? You’re like, oh, wow, I’m really surprised that that this experience happened or that people have been using the set like that.

Sarah Smith 9:39
Yeah, I mean, I think for me, just the whole thing has been kind of a shock. I am not your typical entrepreneur. I call myself an entrepreneur. I worked in international education for 20 years helping students study abroad, so nothing to do with entrepreneurship, nothing to do with tech and nothing to do with Campion, and I started the dirt I think at age 44. So not, obviously, your typical tech founder. So I like to hopefully be an inspiration to others who are interested and maybe have an idea. And they don’t look like all the other tech founders they see out there, if you have a good idea if you have a scalable idea, and if you can execute that idea, you know, anyone can, can follow a dream like this.

george grombacher 10:32
I certainly appreciate that. I see a lot of sort of crossover between study abroad and camping. Your boat, you’re sort of venturing into the unknown.

Sarah Smith 10:44
Exactly. Yeah, that’s totally true. And I also tell people like working at a startup is not that dissimilar from studying abroad. There’s a lot of unknowns. When you work at a startup, things change. You’re doing one thing one day and a different thing the next day, and you’re looking around trying to adapt. So I see a lot of similarities. And in that sort of startup, and camping, and then also, like international experiences.

george grombacher 11:14
Yeah, yeah, I think it’s cool. And it doesn’t surprise me also, going back to how you talked about, there’s a very, very large percentage of people who went into camping for the first time it was during the pandemic. I think that I’ve maybe it’s just what I’m looking at is obviously feeding the the the way that I’m thinking about viewing the world. But I think that there are a lot of people who are saying, You know what, this is not getting us where we wanted to go, we need to get out of get offline more so than be online, we need to get back and be able to have the skills necessary to to survive, not that we’re going to become survivalist or anything like that, but I better know how to just be part of nature.

Sarah Smith 11:58
Hmm. Yeah, I totally think that’s true. And I think, you know, when you can be self sufficient in your vehicle, if you are in a vehicle, you know, and you can go boondock or stay on dispersed land for two weeks and rely on nothing but yourself. And your van that has, you know, heat, water and a bathroom. But you know, that sort of feeling of being able to take care of yourself when you’re in the middle of the woods is, is a really nice feeling. And I think more and more people are, are starting to enjoy that feeling.

george grombacher 12:36
So this dispersed land, I don’t know that I know what that is.

Sarah Smith 12:40
So dispersed camping is something that’s done, usually on Bureau of Land Management land or national forest land, where they have open swaths of land that you can camp on for free, really anywhere, you know, you should always check the website before you go just to make sure. And of course, leave no trace. So if you bring garbage in, take garbage out. But it’s a really great way to camp if you want to get away from crowds, because you, you know, you can just go down these roads and look for a spot or away from everyone and have a really peaceful experience. A couple of things about that, with campgrounds being you know, it was five times harder to book a campground last year than the year before. So it’s, you know, campgrounds are crowded and busy. And so if you can disperse camp, that’s a great way to alleviate some of the pressures from the campgrounds. So actually on the dirt Pro, one of the features we give you our BLM Bureau of Land Management land and national forest land overlays on a map so that you can see when you go into that land and you know, oh, I can camp anywhere I want here, which is great. And the other thing we just saw that’s dispersed camping, which is a great way to camp. Another thing we just launched, which I’m really excited about are dirt alerts. And what they are is they are you can sign up for them on the and they will give you notifications when sold out campgrounds have cancellations and an availability pops up. So you’ll get an alert from us on your phone. And then you can jump over to the website and book the book the site that’s hard to get so you know that’s another exciting way to go camping and these days where it’s really hard sometimes to find available campsites

george grombacher 14:39
super cool. And when you have millions of people who are more interested in camping it makes sense that it’s five times harder to get a reservation or a spot at a campground dispersed camping. That That sounds exciting to me. It’s not something that I think that I’ve done at least not on purpose probably done it at some point on accident. Right so I can I can go and read people’s experiences say, Well, I did this and I drove three miles down XYZ wrote that to die in Yosemite National Forest. I’m just making things up right now. I had a great experience here. So I’m not just going in blind.

Sarah Smith 15:18
Totally, yeah. And when you are driving a vehicle, or you’re pulling a camper, or you have a large RV, it’s really important to have an idea of what you’re getting into as you’re driving down that road. Because Are you going to be able to turn around what’s going to happen? So when you can read what other campers have experienced down that road? It’s, it’s like a lifesaver and be like, Okay, well, this guy was in a 20 foot van, and he did it just fine. So, you know, I’m gonna go down there. So it’s a really great way to experience camping and get away from the crowds. So I encourage anyone who’s interested in that sort of, and I think that it seems scary if you don’t know about it, but once you learn how to do it, it’s it’s just an amazing way to camp. Yeah, for

george grombacher 16:03
sure. If and this is something that could I probably should have researched in advance, Sarah, but here we are. It where where can I learn about kind of the gear that I need? Or how much water to bring? or extra gas, stuff like that?

Sarah Smith 16:22
Yeah, I mean, we we have something called the dirt digital magazine on our site. So you can go there tons of great content on on that side of our site. But also once you get looking at specific areas where you want to go camping, you can read the reviews from the other campers who will often give, you know, tips like that, that you wouldn’t think of things you would think of and then things you wouldn’t think of too. So bringing a community of, you know, millions of campers together and having a place for them to communicate with each other through these reviews has just been like a game changer for people and their understanding of how to go camping.

george grombacher 17:04
Yeah, yeah, it seems like it’s invaluable. So love it was so thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? And how can we take advantage and check out the community of the dirt?

Sarah Smith 17:17
Oh, yeah, you can check out the, which is t h e DYR Or you can find us in the App Store where the top ranked camping app. So just look for the dirt or camping and you’ll find us

george grombacher 17:34
love it. Well, if you enjoyed as much as I did, share your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, go to the It’s th e de and find the dirt app app store, type in the dirt or type in camping apps and it will come up and tap into the knowledge of you know 30 million people check it out the site 8 million people who have gone camping and have been kind enough and given enough to add a contribution to the community. And if you’re a seasoned camper, you know find out what your next trip is. And if you are camping, curious or just looking to get into it, Stacy or Sarah, do you think I just invented a new term horses that

Sarah Smith 18:19
I think you absolutely dead?

george grombacher 18:22
If you are curious about it, check it out and find all the resources that you need to be comfortable taking advantage of all that the beautiful United States has to offer. And is it just the United States Sarah or

Sarah Smith 18:35
currently just the United States but you know, it’s a big world out there. So we’ll see what’s to come.

george grombacher 18:41
It is an awfully big world out there. Thanks good, sir. Thank you. And until next time, remember, do your part by doing your best

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