The online platform frees you from having to pitch your tent at a campsite. Instead, it relies on hospitality and the desire to share.
Anyone who has ever spent a night at a German campsite, and that includes the pleasure of snoring neighbors and waiting in line at the communal shower, knows that things could be so much better. One could, for example, enjoy a night’s sleep under the cover of forest foliage with no other sound than the rustling of leaves. Or wake up in the morning to the roar of the sea and, even before sipping a cup of coffee, feel the sand beneath your bare feet. In Germany, this is almost impossible because wild camping is forbidden. This means that one is simply not permitted to camp just anywhere overnight in the open air. Instead, one must check in to an official campsite.
Anne-Sophie Hussler (32) and Patrick Pirl (33) only realized what they were missing when they experienced it first hand during a vacation in Sweden four years ago. In Scandinavia, there is the tradition of “everyman’s right” or the right of common access, which even takes precedence over the private right to land and property. Simply put, this means anyone is allowed to spend the night wherever they want – in the garden across the way, but also in the middle of the forest, on the beach, or in the mountains. This expresses a great deal about trust and how we treat other people – and, especially, our relationship with nature. “We were astonished at how Swedish forests are so clean and intact,” say Anne-Sophie Hussler and Patrick Pirl. Just because people can freely roam the countryside and even sleep outdoors doesn’t necessarily lead to the destruction or pollution of the natural environment. On the contrary, it results in people treating nature with special care. “The other great thing about wild camping is that traveling becomes much more flexible, special, and relaxed. Knowing that there will definitely not be a problem in finding a place to sleep for the night makes everything all that much simpler. You can freely roam the countryside without having to plan things weeks in advance.”
In the wake of their trip to Sweden came the desire to cultivate this same spirit in Germany. Hussler and Pirl asked themselves how it could be possible to travel just as independently and individually – whether by foot or bike – in Germany as well. It soon became clear to them that the laws and politicians wouldn’t provide them with much help. The transformation had to come from the grassroots, from civil society. It required an appeal to hospitality and a readiness to share the use of property with others. And thus originated the idea of the interactive platform 1Nite Tent.
Like Couchsurfing – But With a Tent
The principle is simple. Anyone with a garden or a field can use 1nitetent.com to offer campers a place to pitch their tent for a night. The guests can set up their tent there for only one night and without having to pay anything in return. All the camping spots are indicated on an online map and, with a click on the location pin, the property owner’s contact information is provided. It usually comes with a brief description, such as “surrounded by pastures, fields, and orchards, our farm is situated between the gentle hills… of Saxonian Tuscany… bathrooms with showers are available in the house.” Or, “on offer is a small plot of land between two pastures located just behind the dike. If you choose to have dinner on the dike, you can enjoy a view of the sea…” Usually, the host prefers to be contacted before arrival, either by mail or phone.
Of course, available sites might also include a beautiful front garden or a courtyard in the city. However, the most important thing says Pirl is that the site should be inviting and not, for example, lie directly on a busy road. And, needless to say, the property must belong to the host. Before a site is posted online, Hussler and Pirl check the coordinates and conduct random checks to see if the host can be contacted. Otherwise, they rely on feedback from users, thereby allowing the community to regulate itself. The site makes no use of a rating system, like those found on portals to book a hotel room.
From the very start, the two co-founders did everything themselves. Only the programming required the help of a friend. A crowdfunding action proved a flop. As everyone still had to earn a living, it took a full 24 months between the initial idea and the site’s launch. 1Nite Tent is now two years old and growing. It has 445 registered campsites. The project’s vision has matured as well. “Originally, our motivation was to facilitate individual travel and to create possibilities for decentralized overnight camping. Since then, a strong social component has emerged,” Hussler and Pirl explain. Hosts and users regularly provide feedback. They talk about how they were warmly welcomed or that they established new friendships. “The fact that our project allows strangers to meet and to have a good time together makes everything even more worthwhile for us.” These positive effects increase exponentially, as people who experience hospitality usually return it in kind. When Anne-Sophie and Patrick look at their web site, they don’t just see an interactive map. Instead, they perceive a network of sharing, open-minded people. This is what spurs them on to continue.
It also goes without saying that the project is about making the world a little bit better. “We most certainly view our work as a contribution to sustainable travel, to encourage short-distance trips as opposed to flying long distances.” Adventures are waiting to happen just beyond your own front door. Hussler and Pirl like to call these “micro-adventures.” “Close encounters, intimate moments, and stories yearning to be experienced are all tantalizingly within reach. All you have to do is get on your bike or start running.”
During the pandemic summer of 2020, the project acquired a totally new significance. The number of people accessing 1Nite Tent rose tremendously. At the same time, the pressure on hosts around Berlin, the Baltic Sea, and the North Sea became so great that several property owners requested their entries be temporarily withdrawn from the site. Hussler can understand that people in the city want to escape from the urban environment and yearn to get out into nature. Under normal circumstances, interest in the camping sites is distributed fairly evenly, although locations near the sea are always popular.
The Next step: Europe
Anne-Sophie Hussler and Patrick Pirl’s dream is to make 1Nite Tent a success in all places where wild camping is forbidden. Even now, the project’s first camping locations outside of Germany have already emerged in Ireland, Austria, and on Tenerife. They are in contact with similar start-ups, such as the open-source project Welcome to my Garden from Belgium. They are all united by a common vision.
The two co-founders and their programmer continue to work without financial remuneration – voluntarily, as it were. Server costs are covered by donations. Individual projects are realized with the help of subsidies and prize money. However, funds are lacking for larger investments and strategic growth initiatives. Under no circumstances do they want the platform to become commercial or end up costing the users anything. Therefore, the 1Nite Tent community continues to grow, just like any good community does – of its own accord.