Visiting Intentional Living Communities: Advice for the First Time Visitor

Visiting Intentional Living Communities: Advice for the First Time Visitor

If you’ve never visited intentional living communities before, the idea can be both exciting and a little scary. What will the people be like? How comfortable will you feel there? Will you have to drink the kool-aid??

Relax and read on for advice on your first community visit.

Visitors about to set up their camping site as dusk falls at Schloss Tonndorf intentional living community.
Visitors about to set up their camping site as dusk falls at Schloss Tonndorf ecovillage in Germany.

Your very first community visit

Your first community visit could be life changing. You may get exposure to a different culture, new ideas, and inspiring people that could open up worlds for you, in the same way that traveling to a foreign country can broaden one’s horizons. Or your community visit may be uninspiring or even negative. 

Regardless of the experience you are bound to learn through it. At the very least, you’ll learn about what you like and don’t like in a community, which is useful information when seeking a community to call home

The advice below will help you prepare for the experience of visiting an intentional living community, such as an ecovillage, cohousing, permaculture community, tiny house village or one of the other types of intentional communities

We’ll cover everything from planning your visit and what to pack, to how to get the most from the experience and leave a positive impression as a community guest. This guide is more suitable for longer overnight community visits, but also contains useful guidance for short day trips. 

Read on for community visiting advice, so you can relax and enjoy the experience… whatever it may entail! 

Planning your first visit to a community

There are a few different ways to visit intentional living communities, depending on the distance you will need to travel, your availability, and their availability. Think about how much time you can take off from work, how you will fund your trip, who will feed the cats, etc. Be realistic. Start planning in advance. 

Here are some popular ways to visit communities:

  • Day trip. This is best for communities near where you live or want to visit more casually. Often includes a group tour and/or community meal.
  • Overnight stay. Best for more deeply getting to know a place than just a day trip.
  • Extended visit. Several days to weeks to months if you are sure you want to stay longer at a place. Requires advance planning with the community. 
  • Multiple return visits. Best for those transitioning slowly from their current living arrangement and wanting to deepen with a community
  • Multi-community visit on one extended trip. The classic communities tour!

Visiting a community near where you live will require less advance planning than visiting a community that requires significant travel or even a trip abroad. For a bigger trip or multi-community road trip, start planning months in advance. A nearby day visit can be planned more spontaneously. 

How to start planning your visit

Of course, never just show up at a community! You are visiting people’s private homes. Extend them the same courtesy you would as visiting a new friend. Be respectful and practice excellent communication throughout your engagement with them. 

First, make sure the community is welcoming of visitors and that you have secured permission to visit in advance of your arrival. For advice on how best to reach out, read the guide on How to Contact an Intentional Community

Some communities aren’t open to visitors at all, or only open to them on certain days or times of the year (weekends and summer often are the best times). A few communities are only open to visitors who join specific programs, such as a group tour, open house, or even a longer workshop or retreat program. 

Before visiting, do as much research as you can about the community online. Most communities will have a website, social media page, or listing in one of the many community directories out there, such as

Doing your research is the best way to ensure a positive experience all around. You will gain a better idea about what to expect from the community and the community can better trust that you are a good guest for them to welcome. 

Get clarity on your expectations

Getting clear about your own expectations before the visit can be helpful later on. Think ahead about what kind of experience you hope to have. 

  • What are your goals for visiting? What do you hope to learn? Is this a community where you intend to explore membership?
  • Who would you like to meet? Speak with the founder? Talk to their membership coordinator? A newer resident? Other travelers?
  • What kind of activities do you want to do? Share in a community meal? Help in the garden? Join a meeting?

In general, your visit will be more intense the more different the culture is from your normal way of life. And it will feel more like a vacation if the community is used to hosting guests and is fairly mainstream. Try to evaluate this in advance of your visit through the community’s website or directory listing. Do they seem more radical or mainstream to you? 

If they seem more radical, take a moment to check-in with yourself. Are you open to new ways of thinking about the world? Are you ready for a reality shift? Do you have tools or people to support you after the experience, especially if it was intense in a positive or negative way? Think about planning a few quiet hours or days after the community visit for processing and evaluating what happened. 

How long to plan your visit for

In general, the longer you stay in a community the more you will gain from the experience and learn about the place. One overnight stay (at minimum) will give you better insight than just a day visit. Many intentional living communities that are open to visitors will have overnight accommodations, if only a spot to pitch a tent during the suitable camping seasons. You’ll want to coordinate all this in advance with the community. Refer to the Arranging your stay section. 

Although a longer stay is better for getting to know the community, don’t plan to stay too long if it’s your first visit! Better to plan a short visit first and return to the place if you feel it’s a fit. If you do want your initial stay to be a longer visit or program (several weeks to several months or more) be sure to learn as much about the community as you can beforehand. Speak with them on the phone. Learn how you can end the experience early if you aren’t satisfied. Find out their expectations for long-term guests. 

Put some thoughtful attention into your route when visiting intentional living communities

Road tripping to multiple intentional living communities

Pack up the van, it’s time for a communities tour!

Journeying to multiple communities during one or more extended trips can be the experience of a lifetime. You’ll join leagues of past and present travelers who hop from community to community sharing news and gaining insights as they go, not unlike the traveling bards of old. Perhaps the best known peripatetic communitarian is the late Geoph Kozeny.

Below is some advice on how to have a fantastic journey…

Decide on your mode of transport

Often those on an extended communities tour will bring their home with them in the form of a van (#vanlife), airstream, tiny house on wheels, converted veggie-oil school bus, car with a tent on top… You can find a plethora of ideas and advice online on how to roadtrip, especially in the US and Europe. 

Many rural intentional living communities will be glad you have your own accommodations with you and can just find a place to park on their land. While a visit to an urban community in your giant camper van can quickly turn into a headache when trying to find a place to park in the city. 

That said, you do not need to have your own transport on wheels to do a communities tour.  Flying or taking a train or bus is sometimes more convenient. 

Think through the distances you want to cover, the geography of the communities, and what mode of transport is most suitable for you. 

Plan your route

Some will design their tour by clustering communities by geography and making separate trips to different regions. For example, a Southeast US intentional living communities tour and next year a Central Europe tour. Others decide to cross-country on one long journey. A helpful tool for planning your route is the roadtrippers mapping software. 

You’ll find that older established communities tend to have newer forming communities surrounding them. This “hub” effect in a particular area can be the result of a growing alternative culture in the region, or the pioneering work by the original community to establish themselves, or another favorable quality, such as cheap land, no building codes, or easy zoning permissions. 

Therefore, when going to visit a well-established community, such as Dancing Rabbit in Missouri or Twin Oaks in Virginia, look around to see what nearby communities you can visit during the same trip.

Always take advantage of visiting a community that’s along your route or nearby one you plan to visit already. Even if the place doesn’t seem like it would be a fit for you, if it’s on the way and has no red-flags, go visit! The more communities you visit the more you’ll learn. You’ll gain more community experience, have greater perspective on your preferences, and be better positioned to say “yes” to the community you’d ultimately like to join. 

Lastly, factor in stays at hotels, airbnbs, and campgrounds in between your community visits. This is practical when communities are great distances away or have limited availability or don’t have overnight accommodation on-site. And sometimes you’ll just need a break. Indeed, having some solo time between visits is excellent for reflection and rest before rising to meet new people at another community once again. 

Arranging your stay at intentional living communities

Assuming you’ve made contact and received the green light to visit a community, now it’s time to arrange your stay. If you haven’t reached out to a community previously, do read the guide on How to Contact an Intentional Community.

Below is a list of questions you may want to ask of the community in advance of your visit. Pick the questions that are suitable for you. Get on the phone if email feels too cumbersome or is likely to turn into a novel in length. 

Be sure to gather questions from and think through the needs of all those in your party (unless traveling solo). Carefully consider the needs of children and anyone with special needs. 

Questions to ask before you visit

  • How to get there? Parking rules?
  • Recommendations for what to bring? 
  • What’s the preferred diet?
  • For special diets – Can I use fridge space or  the kitchen to prepare my meals?
  • Are children or multiple visitors welcome?
  • What’s a suggested amount to cover your expenses?
  • Who should I ask to see or who will host me when I arrive?
  • What are the norms and practices of your community?
  • Any expectations to join meetings or practices?
  • Do you have visitor specific events or routines?
  • Anything else I should know before visiting?

Expect to be met by someone to show you around and to your lodging when you arrive. Clarify in advance the name and contact information of this person. Often they will be your point person for other issues or needs you’ll have during your stay. 

Once all the arrangements are made, it’s time to get packing! 

Below is a list of items you may want to bring in addition to your normal clothes and traveling needs. Dress code in most intentional living communities is very comfortable and casual. 

Packing list for your community visit

  • Considering bringing a guest gift to smaller communities. Think of something inexpensive yet meaningful that fits in your luggage. This could be a special food item that comes from your region (cheese, a sweet, cooking oil, etc.) or something you’ve made (decoration for their common room, piece of art, soap, candle, etc.)
  • Bring a small notebook and camera. Great for jotting down facts while on a tour and reflections during the experience. Ask before taking photos.
  • Bring your musical instrument. Or a song, story, or game to share after dinner or around the fire. 
  • Bring camping gear or work gloves/boots. Depending on the visit and how likely you are to be spending time outdoors. 
  • Bring your positivity and a friendly smile 🙂 

Staying safe during a visit to intentional living communities

With careful research and sufficient contact with the community before your visit, hopefully any unsafe situations can be averted. That said, below are some safety tips to be best prepared for unforeseen circumstances. 

  1. Do your research. Thoroughly research the community you plan to visit online. Look for reviews of other visitors’ experiences and photos of the community (smiling faces is a good sign). If there isn’t much about them online, do email and call to ask the community questions. Especially ask about anything that may seem too idealistic. If they are not forthcoming with answers that could be a warning sign. 
  2. Have an exit strategy. Have a way to leave the community that doesn’t depend on anyone in the community for transport. Can you get a taxi, Uber, or Lyft? Is there someone who can pick you up? Should you rent a car? And is there someplace nearby you can go if needed? Such as a hotel or friend’s place. 
  3. Tell someone where you are going. Check in with these people during your stay or have them call you periodically. If you are really unsure about your safety, consider arranging a coded text message if you are unsafe. 

An unsafe situation in a community may look like… 

  • One or more residents pressuring you to make a financial or material contribution without a clear agreement. 
  • Someone pressuring you into activities beyond your comfort zone and not respecting your non-consent. 
  • Being pressured into or witnessing relationships where there is an obvious power imbalance, such as community founder engaging in sexual relationships with a newer or younger member. 

If you or any member of your party find yourself in one of the above situations during a community visit, leave immediately and seek help. Contact local authorities when appropriate. 

For more on this topic, consider reading:

A backpacker arrives at Ecovillage at Ithaca in New York State, USA.
A backpacker arrives at Ecovillage at Ithaca in New York State, USA.

How to make the most of your visit at intentional living communities

Okay… you’ve arranged your stay, traveled to the community, met your hosts, become oriented to the place, and now the visit has begun! 

Below are some pieces of guidance for making the most of your time at the community

Questions to ask during your visit

Get the most out of your visit (especially when considering membership) by asking some of these questions. Do check the community’s website or literature first if you think you can find out the answer before asking a resident. 

  1. How did you come to be part of this community?
  2. How has living here contributed to your personal growth or happiness?
  3. What are the community’s big dreams and goals? Core values?
  4. What are some difficult issues the community has had to deal with recently? 
  5. How do you handle interpersonal conflicts?
  6. How has the community changed over the years? Increased or decreased in diversity?
  7. How are decisions made? 
  8. Who owns the land and buildings (and pays for maintenance)?
  9. How do people join the community? What are the costs to join?
  10. Why do members tend to leave the community?

Tips for being a fantastic guest at intentional living communities

Below is a list of tips for how to be a fantastic guest when visiting an intentional living community.

Additionally, for the visitor who would like to be considered as a candidate for membership, think about how you would like to be remembered by the community after your visit. 

How will you stand out to a community that’s used to receiving many visitors? Do residents remember you as the person who smiled, listened deeply, shared stories, asked thoughtful questions, told jokes, lended a helping hand… What will cause them to really want to have you as a neighbor?

Words of advice for the community visitor:

  • Follow the rules and agreements. Pay attention to signs and notices posted in rooms (especially the kitchen) or along pathways. You don’t know why certain things were agreed to, just go along. 
  • Consider the whole property as someone’s private property. Stick to designated walking areas, take off your shoes when entering buildings if you notice that’s the custom, give folks their space. 
  • Learn how systems work before using them. Especially for washing up, heating, using tools, laundry, etc.
  • Ask if it is okay to ask questions. Consider that some residents may be tired of answering questions or not in the mood or not the best person for the task. 
  • Be aware of your own energy and how it affects others. Be respectful yet authentic.
  • Don’t take it personally if someone is grumpy or doesn’t greet you. Everyone has an off-day and you are a stranger wandering around their home. 
  • Ask before taking photos. Remember that you are visiting someone’s home and not a tourist destination. 
  • Offer to pitch in and help with chores. Best way to make a positive impression. 
  • Send a thank you note afterwards!

Advice for joining community meetings

Being welcomed to join a community meeting is a great opportunity and should be taken advantage of. Don’t assume you will be invited, but if it happens, do go! This is a fantastic way to get an insider’s view of the community dynamics. You’ll get to pick up on the culture of the residents by how they speak to one another, how they listen, and how quickly they are able to move through the agenda and make decisions. 

Several things to note if you join a meeting…

  1. Most communities sit in a circle for meetings. Ask where you should sit if you are unsure. You may be asked to sit further back. 
  2. Ask how long the meeting will go for. You may be surprised by the length of some meetings! Keep in mind that before or after the meeting there may be a meal, meditation, group song, etc. 
  3. During the meeting, plan to sit quietly and listen. Don’t speak unless specifically asked to introduce yourself or share something. Far too many community meetings are distributed by the enthusiastic guest who thinks they get to share their opinion on matters that really aren’t their business. There is one rare exception, however. If you have very practical information that is helpful for the specific situation at hand, then you may politely ask if the group would like to hear from you during a pause in the conversation. Please stay silent unless this is the case. Use your discernment. 
  4. Of course, anything shared during the meeting should be considered confidential unless otherwise stated. It’s a privilege to get to join a meeting and should be treated as such. 

Managing expectations during a visit

When visiting a community for the first time, there can be a tendency to build up higher than realistic expectations about the people and places you are so excited to check out. This section is intended to dampen (but not extinguish!) your idealism.

For example, when visiting an ecovillage, some visitors expect the community to grow all their own food or produce their own electricity. It’s supposed to be a sustainable human settlement after all! A model for the future world!

When in reality the residents struggle just to manage their own families and finances, let alone saving the planet, this can be a bummer for the expectant guest. 

Furthermore, the problem can be exasperated by a community misrepresenting themselves in their literature (which may be more aspirational than factual). Ask the community in advance about anything in their self-description that seems too good to be true. 

Finding an immediate sense of belonging

Another common occurrence is the visitor who expects to discover their long lost best friends after a few days’ visit. They think that going to a community will solve all their needs for connection and imbue them with a sense of belonging. The reality is that deep relationships take time to build. And most intentional living communities aren’t equipped to provide guests with the kind of emotional support they may be seeking. 

After having such experiences, a visitor may say “Well, they are doing it wrong. My community won’t be anything like theirs!” 

The reality is that the majority of people who set out to create an intentional living community never succeed. It’s a miracle these places exist at all given the challenges of the world we live in and the complexity of human nature. Go easy on the communities. We’re all doing our best. Keep your idealism in check. 

And come visit, because there is much to learn about what can and does work!

Guidance for evaluating your visit experience at intentional living communities

Hopefully you’ve taken notes during your community visit and can take some time post-visit to review them and reflect on the experience. This is especially useful if you visit multiple communities, as the experience can start to blur. 

Take a moment to read the Signs of Health and Signs of Distress to gauge the status of the community you visited. Keep in mind that every community goes through waves of more or less activity. For example, if things seemed quiet, you may have visited during a more quiet period and this isn’t indicative of how things always are. There could be much dynamism under the surface of your awareness as a guest!

Refer back to the list of expectations you created before your visit. See the Get clarity on your expectations section. Were your hopes met, not met, exceeded?

Some community visitors like to arrange this information into a chart or spreadsheet that can be used for comparing multiple intentional living communities later on. Imagine a separate column for each community and rows listing the qualities or aspects you are interested in. It’s good to document the experience, as it’s easy to forget later on!

What if the visit goes poorly?

If you had a negative experience at the community you visited, do take a moment to see what can be learned from this, including learning how you yourself respond to challenging situations or feedback. Is there a growth opportunity here? Something you could have done differently to change the outcome? A chance to make things right with the person(s) still?

Keep in mind that every community is different. Don’t let one bad experience stop you from visiting more communities in the future. 

Alright, friends, that’s the guide on how to visit an intentional living community. May your first visit be fruitful and joyful!

Let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below. Share if there are any other words of advice you can offer based on your experience. Looking forward to hearing from you 🙂

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Cynthia Tina

Hi, I’m Cynthia.

I’m the community matchmaker, here to help you find an intentional community to call home. I’ve visited hundreds of communities around the world — ecovillages, cohousings, agrihoods, housing coops…