If you want a taste of off-grid living without making a full-time commitment, these are the communities that will welcome you with open arms.
The urge to quit it all for off-grid living on some remote Nordic island might sometimes overcome us. have had something of a renaissance since their heyday in the 1960s, with many people now seeking to digitally detox and simplify their lives. Self-sufficient communities exist around the world, from Sweden to Costa Rica, with the easiest places to live off-grid being where there are plentiful natural resources to facilitate a cheaper, healthier way of life. These are often for residents only, but some invite outside visitors to experience life without WiFi, where wilderness and human connection can take center stage.
Top Picks for You
WHERE: Cabo Polonio National Park, Uruguay
Since the government designated the area a national park, this small community on the eastern coast of Uruguay has been frozen in time. Part rustic fishing village, part hippie cooperative, the off-grid village consists of around 70 houses dotted across a sandy outcrop bordered by stretches of beach on either side. There’s no running water, no electricity, and no roads. The few generators available power the single shop and a handful of makeshift bars. For everyone else, cooking by candlelight is part of the charm. Walk down to the lighthouse and watch the enormous colony of sea lions barking on the rocks below. Come evening, join the locals around the bonfire for some maté–just don’t forget your torch, or you’ll struggle to find the way back to your posada.
INSIDER TIPTo get here, head to the visitor center at the main entrance of the Cabo Polonio National Park. From here, it’s either a four-mile walk or wait for one of the 4×4 trucks to transport you through the sand dunes for a small fee (cash only).
WHERE: Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
A two-story home, a dance floor, a lighthouse, four greenhouses, a studio, a half-acre garden, and an art gallery are hewn together on 12 floating platforms, strewn with plants, and attached to shore by a few lines. This 500-ton floating art project is the work of Catherine King and Wayne Adams. They fish for their dinner and grow most of their own produce, offering a model of subsistence living that allows them to continue their pursuits as artists. While you can’t live here–as much as you might like to be adopted by Catherine and Wayne–you can visit via boat. Head to the Tofino Visitor Centre for information on how to reach Freedom Cove.
WHERE: Wester Ross, Scotland
If your aim is to escape from civilization, this wind-blasted and most isolated settlement on a narrow peninsula in the Scottish Highlands should satisfy. It’s only accessible by the occasional ferry or a five-mile walk from the nearest road. The latter rewards visitors with stunning views across Little Loch Broom and the Summer Isles, with the occasional dolphin spotting en route. The sustainably-minded free-living community is powered by solar and wind and includes just 40 croft houses and a small school. It’s home to a self-sufficient collection of people who are adept at the likes of crofting or sustainable building. Spend your days wild swimming, fishing, or looking out for the Northern Lights. What else do you want? That said, it’s Scotland, so even in August, you’ll need a waterproof jacket, and the midges (any small fly) are incessant.
INSIDER TIPThey accept work-exchange visitors via Workaway.
WHERE: Somerset, England
A shaggy shire horse drags a Victorian plow across a field. A 1930s steam-powered sawmill cuts the timber. A small wood-burning stove heats water for a shower. This is the “olde worlde” existence at Tinkers Bubble, a land-working community of tiny houses off-the-grid with thatched huts in the woodland of England’s West Country. The group is united by a shared philosophy of living off the land and eschewing fossil fuels. Duties are divided amongst the residents, which include harvesting apples from the orchard to make juice, collecting honey from the hives, or washing clothes by hand. These are the duties you would be undertaking as one of the 50 volunteers they take per year. It can be a damp experience but fulfilling; get your hands dirty and discover the joys of an outdoor toilet.
Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage
WHERE: Rutledge, Missouri, U.S.A.
Yes, you’ll have to join hands in a circle before the weekly potluck, but other than that, there’s nothing cultish about this spot. While many free-living communities focus on escaping the anxieties of the 21st-century world, here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, the community of about 40 residents is busy reimagining that world. Started in the late ’90s by a group of Stanford and Berkeley grads, it’s founded on sustainability principles, with its own internal economy, system of self-governance, and grid system (referred to as the BEDR, or Better Energy for Dancing Rabbit). The village of ramshackle houses and whirring wind turbines is set in one corner of the 280-acre property, with woods, hills, creeks, and swimming ponds to explore. You can join the two-week visitor program here and study permaculture or natural building––if you don’t know what that is, you soon will.
WHERE: Niland, California, U.S.A.
They call it the “last free place” in the U.S., so arrive prepared for anything to unfold. While the Wild West attitude is liberating, the art is as much of a draw. The massive expanse of desert terrain is a veritable al fresco museum, with sculptures ranging from the downright bizarre to the spectacular. Salvation Mountain is most famous, featured in the 2007 film Into the Wild, with its staggering display of colors and scripture. The hundreds of artists, free thinkers, nomads, and general oddballs who call “the Slabs” home camp out in the ruins of a WWII-era military base, which adds to the Mad Max appeal. It’s free to stay at the Slabs; just bring your own camping gear, or there are a few hosts on Airbnb. Be mindful that there’s no running water, electricity, sewer system, or waste disposal. In the summer, temperatures soar to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In short, this isn’t for the faint of heart.
INSIDER TIPPack in your essentials (water, food, toilet paper, power source), and pack out your trash with you.
WHERE: Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A.
Earthship Biotecture sounds like the future in which we have relocated to Mars. Except in this instance, Mars is the striking landscape of New Mexico, where more than 90 dwellings redefine sustainable living as something playfully elegant. Designed by architectural savant Michael Reynolds, each Earthship is built with recycled or local materials, such as rammed earth tires and repurposed glass bottles, and produces enough water, electricity, and food for its residents to remain happily self-reliant until the end of time. More than 130 people live in the Greater World Earthship Community, as it’s called, which is private, but visitors can experience life inside an Earthship through one of their public rentals or via a tour. These feel more like staying in a high-end hotel that just happens to save the planet.
Ecovillage Torri Superiore
WHERE: Liguria, Italy
This 14th-century village comprises one multilevel, labyrinthine stone structure with more than 150 rooms, nestled in an Italian hillside. It had fallen into total disrepair with only a single inhabitant remaining when Torri Superiore was founded in 1989, aiming to restore the building and establish an eco-village as a new social model. In short, it worked. The building is stunning and continues to welcome guests to join the 20+ permanent residents here. Share meals in the large communal dining hall and help out on the various farming projects. Or simply explore; the village is surrounded by Mediterranean beaches, medieval villages, and hiking trails through the foothills of the Ligurian Alps, which makes it one of the best off-grid places to live
WHERE: El Bierzo, Spain
This is one of the many former ghost towns across Europe that people repopulated in search of a more free-living community . They built yurts, pitched tents, cleared paths, and dug a canal in the ruins of an old mining town nestled in the rugged mountains of northern Spain. Now Matavenero is home to around 60 people, and 30 years on, it has retained its rustic, ramshackle charm. There’s a free school, a sauna, a village bar, a bakery, and a library. The village is off-grid, but they aren’t completely disconnected; they share a single computer and maintain a community social media account to share their way of life with the outside world. The occasional visitor is welcome for up to two weeks—no reservation needed—as long as they appreciate the way of life here.
INSIDER TIPDespite being sunny, at 1,000 meters altitude, it’s often cold even in summer.
WHERE: Skinnskatteberg, Sweden
In central Sweden’s mossy, mysterious forests of central Sweden, on the shores of a pristine lake, 12 charcoal huts are camouflaged under a canvas of mud, berries, and grass. Kolarbyn is billed as “Sweden’s most primitive hotel,” but the off-grid seasonal project began to preserve Sweden’s 400-year-old tradition of charcoaling and the communities this craft supports. Life is basic but not easy. There’s no electricity, and meals are prepared over an open fire; you have to fetch your own water from the spring and cut wood to heat the floating sauna. But who needs a shower when you can take a dip in the lake? Each forest hut has an inflatable mattress with sheepskins (though you’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag or rent one), a fireplace, and candlelight. Rent canoes or wander the woods in search of wildlife. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a moose in the misty distance.