By Janet Groene, F47166
While the airline and hotel industries have suffered economically since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the RV world has done quite well. In recent months, recreation vehicles have been featured in the print and electronic media not only in travel or lifestyle pieces, but also in business stories. Financial reports indicate that the RV industry is a bright spot in an otherwise dull economy.
One aspect of this good news is that full-timing has gone mainstream. Friends of the RV lifestyle are now more influential, more numerous, and better informed about the way full-timers live.
The bad news is that crowds of fresher, younger full-timers are right behind, vying for the best free camping sites; the best seasonal jobs; the best bargains in campground membership resales; and the same reservoir of public sympathy, acceptance, and understanding. As full-timers become more numerous, the lifestyle will attract more and more attention, no doubt some of it unwanted. As early as the 1920s, “No Trailers Allowed” signs went up in areas where Tin Can Tourists became too numerous. Those signs are being seen again, this time reading “No Camping,” “No RV Parking,” or “No RVs Permitted.”
It wasn’t until I spent several hours helping out at the Workamper Job Fair, presented by Workamper News, C4909, at the Florida RV SuperShow in January 2002, that I realized how intense the stampede into RVing has become, especially among young wage earners. Greg Robus, editor of Workamper News, estimates that there are at least 250,000 active Workampers in the United States. He also estimated that approximately 5,000 people attended the Workamper Job Fair in Florida. Legions of veteran, new, and prospective full-timers stopped by the booth hungry for information about how to make a living on the go.
The majority of those who visited the job fair were in the 40- to 50-year-old age range, but some were in their 20s. Several had infants, children, and even teenagers in tow. What do these folks do about educating their children? No problem. They use the Internet and home schooling. Others said they plan to take off as soon as their kids are out of high school or college.
These new-generation full-timers go online to do their shopping, to conduct travel research, and for nearly everything else. Many have highly marketable job skills involving computers. Most asked about Workamping, but many others were entrepreneurs who have taken their businesses on the road. It’s exciting, but a little scary, to see change coming so quickly to a lifestyle that for years has thrived while being low-profile.
The Workamper Job Fair included a who’s who of employers: campground chains; government agencies for state and national parks; tourist attractions; and publications in search of salespeople. Some were charitable organizations seeking unpaid volunteers, often offering a free campsite in exchange.
Arline Chandler, author of Road Work and a staff writer for Workamper News, and Jaimie Hall, author of Support Your RV Lifestyle, gave Workamping seminars to explain how the organization helps match job seekers with employers who prefer full-timers who, unlike other temporary workers, carry their own housing with them. Arline’s book and articles are filled with success stories about people who work on the go. Jaimie’s book also received much attention. Visitors also were interested in books by my husband, Gordon, and me, including Living Aboard Your RV, which is based on our 10-year experience as full-time roamers who made a living as self-employed travel writers.
Another invaluable resource for full-timers is Workers On Wheels, a free online newsletter edited by Coleen Sykora, C6460. Though Colleen wasn’t at the show, her newsletter is about how to make a living on the go, from finding jobs to self-employment. It publishes Help Wanted ads and a question-and-answer column. To subscribe to the Workers On Wheels newsletter, send an e-mail to [email protected], or visit the Web site at www.workersonwheels.com.
It remains to be seen whether the growth in full-timing means greater strength in numbers or an erosion of the freedom, individuality, and anonymity that many of us hit the road to find. However, one thing is certain: the secret is out, and thousands of newcomers each year are taking the plunge.
Here are a few of my impressions from the Florida RV SuperShow.
- The most expensive coach seen at the show: a bus conversion that was priced at $325,000 (although custom coaches can go much higher).
- The most interesting case histories: a registered nurse told me she could get licensed in different states because of reciprocal agreements about qualifications. However, she was required to get a new license in each state, at costs of as much as $600! Other working full-timers told of having to file and pay income taxes in many different states and cities. It wasn’t so much the money that was irritating, they reported, but the extra paperwork. The lesson: life is simpler if you don’t work or do business in states or cities that have income taxes. If you do work in a city or state that collects income tax, stay long enough to make it worthwhile, and don’t work in too many states each year.
- The biggest surprise: it’s almost impossible to find an RV of any size or style without at least one slideout. Even small van conversions have them. We overheard the following conversation. Customer: “Why don’t you offer at least one model without slides?” Salesman: “Nobody wants them.” Customer: “Well, I’ve been there, done that, and I wouldn’t have another slideout if you gave it to me.” Will slideouts continue to be in high demand, or have they peaked?
- The biggest little buys: type B motorhome van conversions are available from a large number of manufacturers, in a variety of power plants, sizes, and floor plans with side or rear entry. This is great news for those few, but determined, full-timers who are downsizing.
- The best touring option: David Woodworth, known for his collection of historic RVs, was at the show with a Ford Model A towing a 1927 canvas-covered Conestoga wagon-style travel trailer. David’s latest project is organizing tours of Yosemite in which participants drive the park in a genuine Model T Ford. For information, visit www.driveamodelt.com or call (866) 488-6877.
Mail news from TreasuryDirect
Here’s important news for full-timers who buy savings instruments directly from the U.S. Treasury Department via TreasuryDirect. If you change your permanent address (including a change to a new mail forwarding service that will be your official and permanent “home” address), note that the post office cannot forward TreasuryDirect mail, even if you file the change of address with the post office. You must change the address on your TreasuryDirect account by calling (800) 722-2678 or by making the appropriate change online at www.treasurydirect.gov/sec/sectdes.htm.
Your professional mail forwarder can, of course, re-package and mail envelopes sent by TreasuryDirect, but you have to take the steps above to make sure the mail gets to your forwarding service. If you change addresses often through the U.S. Postal Service, your TreasuryDirect mail can be forwarded by them, but you must specify on your post office change-of-address form that the change is temporary.
Help for the bamboozled
If you believe that you have been defrauded under statutes regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, get help by calling (877) 382-4357 or by visiting www.ftc.gov. Most states also have consumer fraud lines, some with toll-free numbers. Contact your local chamber of commerce or Better Business Bureau for more information.
Books for travelers
Epicenter Press continues its series on the Iditarod with Lew Freedman’s book, One Second To Glory: The Alaska Adventure of Iditarod Champion Dick Mackey. This paperback ($16.95) is essential armchair reading for any motorhomer who has traveled in Alaska or hopes to do so. The book can be purchased in bookstores and from online booksellers.
A new edition of The Rough Guide To Florida (Rough Guides, $19.95) is filled with information about places to go and ways to get to such remote sites as Fort Jefferson on Garden Key or how to maneuver the narrow streets of St. Augustine. It’s a plus that the book is so compact, but a minus that it’s printed in such small type that some readers may find it hard to read. Rough Guides are found in bookstores, through online booksellers, and at www.roughguides.com.
Support Your RV Lifestyle, the new book by Jaimie Hall mentioned above, is full of practical advice. Jaimie has done a masterful job of researching all the private and government areas in which full-timers can find jobs. She explains how to evaluate your job skills, prepare a resume, search the Internet to find job opportunities, and deal with legal and tax matters. If you must work as you go, this book is a guide you’ll refer to constantly. It is priced at $19.95, plus $3 for regular shipping or $4 for the priority rate. Texas residents should add 6.25 percent sales tax. Order from Pine Country Publishing, 127 Rainbow Drive, Suite 2780, Livingston, TX 77351.