By Janet Groene, F47166
According to Jaimie Hall, author of Support Your RV Lifestyle! An Insider’s Guide to Working on the Road ($19.95, Pine Country Publishing), the biggest change in full-timing during the past five years has been the massive growth in the number of people who work on the go. Many went full-timing with the intention of working along the way, but others have returned to the workforce because they want to buy a new motorhome or have found that they truly enjoy working. Still others are forced to go back to work because of unfortunate stock market speculations, unexpected motorhome repairs, or medical emergencies.
Ms. Hall and her husband, Bill, were full-timers for eight years, and the two continue to travel extensively in their RV while working, usually in the national park system. In her book, Ms. Hall identifies more than 300 ways to make a living on the road and explains how to research work opportunities, network with employers, and land a great job.
“Most people think that they need to work at campgrounds,” she told me during a two-week caravan we made to Alaska and western Canada. “That’s a great way, but not the only way.” She’s found that many full-timers work in the camping world in some capacity, but the range of jobs available includes many that are totally unrelated to the camping life. One of her friends loved playing Calamity Jane in a summer theater production. Other acquaintances have taken long-term jobs in fields from psychology to physical therapy, staying in one city for a year, two years, and even longer. They save enough money to support their travel, then get another job when the bank account runs low. Or, sometimes they stay in one place for medical reasons, working and saving until it’s time to move on.
“The very first thing to do is to assess your monetary needs,” she said. “Work out a realistic budget, then focus only on jobs that pay enough for your needs.” While she admitted that many seasonal jobs pay less and have fewer benefits than the salaried job you left behind, she urged full-timers to hold out for fair wages, which are available everywhere to those who have skills and persistence. “Know exactly what you’re getting. For example, a job might come with a ‘free’ campsite. You have to establish whether that also means free electricity, cable TV, and phone hookups. Sometimes, discounted propane is also thrown in, but you probably have to ask for it.”
In fact, she’s found that the biggest reason for job dissatisfaction is misunderstanding. “Ask questions. Get it in writing. Make sure both you and the employer know exactly what is and is not involved.”
One couple, for example, contracted to work 24 hours a week, which they thought meant three eight-hour days. They traveled to the job site, thrilled with the prospect of having four days each week to sight-see the area. Instead, they were expected to work four hours a day, six days a week, which left them little time for local exploring. They were thoroughly disappointed.
When I asked how important it is to have a degree or license, Ms. Hall pointed out that many full-timers aren’t using their old skills at all. “It’s more important to have life skills and common sense,” she said. “Many want different jobs anyway, because they’ve had it with high-pressure professions.” Some full-timers take courses to learn new skills that will be useful on the road. Among the most popular study topics are computer operation, which is basic to almost any job these days, and RV mechanics, which many people study not so much to earn money but as a way to save money by doing more of their own repairs and maintenance.
“If you have a profession that you can take on the road, ease into it,” Ms. Hall advised. “So much depends on your own marketing skills.” It’s one thing to be a good journalist, public speaker, or word processor for a familiar employer. But it’s quite another to be on the road, a stranger everywhere you go, trying to find work or sell your creations.
For those who aspire to become freelance writers, my advice is to do some writing in your field before you quit your job. When your freelancing work brings in at least 50 percent of your needs, or you have enough money to live on for at least six months without a job, it’s probably safe to cut ties to your old employer and hit the road as a self-employed entrepreneur.
“One field that is really hot right now is tax preparation,” Ms. Hall said. Some of the top national tax preparation chains offer initial training and refresher courses each year to help their employees keep up with the changing tax laws. Jobs are available all year, but especially during the period of January through April, when many tax preparation firms are hiring extra workers while seasonal jobs become sparse in other areas. It’s a skill full-timers can use anywhere they happen to be.
Another “hot” field is addressing school assemblies or other organizations. Many schools have a budget for speakers, performers, instructors, and other suitable presentations. A full-timer who has the right subject material and expertise can travel the country putting on programs for schools, service clubs, and high-paying industries. People who can provide computer instruction, write custom programs, or give motivational talks are always in demand.
Ms. Hall advised couples who need only supplemental income or a place to stay not to rule out volunteer work as a way to stretch dollars. “It may mean no salary, but it almost always means a free campsite and perhaps other perks.” Jim and Sue Elder, who often work with Habitat for Humanity’s Care-A-Vanners group, agreed. “While working on a blitz build, we had a discount on a campsite and were invited to church suppers, dinners at homes, and even a float trip,” Mr. Elder said.
Support Your RV Lifestyle! also contains lengthy lists of resources, such as information about licensing and tax problems; how to deduct your coach as a business expense; addresses for employers in hundreds of fields, including resorts, theme parks, and temporary agencies; plus an extensive index listing places to volunteer. The book also discusses national park concessionaires, which are a source of employment that does not involve working for the government.
One chapter explains how to evaluate your own skills — you probably have more than you realize — and how to determine which jobs you will and will not do. “Not everyone is willing to clean bathrooms or work on holidays,” Ms. Hall observed. “Know your limits and your convictions.” The book also includes a chapter of case histories and success stories to inspire future full-timers.
“We hear it time and again from people who employ RV workers,” she said. “They love the loyal, seasoned workers that full-timers are. Often, kids with summer jobs don’t perform well or they quit on short notice because they get homesick. Full-timers, by contrast, are reliable and motivated, and often have a lifetime of experience in this or a related field. For us, a job is a means to an end.” And for the Halls and thousands of others who work as they go, that end is the continuing fun and adventure that the full-timing lifestyle provides.
Support Your RV Lifestyle! can be purchased through online booksellers. It also may be obtained by writing to Jaimie Hall, 127 Rainbow Drive #2780, Livingston TX 77399; by calling (877) 537-4539, extension 7038, and leaving a message with your address and credit card information; or by visiting www.rvhometown.com. Mailing charges are $3 for media rate and $4 for Priority Mail. The book also is sold at Workamper job fairs.
Books for travelers
Parkinson’s Disease: 300 Tips for Making Life Easier ($18.95, Demos Medical Publishing) is an eye-opening self-help book for the increasing number of full-timers who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and for their caregivers. Author Shelley Peterman Schwarz, who writes a nationally syndicated column called “Making Life Easier,” provides tips, shortcuts, and safeguards.
The book has sections on adapting clothing and footwear, grooming, communication, resources, and much more. For example, here’s a simple tip that can help anyone who uses a wheelchair. Carry a piece of string or a measuring tape everywhere you go, so doors or other barriers can be checked to make sure they are wide enough to admit the wheelchair. Ms. Schwarz also suggests using a pie plate instead of a flat plate when eating, to make it easier to corral food on the fork or spoon. I recently ate in a restaurant that served everything on white Corelle pie plates. They looked so snazzy that I decided to copy the idea. I didn’t realize at the time that these plates also would be helpful to children, the elderly, or to people with Parkinson’s disease when they dine at our table.
The book is available at bookstores, through online booksellers, or by writing Demos Medical Publishing, 386 Park Ave. S., Suite 201, New York, NY 10016; calling (800) 532-8663; faxing (212) 683-0118; or visiting www.demosmedpub.com.