Like opening a box of chocolates and finding an assortment of tempting choices, an incredible variety of Workamping positions are available to suit nearly every RVer’s interest, including campground hosting.
By Steve Ault, F106024
My wife, Gail, and I were in our late 40s when we sent the youngest of our three children off to college. Even though the house would soon be empty, I knew that it might not be permanent. I’d heard horror stories of kids coming back to roost. Barb and Doug, dear friends, had all four of their kids return after three years. So, yes, it was more than a rumor. It could happen to us, too, if we didn’t do something about it. “Do what?,” you ask. Go full-timing. Here’s the story of how we combined work with play to pursue our dream of RVing full-time.
I was self-employed, so firing the boss was almost a joy. But convincing Gail was a bit more problematic. We’d drawn up the plans and built our own home. She’d gone to a 2-1/2-day workweek with part-time medical benefits and was content.
But if we were going to become full-timers, the time was right. A friend’s wife “” two years our junior “” recently had died. When I was younger I battled some serious health problems, and I reminded Gail that traveling and illness do not fit well together. We needed to go while we both had decent health. Summer was coming on strong but winter winds were always clear in my mind. I was determined that this was the year we would split. By RVing conservatively, we could enjoy this lifestyle for years.
The sell wasn’t easy. I told Gail that we could store her treasures in my shop, an old converted nightclub, and we’d head out for the winter. After numerous discussions, a number of sleepless nights, and encouraging comments such as “You’re nuts!” from friends, she agreed. We started with what would be considered a shakedown trip “” hauling our youngest daughter’s “stuff” from the Wyoming/Colorado border to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Motorhomes are great moving vans “” eat out, sleep in, crawl over the junk. After moving her in, meeting her roommate, and saying our good-byes, we headed to the Black Hills of South Dakota for an FMCA rally. We spent that night in the parking lot at Wall Drug, then got up early enough to make it in time for coffee hour at the rally. When we returned to the coach there was a note to call our daughter. Oh no, a death in the family; we imagined the worst. Actually, our daughter was lonesome and wanted to come home. “Home!” we exclaimed. “We don’t have a home “” it’s lease-optioned “” gone!” We received numerous calls from her that week. In the final one, she told us she’d rented a motel room; sold her furniture, TV, and computer; got all but $1,000 back from the college; and a taxi would move her to the motel that Thursday. “But where will you go?” we asked. She said she’d made arrangements to move into a friend’s bedroom, as the friend was off elsewhere at school. Our plans, however muddled by our child’s snafu, were still firm.
Peeking under the cover
We’d met a couple of full-timers several years earlier who had shared good advice, and I’d also done some investigation on my own. A couple of years earlier we had subscribed to Workamper News, a publication for individuals, couples, and families who are interested in RVing while working full-time or part-time. In fact, this outfit coined the word “Workamping” in 1987. I weeded out the jobs I knew Gail absolutely would not go for “” such as cleaning bathrooms!
Our plan, as it evolved, was to spend the first year exploring, working only as necessary. So, we shuffled our belongings to the shop and set sail at 11:00 a.m. on November 1, 1995.
We are back-roaders, and after a few months we’d sipped many a cup of coffee with hosts in off-season or back-roads-type campgrounds, a solitary bunch willing to share their successes and misfortunes. We learned much about this migrant lifestyle. Even without a number of free camping nights, we still were not spending our monthly rent checks from the house. We’d found RVing to be much less expensive than staying home. We sought all the four-letter “F” places to see “” F R E E “” and discovered that thousands are out there. We followed Gail’s stipulation of only one meal out per day, a major concession for me, a member of the “Let’s Eat Out” club.
Sometimes Workamping jobs involve running stores or acting as docents at museums or historical sites. Some state campgrounds take volunteers a month at a time. If you need to supplement your income, the work at private campgrounds can be more demanding; however, most pay a salary. Some federal facilities (Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Corps of Engineers) assign jobs to the lowest bidders. They lock the bidder into a time frame and salary. Quite frankly, if the rent’s cheap in an area, you might be better off working for wages instead of a free or low-cost campsite, and paying the campground fees.
Like a box of chocolates, some pieces are always first to be eaten. Jobs for RVers at choice parks are sought after, so placing your name on a list or sending a resume to some huge bureaucracy may not prove successful.
At one time we thought of working in Branson, Missouri, thinking about all the shows we could catch. So, we drove into the city-operated Branson Lakeside RV Park. Apparently, the RVers employed there are under a “’til death do us part” clause. Some have worked at the park for 15 to 18 years, returning annually when it opens for the season.
Next we zipped off to a nearby state park. Parks frequently don’t use Workampers for maintenance and landscaping duties. In years past, many RVers were older, and the more strenuous jobs were less appealing; plus, park budgets were ample. With tightened belts now, many government parks are looking at younger RVers to work up a sweat. In any event, we asked to see the park superintendent and inquired about hosting. “No openings,” he said. Things were “under control.”
We persisted. (You’ll find that most park employees are not former or current RVers.) “Those trees are hanging over the roadway and someday a big, pricey motorhome is going to tangle with those branches, lose an awning, antenna, or air-conditioning unit,” I said. “These are things I specialize in: keeping the park ready for all types of RVs.” The superintendent looked over, shrugged a bit, and said, “I’ll have to get the boys to look at that.”
That’s when Gail piped up, saying, “This is a great entrance “” nice flowers, but all those weeds …. I could clean that up.”
The super, once dead-set against us, was wavering, “My guys hate that job,” he conceded. I don’t doubt that had we continued our “sell,” the next year we’d be hosts at that park.
Before making a decision about whether or not to work at a particular campground, I suggest that you move into the park for a week. Meet and befriend the hosts, and check out the work possibilities toward the end of that week. Sometimes campground hosts have as much pull as regular, non-camping employees. Rangers and employees don’t need personnel problems among their volunteer workers, so your relationship with the host may cement your job. Check out 50-site campgrounds and 500-site parks; what are the habits of each, and what’s the clientele like? At destination parks, folks return year after year; at more transient parks, which we prefer, the ever-changing camper population can offer us information about new places to see. We love water, but in our experience, campgrounds and water seem to attract parties and noise. We like big, private, rural sites, so after all of our research we signed on as “Branch Managers” “” a nice title for newbies “” at a campground that fit our critieria. Our duties involved trimming trees and bushes, and mowing, with no set hours or days. If you select kiosk duty, your schedule may be more restricted, but you won’t have sore muscles and dirty clothes.
Savor the taste
There are many benefits to working as a campground host. For starters, hosts normally have better campsites, better views, shade trees, maybe a bit more amperage, a sewer hookup, phone service in the motorhome, gas for heat sometimes, keys to the work areas for your hobbies, free firewood, passes to other parks, and all the quarters you can pick up in the showers after the weekend crowd leaves. Forgetful friendly campers sometimes leave “gifts” behind, such as barbecue grills, chairs, half-full propane tanks, and hundreds of tent stakes, which are never claimed. We’ve received real gifts from them, too! You might be lucky enough to have the use of a golf cart, all-terrain vehicle, or pickup truck, and maybe even your own mailbox. Also, popular campgrounds sometimes limit the amount of time a guest can stay (two weeks maximum), plus require reservations and enforce checkout times. But as a host, you’re exempt from these rules. You’re not a ranger, so resolving conflicts are not part of your job duties.
Finishing off the box
Campground hosting, like life, is what you make of it. While on our evening walks, if we found guests outside their coach, we’d pick up around their campsite and try to make pleasant conversation with them. Although it wasn’t part of our job, we’d always pick up debris around the park. It was, after all, our home for those months, and we wanted it clean.
Never forget that, of the people working, you’re probably the most experienced RVers. Employees at your RV park may never have stepped foot in an RV, so they likely don’t understand the specific needs of RVers, such as the additional space needed for turning the vehicle, the width of a site required for slideouts, or the length needed to park a 45-foot coach.
Quiz a few hosts about the park. Don’t be afraid to throw out the bad chocolates. Cull the box and take the good ones. Campground hosting is a hoot and can make RVing as inexpensive as when you lived at home with Mom and Dad. Buy some groceries, save up a bit of money for fuel, and enjoy. Don’t let the price of gas or diesel stop you from RVing “” try Workamping, especially campground hosting. It may make the overall RV experience so inexpensive, you’ll never want to return to your stationary home.
We sold our first motorhome after 16 years. The odometer read 265,000 miles (227,000 accrued by us). We replaced it with an even older coach and a home in Arizona, hoping to travel more during the summers.
Hope to see you down the road, or in a host site.
Tasty Morsels For Workamping Newbies
Campgrounds “” both public and private “” offer numerous work opportunities for RVers looking for wage-paying positions; a place to stay for free in exchange for service; or both. But motorhomers “” full-timers and part-timers alike “” can find work in a variety of other sites. Year-round or seasonal positions are available at theme parks, dude ranches, marinas, museums, lodges, golf courses, motorsports venues, and many other places. Whether you’re looking for part-time or full-time work to support your RVing lifestyle or to supplement your retirement income, plenty of jobs are out there if you know where to look.
Several organizations and Web sites are dedicated to RVers working on the road. Workamper News (800-446-5627, 501-362-2637; www.workamper.com) and Workers On Wheels (www.workersonwheels.com) provide advice and information about Workamping, as well as job listings for RVers. Recreation Resource Management (www.work-camping.com or www.camphost.org), which manages public recreational facilities throughout the United States, staffs more than 175 properties (campgrounds, stores, marinas, and boat ramps) in national forests and state parks in 11 states.
Besides these Web sites, several books are written specifically for RVers working on the road, Road Work II by Arline Chandler and Support Your RV Lifestyle by Jaimie Hall. In addition, numerous books have been written for full-timers that touch on Workamping.
Of course, with wi-fi and satellite Internet service making computer communication available nearly anywhere, some RVers may never even have to leave their motorhome to make a living. With the right equipment, travel writers, Webmasters or Web site designers, consultants, and those working in other computer-based vocations can log on from the comfort of their motor coach, day or night.