RVers need to adapt to new money-making opportunities in today’s economic climate.
By Janet Groene, F47166
RV travel, especially travel as a full-time way of life, is still the most economical, rewarding, and carefree lifestyle on the planet. However, economic changes we’re now seeing may be a prelude to potholes in the road ahead. Many full-time RVers are “work-campers”; that is, they have a job or official volunteer position that fits perfectly with their nomadic lifestyle. But soon you may see headlines like “Campers Banned From Local Jobs,” “State Park Volunteers Receive Tax Bills,” and “RV Full-Timer Charged With Sales Tax Evasion.”
Actually, these news stories have already been told, albeit quietly. State and local budget cuts have already resulted in state park closings and staff reductions. Changes are already occurring for full-timers everywhere because of skyrocketing costs for food, fuel, and other commodities. Campsite prices are rising to cover higher costs for everything from electricity to water.
In addition, zoning authorities are taking a closer look at boondockers and out-of-state license plates. At least one state is sending out tax bills for the value of campsites provided free to volunteer camp hosts. Other states are going after RVers who bought their motorhomes elsewhere to avoid sales tax.
Here’s how the future is shaping up.
Work-camping is alive and well. The good news from Workamper News owner and editor Steve Anderson is that the idea of working while camping is thriving and growing. Mr. Anderson takes pride in “creating great jobs in great places for great people. When an employer can hire employees who are temporary by choice, and who bring their own housing with them, everyone wins.”
However, changes have come here, too. People who work-camp have to be more nimble, more aware. “Everything about Workamping is expanding,” Mr. Anderson said. The company’s extensive online network provides information about all aspects of the work-camping experience and also offers memberships to would-be and current Workampers. “Membership is nearing 20,000 and about half are future retirees who may be as much as five and even 10 years from full-timing. In the meantime they are buying books, taking online courses at Workamper University, participating in webinars, and in general doing their homework, planning for the dream-come-true phase of their lives,” he noted.
More than 200 people attended the first Workamper Rendezvous in Heber Springs, Arkansas, this past April, and another Rendezvous is scheduled for October 18-20, 2011. Tiny Heber Springs, home of Workamper News since its founding in 1987, built a new convention and meeting facility that will be the permanent home of Workamper get-togethers.
Mr. Anderson advises potential Workampers to be willing to learn, change, and make the lifestyle work. Too many people don’t have a hard-headed business plan for leaving the conventional workplace and earning a living on the go. Sometimes they don’t understand the full-timing lifestyle and the role of Workamping, he said.
In difficult economic times, some work-camping jobs dried up when local employers were criticized for hiring “outsiders” instead of laid-off locals. That is starting to change with the thousands of seasonal and other temporary jobs being created at Amazon fulfillment centers. Where Workampers once relied on jobs in campgrounds, theme parks, and other businesses tied to the tourist season, Amazon’s fulfillment centers in Kansas, Kentucky, and Nevada need people to work during gift seasons and other busy times unrelated to tourism.
Pay ranges from nothing but a free campsite, say, for volunteering in a state or national park, to approximately $12 per hour for rigorous, fast-paced days in Amazon centers. According to Mr. Anderson, both employers and employees have to learn about the work-camping experience. “Employers have to understand why Workampers do what they do,” he explained. In the employer “summits” he hosts for businesses, he points out that Workampers are in it for the total experience, not just the job itself. That total experience includes travel, campground camaraderie, and the freedom to move on without being labeled a job-hopper. It also means vying for highly sought-after Workamper jobs, such as being a docent/guide at a popular lighthouse in California. Workampers are already booked more than a year ahead at this and other popular sites.
The average work-camper job lasts three to four months. The nature of the lifestyle requires that some periods of nonemployment are almost inevitable, so RVers must plan for slow times. Those who do plan welcome these respites as part of the “total experience” Mr. Anderson mentioned. Yet planning is more difficult now that employers have found that Workamper’s Hotline e-mail/online listing works quickly — so quickly, in fact, that they can often fill a position within hours. Today’s work-campers have to be Internet-savvy and faster on their feet than ever before.
Workamper offers five levels of membership, starting at a Basic membership that costs $33 per year, which provides a subscription to Workamper News, and topping out at the Gold Level Membership for $198 a year. Various other membership levels include access to online job listings and the ability to post your own job interests on the Web site. Although Mr. Anderson still mails approximately 7,000 magazines in hard copy, most members are now online and in a position to grab the best jobs quickly. As a result, fewer employers rely on the magazine to post jobs. RVers who rely only on the printed listings are at a disadvantage.
Mr. Anderson doesn’t know how many Workampers have come and gone over the years. He does know that some remain avid full-timers and work-campers but they no longer connect with the organization because they settled into long-term relationships with the same employers year after year.
Visit www.workamper.com for more information about the working-while-RVing experience.
Lend a tool, make some money. Look into SnapGoods.com if you own equipment that is unused much of the time. If there is a SnapGoods in your community, you can get paid for the use of anything from power tools to musical instruments. The deal is said to include repairs if a borrower damages your equipment. It’s a new and interesting concept, especially for RVers who are away from home much of the year. No endorsement by this magazine or this writer is implied, so read the fine print at www.snapgoods.com for details.
Pawn loans. With the economy still in the doldrums, pawn shops have seen an upsurge. Interest may be as much as 25 percent (interest and other pawn shop rules are determined by state laws), but pawning is still a quick, legal way to raise cold cash. Best of all, loans are not reported to credit bureaus, so your credit rating is not affected when you borrow, even if you’re unable to redeem your goods later.
An online pawn service at www.Pawngo.com has many attractive advantages to full-timers. The company pays for FedEx shipping of the item(s), and payment is wired to your bank account. The site pawns items and also purchases them outright. Minimum transaction is $250.
The joy of full-timing. As this is being written, full-timer and FMCA member Jenny Hardin, F389009, with her husband, Curtis, and daughter, Savana, are looking for the place where they will probably settle down until Savanna finishes high school. They have a home near Redding, California, but the family has been on the go for years. Savana has been home-schooled since third grade, and she loved the travel life as much as her parents did. They all agree now, however, that high school years may be a time to put down roots somewhere.
Jenny got in touch with me a few months ago. “We have been across the bottom of the country, across the middle of the country, and are planning a trip across the top of the country on our way to Madison, Wisconsin, for the FMCA convention (in August, 2011),” she said. “We have been up the East Coast, up the West Coast, and into Key West for several months in the winter. We have visited so many forts, battlegrounds, and cemeteries. We have seen cannon blasts and re-enactments, a shuttle launch, and spent a week at Disney World in Florida. We were in Niagara Falls for July 4, and went into New York City.” She has her favorite sites, but don’t ask her to tell you what they are. She has too many.
Because her husband is a veteran, Jenny finds that military discounts for camping are a real plus. She can also look back with pride on five years of successful home schooling. “Savanna is outgoing and fun,” Jenny added. “She always meets kids wherever we go, especially at state and federal parks. She has Junior Ranger badges and patches from all over the U.S. and will soon be creating a sash to attach them all to.
“Every day is a new day,” concluded this happy full-timer as a future unfolds for her daughter.
RVing as self-discovery. Like many people who settle down after years of full-timing, Patty Bialak was simply ready for the next phase of her life. After years of ups and downs, including three divorces, she then spent 10 years on the road in three luxury motorhomes. Her story is told in her book What Now? A Memoir of Self-Realization (iUniverse, $25.95).
This is a book for anyone who came through difficult times and emerged happier and more self-aware. The author’s RV years were a key to her journey of discovery, questions, and answers. A certified public accountant, she is now a successful businessperson living in California and working on her first novel.