Working on the Road
by Jim Couper
Earning money while living and traveling in their RV helps many full- and part-timers extend their RVing budget, lets them experience places they might not otherwise get to visit, and allows them to spend more time enjoying the RV lifestyle. But there’s much more to it than that.
RVers who run bingo games, sweep shuffleboard courts, cook pancakes and sign in new campground arrivals are not necessarily doing it for the money. While a paycheck is certainly welcome, working at a campground while staying there in an RV is as much about fun as it is about finances. Workamping, as it is known, adds a new dimension to RVing, as it involves meeting local people, interacting with fellow campers and getting to do more of the things you enjoy.
Workamping is not a new concept. State and national parks, for years, have partnered with long-term campers who act as hosts and do other jobs such as maintenance and fee collection. It's a situation that benefits both parties as the employer has to spend less time and effort recruiting workers and the employees don't have the obligations of long-term commitments or the pressure to move up the corporate chain.
Unlike most regular workers, campers can still enjoy their mobile lifestyle. They can choose a workplace with weather conditions that suit them and they can relocate to another park when the next opportunity comes along. Some workampers simply follow the sun while others strive to work at camps near skiing, hiking, entertainment or historical attractions. Pay is usually at the lower end of the scale or is done in exchange for a camp site's monthly fee, although some campgrounds seek out managers to take over for a season. Contracts with commercial parks are individually negotiated while state and national parks have set pay schedules.
According to Lori Regele, assistant vice president in charge of the KOA Work Kamper program, the typical workamper is a retired, full-time RVer who is attracted to the temporary nature of working for just one season. KOA started its Work Kamper program eight years ago and now has 330 campgrounds that post jobs. This past January, there were 374 jobs available and 1,760 workers (both employed and seeking jobs) registered in the program. Workampers pay KOA an annual $35 fee to access jobs through the website workatkoa.com and to get other benefits such as web training and camping discounts. Workers who have completed a job assignment or a work season can be elevated to All Star status and get recommendations as well as compensation for expenses for traveling to work at another campground.
Several websites have been set up to bring together camping workers and campgrounds and most will email a free newsletter. Many charge of fee of about $30 to register workers who are looking for jobs and employers listing jobs. Two sites, workamper.com and work-for-rvers-and-campers.com, provide excellent general information about working while camping, including answers to frequently asked questions as well as helpful hints.
Recreation Resource Management operates 175 government recreation areas with 700 employees and 50 managers. Its web site, work-camping.com, allows those looking for workamping experience to fill out a free online registration. Applicants can select the type of work they are looking for and the part of the country in which they want to work. Camp hosts are hired through a separate web site, camp-host.com.
Those who don’t have Web access or prefer not to use online resources can purchase a campground directory and make phone inquiries about temporary employment. Staying at resorts and campgrounds provides an opportunity to ask workampers you may meet where they have worked and who might be hiring temporary help. A book on the subject, Support Your RV Lifestyle, by Jaimie Hall Bruzenak, explains how to make money while RVing. Bruzenak has combined work and travel for more than a decade. Her book and a DVD, Working on the RV Road, are available from RVBookstore.com.
A look at the bulletin board of a large camping resort reveals how busy the residents are with independent workamping. Notices may advertise home-made birdfeeders, hand- crafted rocking chairs and customized wooden name plates. Services may include income tax return preparation, dog sitting, golf lessons and computer instruction. For many, the work is an extension of a career in accounting, coaching or carpentry.
Working while camping can be an invisible and solitary activity made possible by an internet connection. Playing the stock market, hosting web sites, buying and selling on eBay and writing books all take place, unnoticed, within cozy RVs. The social benefits may be missing, but hours are flexible and there is no overhead or dress code.
Workamping merges the benefits of working and camping, with each helping to make the other possible. It takes the best of work – meeting new people and doing what you do well and enjoy – and combines it with the relaxed atmosphere, exceptional scenery and ambiance of the campground.
A Working RV
Getting into the workforce may require some minor adaptations to the interior of an RV. A desk and filing system will be handy for keeping track of tax deductible expenditures, pay receipts, schedules and notes about work. If you use a computer in your workamping endeavors, you’ll need a place to comfortably work and set up peripheral equipment, such as a printer.
Cable and telephone jacks installed on your RV make it easy to plug into cable TV and high-speed cable internet access, and to set up a land line phone connection for a local phone number, if those are available at your campground. Satellite TV keeps you connected to the larger world if you are working at a remote campground or one with limited amenities. Satellite-based or cell phone-based internet service provides essential communication for business or pleasure.
Some extra wardrobe space may be needed to hold work clothes, boots, rainwear and other garments that might be needed for dirty jobs or working in inclement weather. A washer and dryer could be handy, if space is available inside the RV, saving the inconvenience and expense of frequent trips to a laundromat.
Remaining in one place for a work season creates more opportunities for outdoor living. Extra lawn furniture will accommodate new friends and acquaintances who stop by for a visit. A screen room or gazebo is a worthwhile addition to add more living and entertaining space to your RV or campsite, and provides a weather-protected space for displaying your wares if you are marketing your own products. (Tip: check with the campground to make sure it is okay to sell items at your campsite, and not in violation of campground rules or local ordinances.)
On the fun side, doing work-related exercise and entertaining new friends could justify a big barbeque grill for steaks and burgers, and an extra cooler for refreshing beverages at the end of the workday. Count these as some of the many “perks” of the workamping lifestyle.