Let me start by saying this post is the first in a series chronicling my husband and I's personal experience as work campers in the last two years. I will share with you the good, the bad and the ugly truths about work camping.
Here we go:
My husband and I began our work camping journey, a mere six months into full-time RVing. The process of downsizing from a 2,000 square foot loft, plus four commercial properties had been a stressful six-month process. Finally, we settled into our Class A RV, packed our four cats (yes, I know it's a lot, but who would you suggest I leave behind?) and headed cross country from Kansas to Oregon. We spent our first winter in the mild weather region of the Willamette Valley just an hour away from family and friends.
The weather was exceptionally warm for the winter. The 55-degree temperatures were a significant change from the sub zero's we had experienced in Kansas. While it did rain, the locals said it was a pretty dry season overall, and for that we were thankful.
During our first six months, we severely drained our bank account with unexpected RV repairs. We knew we had to do something fast, and that's when I began researching the Work Camping option.
I subscribed to a series of free and inexpensive online memberships and gained access to the list of job posts. Within a mere 24 hours, my inbox was filled with job opportunities. While searching. here are the memberships I found worth my time and money.
Workamper.com - This is the original work camping site. They offer everything from paid classes to free seminars, an online magazine, hot jobs emailed to you five days a week and a resume service to help you get noticed. Workamper charges $45 + a year, but well worth it in my opinion.
WorkingCouples.com - At $5 a month or $12 per quarter, working couples is a great resource if you are looking for jobs outside the RV park. While they do offer traditional work camping positions, they also feature jobs with schools, senior facilities, and hotels. I like this site and its approach to helping you find work. If you are on a tight budget, you can subscribe to the email job feed for free and pay only when you see something that peaks your interest.
Workers On Wheels - Colleen's site offers a great variety of traditional and not so traditional work camping jobs. She also offers articles on different ways to earn money as you travel. This site and her email feed is completely free and arrives in your inbox at least once a week.
Coolworks.com - Coolworks is unique. It focuses on work at corporate-run resorts and national parks around the country. From skiing resorts in the winter to the Grand Canyon in the summer, adventure travel is Coolworks specialty. Another benefit of the Coolworks site is that jobs are open to both couples and singles, and there is no charge to view the current listings.
Now back to our story!
As an information junky, I jumped right in and read as much as I could about the work camping opportunity. Here is what I discovered:
Spring and Summer offer the most jobs ESPECIALLY if you want to make an hourly wage, PLUS your site.
Winter opportunities are usually for a site only with no hourly wage.
You must apply for winter jobs in late Spring/early summer. You must apply for Spring/Summer jobs beginning Feb. 1st.
Workamper.com offers an online resume service with its core membership. Their resume service is a great resource. Many employers look directly through these applications without ever posting their job to the public. You may be contacted before a job goes public if you keep your resume up to date.
Resume's you post on Workamper.com can be emailed directly to prospective employers, but be sure to follow up with a separate email. More times than not, your resume does not arrive and you will have to resend it.
Different jobs post in various locations. Join several job sites. Yes, you will see some overlap, but you will also find a lot of unique information. Employers have favorite places to post, so it pays to be diligent and look around.
Workcamping resumes are entirely different from traditional work resumes. At least, they should be. It's important to make your resume applicable to the types of jobs you will be doing in an RV park. No one wants to hear that you spent 15 years at the post office if it doesn't relate to the job at hand.
Once I discovered these initial gems, I began to look into the type of work offered in these job posts. Here's what I found:
Most jobs are for couples only. Except for CoolWorks, seasonal jobs at Amazon.com, and Beet Harvest, it is difficult for single travelers to snag a work camping position.
In most cases, parks assign females to the office and males to work outside.
Computer literacy is vital, and the most common used office program is Campground Master, which is campground/RV specific. Other programs include DigiRez, Campground Manager, and WebRezPro. KOA uses its own proprietary software.
Occasionally there are other "styles" of work offered. These jobs include seasonal warehouse positions, selling Christmas trees or fireworks or helping with a harvest, amusement park or tourist attraction. What makes these jobs work camping is that they generally offer a space for your RV on site or nearby, and they are all short term. The average work camping job is six months, but this style of work can be anywhere from two weeks to three months.
Even though you are clearly RVing, many classifieds are looking for people year round. This concept struck me as odd since I thought the entire purpose of RVing was to move around. Still, at our very first job, we met a couple who had been working there for 5 1/2 years!
Don't take the first job you see. Don't worry too much about your skill level. In the summer, many places are desperate and will be happy to train and give you the experience you need to get going.
With all that information stored in my head, I moved forward and posted our first resume using the Workamper software. After that, I read the Workamper magazine online, which featured both informative articles and job ads. I instantly requested additional information and applied for five or six jobs.
My husband and I have a lot of life experience, and we made an effort to reflect that in our resume. He has done everything from owning a contracting business to doing online and offline marketing for companies. I have owned a restaurant and event center, an online training program and taught school. Between us, we can do nearly everything. In the traditional stick and brick world, our resume was a bit "eclectic," so we were surprised to discover in the RV world, it was considered "impressive." Here's why:
An RV park is a handful of businesses rolled into one.
Hotel/Hospitality - Obviously guests are coming and going, and each park attempts to treat them with respect. The job includes checking people in and out, helping them connect with local sites or activities, sharing the rules of the park, and providing them with guidance to their RV site.
Event Center- Many parks require you to help coordinate events. The park may host “RV Rally’s”, reunions, daily activities, bands, dances, dinners and competitions.
Apartment Complex- A large or small portion of the park may rent on a monthly basis. In other words, you are also working with full-time residents, which is a completely different market then the day to day tourist.
RV Dealership- Guests often ask for help they should have received at their RV dealership. This can include parking their rig, hooking it up, resetting a fuse or helping them when they are locked out.
Public Works- From reading the electric meters to running a full water treatment plant, grounds care and sprinkler systems, the outside work at an RV park is a huge project.
Mini Mart- Many RV parks have full blown stores. These stores offer everything from grocery supplies to DVD rentals, RV supplies and tourist knick-knacks. You may be asked to clean and stock, as well as chop and bundle firewood.
Gas Station- LP Gas is offered at many campground and RV parks. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to study, take a test and get your propane pumping license.
Cafe- From pizza to subs, from pancake breakfast to s'mores, many parks offer food service to their guests.
Child Care Center- Babysitting, crafts and activities can all be apart of the day in the life of an RV park.
Pet Care- Guests bring pets and most RV parks offer dog walks. Some parks also offer coin operated dog wash, walking services and other pet related services.
Laundromat- Coin-operated laundromats are available at most RV parks. This is a business within itself and requires care, cleaning and repair.
YMCA- RV parks offer shower rooms that must be cleaned daily. Many parks also offer multiple pools, exercise rooms, fitness classes and more.
After reading this list, you may be thinking that to run this many businesses, an RV park would have a large staff. WRONG! Be prepared that YOU, as the work camper, may be doing ALL of the above each and every day! If you are flexible and good at a lot of things, RV parks may appeal to you.
Now, at this stage of the game, it's important to have a general idea of where you want to go. Remember, if you are staying on the west coast and the job is in Florida, you have to factor in the cost of your travel. In many cases, it may cost you more to GET TO THE JOB then it will actually pay!
Personally, we knew we wanted to stay on the West Coast or near our home in Kansas; this allowed us to pick and choose the types of jobs we wished to apply for.
As a couple, we are good at a lot of things and received several interviews almost immediately. The sudden interest in our skills was exciting. We felt noticed and appreciated. Had we finally stumbled into the ideal work world? Was work camping where all the misfit toys hung out? We weren't sure, but we were ready to try it.
Eventually, we decided our first work camping experience would be a mere three hours from our home in Kansas. With a three day on and three day off schedule, we could travel to and from our former loft and get it ready to rent out. It seemed like a logical first step.
Our initial position was as "Assistant Campground Managers." We signed a very thorough contract that included a non-compete clause. Our pay was hourly, plus a free full-hookup site, wi-fi, $100 of electricity and a laundry allowance. We would work three days on from 9-6, then be off for three days. It sounded like a great situation. The pay was $2 over minimum wage - much higher than many of the other job ads. And while we made much more in the "traditional" job market, our expenses were now less, and we planned to continue working online for side money. We were honestly excited to give this new lifestyle a try.
Want to see how things turned out? Make sure to read the next installment in my series, "The Ups and Downs of a Workcamping Couple."