If you are looking for a way to fund a life of travel in your RV, workamping might be for you! In this post, we explain what work camping is, showcase our video interview with a work camping couple, as well as our video of our own workamping experience, and provide tips and resources for finding workamping jobs.
What is Work Camping?
Workamping is work in exchange for a camping site (and usually payment) for a fixed length of time, usually the high to shoulder season in a campground or RV resort. The work can be full or part-time, for a couple or for an individual. Most often, positions are for a couple with their own RV. The remuneration can be any combination of:
- Paid hours
- A free or reduced-price campsite for your RV, with hook-up and some services, such as laundry and Wifi
- Paid hours and a free or reduced-price campsite for your RV
Workamping assignments vary from full-time employment for both members of a couple, to part-time hours for one or both. Workampers may receive an hourly wage or not receive any money, just a free site in exchange for hours worked. The combinations are very variable and should be explained carefully in advance.
Video Interview of Two Work Campers
In this video, we interview a couple about how they became workampers, and how they experience it. We interviewed Chad and Leslie Kazinski at the Catalina Spa Resort and RV Park.
How to Assess a Job Offer for Workamping
In order to determine if the job is a good deal, you should multiply the hours of work required by the going hourly rate (or minimum wage) in the area. Compare that amount with the going rate for the campsite you are being provided.
40 hours required each week, per couple for a free site, with no paid hours. If the minimum wage is $8.00 in the area, then 40 hours is worth $320 per week, or approximately $1300 for a month. If you can rent a campsite for $1000 per month, then this would be a bad deal for a workamper, because you are earning less than minimum wages. However, in some cases one cannot stay in a park for more than 30 days per season, so this might make the contract more desirable, if you really want to be there.
Be Sure to Read Your Work Camping Contract Carefully
There are some employers out there who try to take advantage of RVers. For example, by offering nothing but a free site for almost full-time work, as in the example above. Or by offering a seasonal rate that turns out to be less than the minimum wage, once you do the math. Always ask for a contract and read it very carefully before you sign on.
There are plenty of reputable employers out there, so you do not have to accept a very bad deal. Remember that in the terrible era of slavery, slaves received board and food. So, if you agree to work for nothing but an RV site, you are working for less than slave wages!
How to Find Workamping Jobs
There are a number of websites which provide job listings for US positions and one or two that list Canadian opportunities (see below). You can also search services such as Indeed for postings too. Wherever you look, it is a good idea to set up a job alert so that you are notified by email when new listings are posted.
Expect to see listings any time between three and eleven months prior to the start date. We started getting alerts for spring positions in Arizona during September and October.
In Canada, Parks Canada may advertise as early as November, with other employers typically starting their search after Christmas for summer seasonal positions. We also make inquiries when we stay at parks we think we might enjoy working at. This gives us an opportunity for an in-person application, which may give you a better chance of being selected.
Useful Web Sites to Find Workamping Opportunities
This one is not free, but you can try the Intro for free, and it is a very professional and highly recommended site, with a lot of resources.
Free site, and we found a summer job on this site.
Free site where you can browse jobs by location and by type, and also upload your resume so employers looking for work campers can find you.
Free site with Help Wanted ads, plus a lot of other resources for work campers. It just has a listing – there is no option to search within locations, for example.
Free site with Help Wanted ads. It just has a listing of jobs – there is no option to search within locations.
What to Expect while Work Camping
You can expect to have some sort of uniform, or at the very least a supply of shirts. The employer may also specify what suitable attire you will need to provide as well. We worked at a private campground this past year and were given a supply of tee-shirts, a fleece and a water-resistant jacket, which we returned at the end of the season. We had to supply our own work boots, cargo shorts, and pants. We were also required to pay our own expenses to travel to the worksite. All of these conditions were typical of most work camping jobs.
Duties of a Workamper
Workampers usually sign an agreement that will outline the duties, pay, minimum hours, and any other conditions of employment. The agreement may also include protections, such as workers’ compensation regulations in the event of injury. The duties one performs as a work camper can include:
- Grounds cleaning – clearing garbage off individual campsites and common areas, retrieving articles left behind, raking the grounds, cleaning the fire ring, returning unused firewood, etc.
- Facilities maintenance – cleaning bathrooms or outhouses, emptying garbage and recycling bins, lawn or ground cover maintenance.
- Administrative duties – telephone inquiries, making or changing reservations, check-in and check-out of guests, sales.
- Hospitality – greeting guests, guest inquiries, tactfully enforcing park policies and safety procedures.
- Social activities – leading group activities for guests such as hikes, nature walks, card games, fitness activities, etc.
- Commerce – serving customers at an on-site store.
- Camp hosting – staying on a site for the season, to greet and help guests.
Taxation Issues for Work Campers
Not all employers issue tax receipts for workampers, but it is becoming more common practice for them to do so. Some employers will also include the benefit of the free or reduced cost campsite in their calculation of your pay. You should know the employer’s practices in advance so you can plan how to declare your income and cover your income taxes.
Depending on the tax laws in your home province or state, you may be able to deduct some or all of the expenses incurred for uniforms and/or travel to and from the worksite. You may have to get a declaration or taxation form from the employer, to allow you to make these deductions.
Workamping Outside of Your Own Country
Some employers do not inquire about citizenship when hiring work campers, especially if the employer does not issue tax documents. However, this practice is decreasing, and more employers are treating work campers as they would any other class of employee.
Bear in mind that you could be working illegally if you are a Canadian employed in the US or a US citizen working in Canada. If discovered, this could result in you receiving a very long ban on traveling to that country. In our opinion, it is not worth the risk.
Is Workamping for You?
In order to be successful as a workamper, one should be even-tempered, flexible, and diplomatic. The ability to balance the safety policies and rules, with concern for guest experiences, is also a must. This takes well developed common sense and judgement. Workamping can be also be a physically demanding job, so being in good physical shape is usually important.
A Few Words of Caution about Workamping
If you have worked all your life in management, finding yourself cleaning toilets can be a bit of a shock. Also, you are likely to find yourself taking orders from people who you would formerly have been giving orders to! This is because there are many people managing parks who have little or no professional training in management. For this reason, you must be ready to park your ego at the door, and follow orders, even if you would do things differently.
In one of my workamping jobs (which I will NOT mention by name) I went from being a senior manager running a large corporation with global responsibilities, to taking orders from someone who had no management training at all. Inexplicably, she assumed that everyone working for her was utterly incompetent. We had to have a sit-down discussion about it, and matters improved after that. I continued to keep my ego parked, and deferred to her leadership ideas. But I did insist on being treated respectfully, rather than being treated as an inexperienced teenager.
So, my point is that, as a new work camper, your job is to be part of the team and do as you are told. However, you should insist on being treated fairly, being given adequate training, and being protected by good safety practices. If you are not safe, you should leave a position if you possibly can. It’s just not worth being hurt on the job. Also, when you examine the contract, check if you will have any kind of worker protection.
Other Considerations Before You Accept an Offer for a Work Camping Job
As you are usually committing for a full season, you want to be sure you are going to be reasonably happy with the job! Make sure you get a full list of responsibilities, and think carefully about whether you are a good fit. For example, if you really don’t like meeting new people, you are not going to be happy in a busy office greeting new guests every day.
Gender-Based Expectations in Workamping
Note that most jobs for male camp workers require sustained physical effort all day, as well as a range of handyman skills. If you are a man who has worked in an office all your life, you might find yourself exhausted, or you might find that you simply lack the skills. Joe was certainly quite overwhelmed by his first workamping experience. After 30 years of working with a computer, he was suddenly expected to have all kinds of handyman skills that he simply did not have. He got by, thanks to a supportive team.
But in retrospect, now that Joe knows how much is expected of male camp workers, he thinks he should have been more upfront about his limitations before he accepted the job. That way, the employer would have the option of offering training, or going with another candidate. He was aware throughout the season that he did not meet expectations, and this was tough on him.
On the other hand, if you are a female work camper, you will be expected to be pleasant, friendly, welcoming, and to have a range of computer and customer-service skills. This is because you will almost certainly be working in the check-in office. If this profile does not fit you, workamping will be difficult for you.
Sexism in Workamping
That reminds me of another aspect of work camping life: most parks are incredibly sexist about the positions. Women are expected to work in the office, men are expected to work on the grounds – end of story. This is kind of amazing to us, in this day and age. Joe has outstanding people skills and computer skills, but because he is a man, he is not wanted in the office. And I have excellent handyperson skills and am very strong, but because I am a woman, I am usually not wanted on a grounds team. Very strange.
In short, if you and your partner don’t fit gender stereotypes exactly, you may have problems with workamping. Also, if you are not a married, heterosexual couple, you probably won’t find a couple job at all. Regardless of whether you are capable of doing the work. We know a female couple who would love to do some work camping, but we had to advise them that they are very unlikely to be hired by most parks. Shocking, sad, unfair … but true.
What We Learned from Work Camping for the Summer
We spent the whole of last summer work camping. You can read more about it here. Also, below is our video of our experience of workamping.
Adapting to the Physical Labor that is Part of Workamping
Our first workamping experience was a tough transition for us. We had both spent our careers behind desks. At the beginning of the season, we were expected to help clear the forest for 8 hours per day, every day. We were the oldest workers, while the youngest couple was around 50. Even they found the work utterly exhausting. All of us were living on Ibuprofen for muscle pain.
Joe joked that by the end of the day, if he saw a hundred-dollar bill on the floor, his back was so sore that he would not have been able to bend over to pick it up! We all got through it – but not without some tears from me, and many thoughts of quitting.
Joe and I were baffled that management had not employed a team of youngsters to quickly get that job done. The local university has an employment agency that could have sent a bunch of 18-year-olds out to get the job done in half the time, and without any need for Ibuprofen!
Adapting to Workcamping
Joe and I both adapted well to doing menial jobs such as toilet cleaning, as we are both pragmatic and can park our egos at the door. You need to ask yourself honestly whether you could cope with that kind of task. If not, there is no shame in that either. We have met many work campers who simply do not accept jobs if they include toilet cleaning. Others avoid jobs that include park security, as it makes them feel unsafe.
Making Wonderful New Friends while Work Camping
In RV living, we meet a lot of people along the road. However, we are sometimes sad that there is not enough time to make real friends. On the other hand, we felt that we bonded very deeply with the other two workamping couples, who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with us for more than five months.
We would never have met Trent and Keri, or Rob and Chantal, if not for workamping with them. Now, we feel we have made friends for life. They are all exceptional people, who had our backs throughout the summer. We feel that the whole experience of workamping is made worthwhile by this kind of opportunity to make good friends.
Developing High Campground Standards while Workamping
After an entire summer of keeping a campground spotlessly clean, we find that our standards of cleanliness for campgrounds are now very high. This is actually quite a problem – wherever we go, we see garbage, and we find it very disturbing! We have seriously considered buying picker-uppers and picking up garbage for free.
On the other hand, Joe now actually notices any dirt in our bathroom, and cannot resist cleaning it – a big plus for our home and our marriage!
Also on the plus side, we now really appreciate how much work people do to keep good campgrounds in great shape. We used to think those guys riding around on golf carts in RV parks had easy jobs. We know better now!
We hope this post has provided you with enough information to decide if you want to try workamping, and if so, how to get started. Good luck!
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