One question I’m asked a lot is, “I’m living paycheck-to-paycheck, can I afford to be a vandweller? “ And my answer is “How can you afford NOT be a vandweller?” The important part of that question isn’t the money, it’s the “living.” The great majority of Americans just barely have enough money to scrimp by and most of their paycheck goes into paying for their housing. After they pay the rent (or mortgage) and utilities virtually all the rest goes for food or other essentials leaving very little to actually live and enjoy life with–they’re just surviving until the next paycheck.
If the quality and success of your life is measured by how much you are thriving, then most of us are getting F’s and are total failures at it.
Add up in your mind how much you’ve paid for housing in the last 5 years–how much better would your life be if you could have kept that money? By moving into a van you can take all the money you used to pay for housing and start paying it to yourself instead. Then you can use that money to do the things you love to do, like travel. What we need is a job that we can get while we are traveling and that will also pay for our campsite at the same time. Fortunately, jobs like that are pretty easy to come by and in this post we’re going to look at an overview of seven of the most common ones (and one you probably never heard of before) that allow you to travel and get a free or very cheap campsite. I made a video where I talked to a friend who has been a workcamper and worked at the sugar beet harvest you can see it here:
If you can’t see the video, click or cut and paste this into your browser:
These are the two main websites for finding workcamping jobs:
Fortunately the timing of these jobs is such that you can work them consecutively—when you’re done with one, you leave it and go to the next. That means just when you’re getting sick and tired of the same old grind, you’re done with it and move on to something new and very different. It’s possible you could save $9,000 cash and then take 6 months to a year off without working. Now that’s making the best possible use of the limited time we have here. I’d give you an A+ for that way of life!
1) Campground Host:
There is a lot of confusion about hosting because it comes in different varieties and some of them are very poor in terms of making money. I wouldn’t even consider being a host at an RV Park but I’ve been a host at a National Forest campground and loved it. Let’s look at them all.
- Host in a Private RV Park. These jobs nearly always trade time worked for your RV site with full hook ups and then you get paid for the rest of the time you work. As a boondocker that’s something I would never consider doing because it’s so easy to camp for free. If you do the math, many of these jobs pay much less than minimum wage.
- Host in a City/State Park or National Wildlife Refuge: These aren’t really jobs, they are volunteer positions where you trade a certain amount of time worked for your free site with full hook-ups. Because you’re a volunteer, there is usually less pressure and you are treated pretty well. I would at least consider this because it allows you to be in a place that you want to be in but it’s difficult to be there otherwise. For example, if you are an avid birder who doesn’t need an income it would be incredible to spend a winter at some of our National Wildlife Refuges and this would be a wonderful position for you. Or, if you’re a fisherman, you can volunteer at a State Park near world-class fishing and spend your summer doing what you love.
- Host at a National Forest Campground. I did this job for 4 years and it’s what I recommend you do. Its biggest advantage is that you get a free campsite and you get paid for every hour you work. The wages are usually minimum wage of the state you’re in but sometimes they pay a little more. So working in California, Oregon or Washington will pay better than most other states. Find the minimum wage for all the states here: http://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/state-minimum-wage-chart.aspx. Most of them require you to be there from Memorial Day to Labor Day easily leaving you time to get to the Sugar Beet Harvest. I’ll give you the details of this job in my next post. To get an idea of jobs available, this is the employment page of CLM, the company I worked for: http://www.clm-services.com/employment/job-openings
This is a fall job in late September or October in Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota. It pays very well for just a few weeks work, normally three weeks. Typically you’ll get a free campsite and make $12 an hour, work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for the entire time, except during bad weather. Like all jobs it pays overtime for anything over 8 hours a day, but it also pays time and a half on the entire 6th day and double time on the 7th day. Most people make about $3600 for three weeks work—not bad at all!
You’re probably thinking that sounds good, but there’s no way you’re going to work like a farmhand picking crops. The good news is you don’t have to, you’ll have nothing to do with harvesting the beets. Instead, you’re going to work for the sugar factory who receives the beets from the farmers. The beets are trucked into a central place and stacked up into enormous piles by a machine called a Piler. Your job will be directing trucks, picking up beets that fall off the conveyer belt, testing the beets and keeping the piling process moving smoothly. If you can drive a truck (no CDL required, it’s considered agriculture), operate a Bobcat or learn to run the Piler, you can make a lot more money than the base rate. Get more info on the job here: http://www.sugarbeetharvest.com/index.cfm?content=jobs
3) Amazon Warehouse for the Holidays:
Because of the huge Christmas rush of gift giving, many retailers hire extra employees in the three months before Christmas. Several Amazon Distribution Centers are in rural areas and they don’t have enough of a labor force around to draw from, so they hire RVers to work for them; they call them the Camper Force. They pay very well and provide you a free campsite in an RV Park. Get more info here: http://www.amazonfulfillmentcareers.com/opportunities/camper-force/
Amazon has a reputation of being a tough employer, but that’s for its permanent employees, they treat the CamperForce very well because they need them to come back the next year. But it’s still a hard job just because you’re on your feet 10 hours a day and there is mandatory overtime. One unexpected problem many older RVers have run into is wrist and elbow problems from having a hand-held computer in their hand all day. Amazon will have a booth at the Big Tent show during the RTR and you can get the job application process started there or do it on-line.
4) Tourist Towns:
All over the country there are towns that attract a huge number of visitors seasonally. The season depends on what they offer. In ski areas the season is winter when there is snow; in Florida, Arizona and California it’s also winter when people are escaping the winter cold and going to places like Disneyland with the family. Around most of the National Parks in northern areas the season is summer when people come literally from around the world to visit them. Whatever the season, all those towns get a flood of visitors and must hire a huge number of seasonal workers to handle the rush. Because there aren’t enough locals for the jobs, they hire people from around the country.
Let’s look at one example, Yellowstone NP. There are five entrances into Yellowstone and at each of them are small towns that explode with tourists in the summer season. The permanent population base of the town can’t possibly provide enough people to fill all the jobs so they must bring in people from outside to work. That means it’s a workers market, there are more employers than there are employees so they have to compete to get enough people. The result is wages are higher and people get treated better. I’ve spent time in Jackson Wyoming (the south entrance to both Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone NP) and the permanent population of the town is 10,000 but in the summer they hire another 10,000 people to handle the summer tourist rush. All of those people have to be brought in from out of town so they have to be enticed to come. Every time I’ve been there, there was a “Help Wanted” sign on virtually every business in town. You’re almost guaranteed a good-paying job if you show up.
That story is repeated in nearly every small, popular tourist town in the country, especially in the mountains—where most of us want to spend our summer anyway because it’s cooler. The best part of all is that these are in incredibly beautiful areas that people fly in from all around the world to see–and you get paid to be there!
5) National Parks Concessionaire:
Inside all the National Parks are numerous businesses that hire seasonal help every year. Businesses like lodges, stores, gas stations and others. Generally they are all operated by one concessionaire that is a large national company who does all the hiring for that Park, an example of a big one is Xantera. Every year they hire thousands of employees to work in the National Parks and the need is so great the chances are good you can get a job there. They generally pay pretty well but their one disadvantage is usually you have to pay some amount for your housing. It’s generally a very reasonable amount and for many people it’s well worth it just to be in a National Park for the summer. One other disadvantage is that usually you are pretty remote from other cities and you’ll end up paying a lot more for food. Again, for many people, being in the National Park is more than worth the slightly higher cost of food. For information on jobs with Xanera, click here: http://www.xanterra.com/who-we-are/careers/
6) Seasonal Sales at a Christmas Tree, Pumpkin or Fireworks Lot.
There is a lot of variation in these jobs so it’s hard to generalize, but most of them are hiring a couple in an RV. You’re paid extremely well and given full hook-ups, but one of you is expected to be on site at all times. You can leave, but only one at a time. But they all have different requirements so never hesitate to look into one.
7) Gate-guard or Security at an oil field, construction site or storage unit.
You don’t really do any security here, you’re just expected to open the gate and report any problems, in exchange you are paid well and given full-hook-ups. Generally they want a couple and one of you needs to be on site at all times.
8) Poker Dealer
Some of you may have moral objections to this but if not it’s something to seriously consider. All across the country there are Poker Tournaments that need to hire many trained poker dealers but there aren’t enough qualified locals to hire. So there is a great job available as a traveling poker dealer going from Tournament to Tournament. The pay works out to be about $30-35 an hour and most people can do the job. One example is the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas where they hire 1500 dealers for a 7 week tournament. It’s entirely possible to make $10,000 in that 7 weeks. You can take reasonably priced courses to get trained and certified. I’ve written a post with all the details you need here: http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/nomadic-poker-dealer/
So there you have it, a broad over-view of the most common jobs for Nomads. In my next post we’ll look at the details of how to get these jobs and take a closer look at Campground Hosting.
I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel. See them here:
You can see my video on workpcaming here: youtu.be/HNXsGPO9MaA