The Business of Work Camping: How to handle the sometimes-fine line between working and camping

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By Sam Suva
Am I working or camping, or both? The camping part is divine! Campfires, relaxing walks and enjoyable conversation – these are some of the perks of work camping. We don’t expect it to be a complete vacation, though, because of that other word – work.

More than the hours assigned, campers, owners and managers will become familiar with you and then come to see you as a worker, too. Talking to campers while working can be entertaining: I hear their concerns with the campground and their excitement about being there to relax and enjoy themselves. But for work campers, trying to get some rest while camping can be a bit of a challenge.


Now, don’t get me wrong. For the most part, folks appreciate that we are off duty. During conversation or in an emergency, it can come out that there may be something that needs attention, something we can take care of even off duty. The point is that we are primarily responsible for understanding when it’s time to be off duty.

When campers mingle, they ask each other about the campground, where the pool or the trails are or where the recreation hall is located – these are not working questions. But complaining about campers that break the rules of the park – that is a working question and it needs to be handled whenever or wherever we are and is best done immediately.

However, when campers come over to complain about the gravel, or the trees or the signage, I gently remind them that I don’t own the campground and while I may agree with them, I just focus on what I am told to do. Again, if it is an emergency like a large pothole destroying tires, well, I can do something about that, but maybe not that very minute.

Camping is the larger part of “work camping.” Some campgrounds only call for 8 hours per person per week (as of the writing of this article) to have access to the site and all things in the campground. So, for the most part, we enjoy our work camping. It is not always possible, and it is those times that will determine whether or not we have successfully transitioned to “camp working” as well as “work camping.”

We can just do whatever is asked, but we have found that folks tend to flock to those who can get it done. So if there is a 150-site campground and there are two adults per site plus kids or grandkids, those requests can quickly escalate – it can get really busy! We’re only scheduled to work a few hours per week; we would not have any down time!

I have been on the business end of a group of campers unhappy with the campground and all talking at once. Fortunately, that only happened once … well, twice, or was it three times? Hmm, maybe it happened more than that and I am blocking it. In a decade, it hasn’t happened enough to deter us from work camping; in fact, it adds some flavor to it.

A good rule of thumb is to not give out personal contact information like phone numbers or email addresses. These can blow up at all hours of the day and night. Kindly letting our camper friends know that we are off duty but offering to contact other staff, the manager or owner if the situation warrants it, and by leaving gossip alone, we have led a quiet, mostly uneventful work camping experience.

For the most part, whether working full- or part-time, we usually stop to see if we can be of help when we see someone working or a few folks chatting and they welcome us over. Campers are a delight: They offer help like family and they accept help readily. I usually find more to do than is expected of me, and that can be very satisfying. After all, the campers are on vacation – no expectations, no pressure. For the most part, helping my fellow campers when I am off duty is fun; sometimes I even get a bonus for my assistance.

Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below or contact me at samsuvarv(at)gmail.com .

See you down the road,

Sam

Sam Suva and his wife are work campers. They began work camping more than 10 years ago and have spent a lot of time working as they traveled. In this new weekly feature, they will share their experiences with you, with an emphasis on how to incorporate work camping into a full time RV lifestyle.

Read more articles about Work Camping.

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Brenda

Just curious: what is an example of the campgrounds that require 8-16 hours a week for site? We have worked for site and had interviews with numerous campgrounds, but never had any with a requirement that low. There was one that was just weekend, but even that would be 32 total hours (16 hours each). I am thinking it must be in certain areas of the country, perhaps?

Jeff

Sam,
What do you guys do for health insurance while you are work camping? My wife and I are in our 50’s. We want too live south in the winter and come back north in the summer. My wife has checked into health insurance on our own but it costs too much. In 2016 we built our new house. We had too live in our camper at a campground while our house was being built. Living in our camper was cheap. I would be looking at working part time jobs if we were too do this lifestyle.
Jeff
9racingteam@gmail.com