The business of work camping – What if the campground changes its mind on your arrival?

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By Sam Suva

What happens when we pull into the campground and the owner/manager tells us to find a site, get comfortable for a few days then see them in the office, only to find out that they have changed what we had agreed upon? It’s happened. The staff or the needs have changed, so they have capable people to fill in, right? Not necessarily. Although we try to be very conscious of the need for change, we are contractors, not employees, and have a specific set of skills. If they come in our wheelhouse (ask us to do things within our capabilities), we can oblige. If they do not, we may be at an impasse.


Preparing for this situation really helps when it pops up. We have become work campers to support a lifestyle that is free of getting stuff, or striving for money. We want person-to-person time that a campground offers – that sittin’ deep with friends, new and old, ’round a campfire with something warm in our hands – you know what I mean? Do I want the additional duties? Am I qualified or will the campground absorb the learning curve? Is it right for us?

Campground work is often, but not always, treated like summer jobs by local talent. Work campers for the most part take their work as important and necessary. Minimum wage can mean minimum input, but there are incredible examples of local workers and truly lifesaving work campers. Work campers are usually older and more experienced, and therefore frequently a better choice than hiring into a market that have strong backs but little incentive. Campgrounds usually let older ones supervise younger ones and offer little in incentive or discipline for those workers just there for movie money on the weekend. Staff turnover can be aggressively fluid at campgrounds.

We make sure to consider the new offer, usually by asking for some time – a few hours – to reflect on the changes, especially if they are not remotely close to what was agreed upon. Most changes have been both beneficial and lucrative; however, not all of them have been so generous. For example, work for site becomes pay and site, with propane and laundry stipends. We have accepted splitting up the couple hours for a position in the office and working outside, also additional hours and more pay. We have declined getting involved with bar tending: It seems like a good time but we just did not want the liability. Other duties we have declined are installing sewer and new electrical when the local laws prohibit those without a license and insurance.

Raking and weed trimming can become supervising and management. Painting has become installing billboards and operating machinery, mowing became construction, gardening became pool maintenance. Even picking up trash turned into a five-figure job in a few weeks! (True.)

Remember that the campground has little to lose when they agree to our every demand over the phone; but without a signed contract, they have absolutely no liability when we drive in not to change their minds. While most campgrounds are not like that, some are. Getting into the habit of asking for that signed contract protects us from the rare campground that can stoop to that level.

So ask yourself if the new situation is still as good for you or whether you can assume the changes without overreaching.

Ultimately, change is good, although it may require additional effort on our part. Whether the change is a greater workload or lesser duties, more pay or less, being where we want to be versus where we need to be without the view or amenities, it’s usually worth it. We have found satisfying work, really good campers to become close friends with across the country, gorgeous sunsets and blue water for miles to soothe our sometimes hurt pride. This really is a rewarding way of life and one this humble writer wholeheartedly endorses.

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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littleleftie

Hi sam–I have enjoyed reading your articles so far and look forward to continuing to do so.
One question—-is it a requirement that all work campers be American citizens? Would you know if there are opportunities for Canadians to work camp in the US? We are considering an extended trip thru the American Southwest next winter and the potential to stay put in one spot for a little while and do some working for a site/pay is appealing.

Traveler

It’s not just work camping. 2 weeks before we had lined out a 4 month NPS volunteer position when we were already 1000 miles from home, the “new” supervisor called and said he didn’t have time to supervise campground hosts.
Change is good after the initial shock and figuring out plan B, C and D.

We spent the 4 months traveling and doing a Historicorp project. A bit hard on the budget, and the ego of not being wanted, but better for us, if not the public campground.

Karen Willis

Did I read this is to become a weekly feature? Wonderful! Look forward to feature and comments!

Steve

A friend just sent me a work camp opportunity. I wrote her back what I generally paid for a FHU site and that this particular opportunity worked out to about $3 an hour. She said “Oh”

jgvtxman

I love the idea or workcamping but i get so P. O’d at these places requiring upwards of 20 hours per week for a campsite which by way of any meager wage translates to about $1000. A month for a $400. site. I wish the labor boards would look into this situation, but as long as people who don’t need the money work for nearly free, it probably won’t change. I ignore any ad that doesn’t pay for all hours worked plus FHU site.