By Nanci Dixon
Ever think about work camping? Cutting costs and staying in an area longer? Getting to know more people in a more permanent venue? We hadn’t really considered it until we met a campground host in Arizona our first year full-timing. My husband is always needing something to do and enjoys having people around, so becoming a campground host seemed like the perfect job while we were there for the winter.
The host introduced us to the park supervisor. He had an opening! After hearing my husband’s qualifications, we got the job! We had planned a short trip to Joshua Tree National Park, so he asked us to start when we got back. “Do you want us to train before we leave?” I asked him. He said no.
After our trip, we returned to our new campsite in the worker’s area. We were eager to get started selling firewood, raking campsites, and directing people to their spot. I did think it was a bit odd to start our training at 6:00 a.m., but we were ready with our official shirts and hats the next morning. I knew this was not what we had signed up for when I was handed a toilet brush and a bucket. No wonder he didn’t want us to train ahead of time…
Ten bathrooms and 52 toilets later I was close to crying. The breaking point was when I was shown the library sale room and there on the bottom shelf was a cookbook for sale that I had done all the food photography for. In one hand was my fabulous career as a food photographer and in the other hand was my new career as a restroom cleaner. The juxtaposition would have been funny if I hadn’t been holding back the tears.
Back at the campsite I was in complete tears, serious tears, not just the trickle-down-the-cheek type but complete sobs. My husband, who was entirely happy with the job, was distraught with my reaction. He kept asking, “What do you want me to do? Do you want to leave in the middle of the night? What do you want?”
We had committed until the end of the season, which thankfully was only a long three months. I reached an agreement with my husband that I would only wash the mirrors, pick up trash and clean out the grills in exchange for never, ever doing this again.
The end of the season came and we were not even out of the city limits when the park supervisor called to talk to my husband and ask if we would come back next season. I explained he was driving, couldn’t talk, and “Thank you, but there is no way I am ever going to do that again.”
Somewhere that summer, I relented. Fast forward to year four as winter season park hosts in the same park. Doing the same job. The selling point is four days on, eight days off to travel, and a great group of returning and new park hosts.
We have also accepted several other work camper positions during the summers. Some we loved and several we didn’t – and never returned to.
If you are considering work camping, here are 13 tips that may help:
- Research positions available. Try searching “camp hosts” or “work camping” online and that should provide a number of options. *Note: More online sources are listed at the bottom of this article.
- Create a strong resume, slanting toward the position wanted. RV parks and campgrounds are looking for flexibility, commitment and a positive attitude with the ability to work well with others. They are also always looking for restroom cleaners. Remember that.
- Decide if you are looking for payment, site or both.
- Decide how many hours you actually want to work. Check out how many hours are needed to pay for your site and then any expected hours past that.
- What do you want to do? Do you like office work or being outside? Is “housekeeping” and cleaning toilets going to be game over, or will it be acceptable?
- What amenities are important to you? Hiking trails? Pool? Activities? Restaurants? Are they available or nearby?
- Ask what the sites are like. Are you sandwiched together? Are they spacious? Double-check if they have full-hookups. Some Forest Service sites don’t have sewer or water.
- Ask about the turnover of staff. Having seasonal work campers coming back year after year is a good sign of a great working environment. We have passed an interesting campground often in our travels and I have noticed that they are advertising for new workers constantly and with immediate openings. That is not a good sign and I have refrained from applying.
- Read the fine print. Read between the lines particularly when the ad says they need someone “to be able to do everything and be on call!”
- Get a written assignment of duties. That provides protection against additional items being added on. Be clear on when the season ends, so you know how long you are committing to.
- Don’t argue with management about a better way to do things. Don’t argue with other work campers. That should go without saying, but as I have watched a number of hosts not being asked back, I have noticed it is seldom their work ethic but their relationships with management and other hosts.
- Ask for a letter of recommendation when your stint is done. Even if coming back, it is always good to have references.
- Are you camping in a park you can picture yourself working in? Talk to the work campers there. Introduce yourself to the owners/managers about possible openings. Get names, email addresses, and phone numbers to follow up with. Our current summer camp host position took us five years to get, but we talked to the supervisors every year we camped in the park until we got an email asking us to apply. Still the best job ever!
Here are a few places to research work camping jobs: