By Sam Suva
Digging ditches, typing, watering, mowing or arranging activities – these are all performed to enhance the vacations of others. But what about us work campers? We need some time off! How do we go about asking for, arranging, and then “doing” whatever so that we get some “us time” and the campground is also staffed?
I’d love to say it was easy, but it isn’t. In our experience, many campgrounds only hire as many staff as they feel they need, not as many as they should have to support the workload. What we find is a skeleton crew volunteering the hours because they love the community. The owners are technically not aware of this and certainly do not compensate for this generosity, and the managers are usually already working overtime. To combat this, we need to have a plan that includes some volunteering but not overtaxing ourselves.
During the planning of events for the week, for example (oh, and if the manager/owner does not have a weekly meeting, we make sure we do!), we plan out our hours to satisfy the contract. Then we consider any events that we may be called upon to help with, whether organizing or decorating for a party, cleaning rental units and buildings for multiple venues, or finish mowing/trimming the campground to make it look especially nice. Then we talk to the staff and the manager/owner and let them know what we will be available for, and what our plans are for the week. Usually we can stay in our camper and relax, or even join in the fun activities without being asked to work. We have even been at events and were told that everything has been handled, just to enjoy ourselves.
If we have to, we can arrange to be out of the campground. Sometimes a campground gets used to having a reliable, hard-working couple available to arrange things. That’s fine with us: A good reputation is key to returning to our favorite destinations and campgrounds. However, the campground can become like a noose, tight-fitting without a clear escape. The staff calls us on our personal phone and knocks on the camper door. It is at these times that we need to become less available.
As campground life becomes more intrusive, it can swallow a work camper whole, only coming up for air when the contract is up. Leaving the campground is a great way to disconnect. Go to a movie, out to eat or visit with friends and family in the area. Play mini golf, see the local attractions – just GO. Being physically unavailable is a great way to let others do the work that they need to do.
While in the campground, we need to verbalize the boundaries. For example, “my cell phone/email/campsite… is for personal matters only, not for work.” If we use our personal cell phones, email or contact information for work, we are not only not being compensated for it but it also may lead to an issue of liability later on. We have been in situations where advertisers, credit card companies and local businesses begin seeing us as the face of the company. They ask for our information, even including our social security numbers! No way! Being careful with our contact information is a protection for us and less confusing when we leave the campground at the end of the contract.
Another tip for the office staff is to say, “I can’t do anything until I am in the office again at (time).” Opening up the office or store after hours is a security risk and frowned upon. If I have what a guest or even possibly what staff need at the campsite, I can offer it to them, so the rigid line of “me time” can blend into just being a good neighbor too. However, we have been asked to go to the office to check on a reservation weeks ahead, pay a bill, or to look to see if a camper is in the campground. Then we make sure to offer to be in the office at the regular time, or maybe a little early or late, to accommodate any request.
It can become necessary to work extra, temporarily, to fill in gaps of staff shortages. That’s OK – we love to support and interact with the campers. After all, when we are supporting their vacation, it’s like we are on a sort of vacation, so it all works out. We are just the hosts, so we prepare for the party, serve the food and take out the trash. Many times the campers will help us and that builds the community. Work camping is the life so many are looking for, or, like us – and maybe you too – the life we have found.
I look forward to your experience, comments and suggestions.
See you down the road,
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.