Workamping combines working with camping. Hence, the term. From the start, workamping has been on the list of things I wanted to try on road. From the start, I also wanted to work at a lighthouse. So I felt especially grateful that I experienced both at once and as my first job. Today’s post is all about workamping in general. Next week, I’ll share the specifics of my workamping experience.
Workamping jobs are as varied as regular jobs. All come with a camp site which may or may not include hookups, depending on the location’s accommodations. Some include cash in addition to the site. The cash can be an hourly wage or a stipend for general out-of-pocket expenses. I’ve heard of some that don’t pay cash but still provide a 1099 tax form for the value of the campsite. Jobs range from 20 to 40 hours per week. There may be some as low as 10 hours a week but I haven’t seen any yet.
While on the subject of pay and taxes, let me pause here to share something I’ve heard. You’ll have to verify the information with your own tax professional but I wanted to pass this along. California is a state determined to collect all taxes its owed. So, if you work a paying workamping job or get a W-2 (for wages) or a 1099 (for miscellaneous contract work) from an employer in California, you are expected to submit a California state tax form, regardless of where you domicile and no matter how little you made.
Lots of people I know will only take no-pay volunteer work in California to avoid the hassle of additional taxes and paperwork.
Jobs are available through local, county, state and national government, nonprofit organizations as well as privately-owned companies. What you hear most often is that jobs with places such as state and national parks, monuments, sites, land, forests, etc. Basically, those that come with the prettiest pictures. You also hear a lot about seasonal work with the beet harvest and at Amazon fulfillment centers. And more recently, I’ve been hearing about jobs at privately-owned RV parks.
Jobs range from camp hosts to interpreters, from ticket sellers to gift shop cashiers, from maintenance person to cook, from harvesting beets to packaging holiday orders. If you have a skill or the desire to try a certain type of work, there is probably a workamping gig out there to match.
Building the Workamping Resume
The most desirable gigs can be hard to get. Oregon lighthouses fall into this category. Maybe other lighthouses do too but my goal was an Oregon lighthouse so I haven’t looked into others as yet.
As such, I knew I wouldn’t be getting any of the top slots for an Oregon lighthouse. I’ve heard it said that, at the beginning, you take what you can get. You built a relationship with the workamping system and you get workamping gigs for the resume. All of this helps you become a desirable volunteer so you can apply for (and get) some of the primo gigs out there.
So when you are starting out, it can be a good idea to take varying jobs to build up your list of skills on the resume.
My lighthouse gig, for example, was in December so I knew it would be chilly and rainy. And it was. But I also knew if I did a good job, the next time around I might be allowed to fill a spring or fall position. Even so, I applied for five positions and only got an interview for one. I assume the others were filled with folks who had experience.
Workamping is a great option for people simply looking to stay busy in the RV life. Mostly I see retirees in this category. If you don’t need a paying gig but also don’t want to spend all your time with your behind planted in a camp chair, workamping provides a chance to be around people, provide a needed service and put routine to your week.
It’s also a great option for those on a budget. Even without pay (and most don’t pay), workamping means not paying for a site. This can range from a $400 to over $1,000 per month. That’s a savings that adds up over the months.
You can find workamping gigs that range from a 30-day commitment to a year-long commitment. I’m not sure there is a norm but if I had to say, I’d guess 3 months is the average.
A private campground in Tennessee where I stayed used workampers. The owner told me he asked for a 3-month commitment, 20 hours per week for a $500 full hookup, pull-thru site. He said it took a couple weeks to get the person trained so felt anything shorter than 3-months and he was continuously in training mode.
Workamping Couples vs. Solo Workampers
The campground in Tennessee asked for 20 hours total and he didn’t care who did how much of the work. In one case, the wife was house-bound (rig-bound, I should say) so the husband did the full 20 hours. Another couple each did 10 hours per week and a solo man completed the 20 hours himself.
Some positions are only available to couples. The primo lighthouse gig in Oregon according to other RVers is Blanco. It was on my radar even before I started full-time RV life and I mentioned it in my post about places I wanted to visit.
But there are only two hookup sites available for workampers and they need two people per shift. So unless you wanted to work seven days a week, it needs four people to be fully staffed. I can understand that. But I haven’t given up all hope at working there. A fellow solo RVer got the chance to work Blanco during a shoulder months (they aren’t open year-round like the lighthouse I worked) because it wasn’t as busy and they just made it work.
Other places require more total hours from couples than from solo campers. A common example is a place asks a solo camper for 32 hours but a couple is expected to work 40 hours total.
Where to Find Workamping Jobs
I don’t have all the answers when it comes to where to find these jobs becuase I just don’t have enough experience under my belt yet to know the tricks. But I can share what I’ve learned.
First, internet searches. Seems obvious but know it requires patience and time. It helps if you narrow down your search as much as possible. Enter the state you want work. Enter the agency you are interested in working for. For example, Oregon lighthouse volunteer jobs or National Park camp host jobs or workamping jobs at lakes. Keep in mind you might have to do lots of searches and follow lots of rabbit trails to find what you are looking for.
Every system is different. Every state is different. And every agency is different. Hence, tons of research and rabbit trails.
The second thing I’d recommend is to talk to people. From other workampers, I started a list of places they worked and recommended. It’s nice to have a position and place vetted by people one trusts. It’s so helpful to hear other’s experience and what the expectations of the job are. Be sure to ask if the reality of the job differs from the job description.
First, thoroughly read the job description. Seems obvious but as the person who filtered resumes for open positions at my last job, I can tell you more than half of the applicants don’t read the description because if they did, they wouldn’t have applied for the job in the first place.
This might not be as true for a volunteer job. But, still, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you are asked to do something you don’t want to do (for me, that’s cleaning bathrooms, cabins or yurts) or something you might not be capable of doing (either due to lack of knowledge or physical limitations).
Second, ask lots of questions. Two weeks ago, I wrote about the necessity of verifying everything listed on an RV park’s website. It’s similar. Although, unlike an RV park, it is not in a workamping agency or company’s best interest to be less than truthful on a website. Still, ask your questions. Better that than ending up at a job that’s nothing like what you expected.
This is especially true if you have necessary accommodations such as a disability or limitation. For example, my lighthouse job would not have worked for a person with mobility issues because at the beginning of every shift we walked a half-mile uphill to get to the lighthouse. And at the end of the shift we walked the same half-mile back down. Add to that, some days, it was made harder by pouring rain. Add to that, some days, it was made harder still by strong wind gusts.
Finally, do the math. This may not be a tip for everyone. But for me, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately as I weigh the option between getting a paying job for a few months and taking a workamping job in exchange for a site.
I recently looked at one that expected 32 hours per week for a $660 site. That meant the value of my time was $5.16 per hour. And the place expected a 6-month commitment. To my way of thinking—and since money remains an issue for me, I do have to think about this stuff—it would make more sense to take an entry-level job for the same months. At $12 per hour for 20 hours per week, I’d pay for the $660 site and have $300 left over (before taxes).
I know I cannot expect my time to be valued at minimum wage, but $5.16 seemed especially low to me. That said, if it was a workamping job I really wanted to do, I’d gladly do it. As you make these decisions, be sure to factor in every aspect of the workamping position.
I am still at a place where I can make choices. In other words, my finances are not dire. For now, I don’t want to work more than 20 hours per week as I want plenty of time to write this blog, to have adventures and to spend time with my pets.
So, if you were looking for workamping opportunities, what would you look for? What type of work have you always wanted to try. Come back next week for the details of my workamping experience at Heceta Head Lighthouse.
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