I am an RV enthusiast with more than 50 years of experience owning, driving, traveling and living in recreational vehicles.
Since the cost of camping has risen substantially in recent years, many RV owners have decided to try working at campgrounds in return for discounts or wages as a means of reducing their expenses.
Finding this type of work is easy, but finding a job that meets your needs can be tricky.
If you use the internet, you'll see that all sorts of work are available, but you need to make sure that
- the location works for you,
- you have the right skills for the job,
- there are good facilities available and
- you will have enough free time to explore and enjoy your chosen area.
Make the Best Work Camping Deal
Work camping only works if you negotiate a deal for yourself that includes a salary plus free or highly reduced or zero camping fees.
- if you are working at a $50 per night campground for one month and all you get is free camping, you will save $1500, but
- if you are working at that same campground and are earning minimum wage (which is anywhere from $6.15 per hour to $9.19 per hour, depending on the state you’re in) at an average amount of $7.67 per hour, you gain much more.
In this second scenario, even though you will pay a reduced rate of approximately $50 per week (more or less), if there are two of you working 20 hours per week each, you will earn $2454.40 but pay only $200 for your campsite.
This means that when you complete your work month, you have still saved $1300 on camping but have also gained more than $2400 in earnings. This gives you a net gain of $3700, which is more than double the $1500 you would have saved if you had only negotiated to trade labor for a free camping spot.
While the first option does pay for part of your trip in terms of savings, the second option, correctly negotiated, can pay for all of your trip.
Things Don't Always Go as Planned
While work camping sounds like a great idea (and for many people, it is), sometimes things don’t go well.
The main reason for this is that a good number of private campground owners do not treat their workers fairly.
Below is the true story of what happened in one situation where things went wrong and what you can do to keep this type of situation from happening to you.
The Story of a Work Camping Job Gone Bad
After doing some research, my husband and I contacted a privately owned park just outside of Custer, SD, that seemed as though it would work well for our situation.
The couple who owned the facility had just purchased it, and they seemed enthusiastic about having us come to work for them.
The deal included a campsite plus minimum wage for both of us, with a work week of about 20 hours each per week.
Prior to closing the deal with them, I made sure they understood that we would need to be doing inside work, as my husband was having problems with being in the sun.
Things Start to Go Wrong on Day One
We arrived at the agreed-upon time and date but were told we would have to camp outside of the campground because the couple had already rented all of the spots.
The area they took us to was a bit remote, but that was not the problem. The problem was that the steep driveway was too narrow at the mouth, and there was no way we could take our rig to the place where they wanted us to park.
It took an entire day for my husband (working in the hot sun) and the man who owned the campground to dig out the driveway so that we could get to the site.
Day Two Was No Better
On day two, the owners immediately put my husband to work doing outside chores in the hot sun.
Then they kept pushing us to work longer hours, despite our agreement with them.
Towards the end of the day, the wife told us we would have to move our RV to yet another spot because she had rented the one we were now using.
This came after the store lost its electricity. Instead of inviting the help to eat some of the rapidly melting ice cream, the wife wanted us to pay for our servings! This was ice cream that was going to be a total loss anyhow!
We were furious.
Time to Leave
Tensions were high between the wife and the two of us after this, and although the husband seemed amenable, we felt that working with the wife would make for a miserable experience.
So, after discussing the issue in depth, we decided that at the end of day four, we would leave.
Before we left, we secured another and much better job at another campground that was close by.
When it came time to leave, the wife said she would mail us a check for our services.
She did not know we were going to stay in the area, and no check was ever forthcoming.
Show Us the Money!
After a few weeks went by, we drove back down to the campground, got ahold of her husband, told him what she had done and demanded cash immediately.
As all of this was going on, the wife showed up. The look on her face was priceless. All of us simply ignored her.
The husband apologized for her behavior, paid us, and that was the end of the story.
Research and Plan Carefully
If you want to avoid having experiences like this, you have to do a lot of research and planning before you accept any position.
You ought to check several possible facilities you might want to work in.
- Find out all you can about the owners of the park that wants to employ you,
- Clarify the exact jobs they want you to do and
- Make sure you know how much you will be paid and whether a full-hookup campsite is included in your deal.
Get a Signed Contract
You need to do whatever you can to protect your interests. Some campground owners like the ones discussed above feel that because they are “giving” you a campsite, they can change the terms of your agreement once you’ve arrived at their park.
For this reason, you should always
- get a signed contract before you accept a work camping position and
- create a backup plan in case the job doesn’t work out.
Park owners often figure that, since you’ve driven many miles and spent a good deal of money to get to their facility, you’ll be stuck there for the season.
While this is always a possibility, the truth is that you can leave any time you like as long as you plan ahead.
Just make sure they pay you in cash before you go because, as you saw in the above story, it is likely that the check they promise to send will never arrive!
Attitudes Really Matter in Work Camping Situations
Work camping can be a good thing, but as you can see from the story I just shared, much depends on the attitudes and personalities of the people involved in it.
In this case, the experience was horrible, but it is not always that way.
If you decide you want to work camp, remember that, under normal circumstances, you will be living on the grounds as well as working in the facility. Therefore, you are likely to be in close day-to-day contact with your employers.
If your personalities clash with those of your employers or if someone's attitude is negative, it will be difficult to make a success of your work situation.
This is why you should always create a plan that will allow you to walk away from the job, so that campground owners don't take advantage of you. Since these jobs are generally part-time, this is very easy to do. However, you may not be able to walk away from a full-time job, which is why you should never accept one.
Avoid Full-Time Work Camping Deals
You would be wise to insist on working part-time only. Having been “out there” myself, I have seen what happens to people who agree to work camp full time for private parks, and the picture is not a pretty one.
Unknowing RV travelers accept full-time temporary positions thinking that they will make more money working 40 hours per week but will still have time to enjoy the areas they are visiting.
This is not what generally happens.
Facilities hire such workers for their biggest tourist seasons, but they never hire enough of them. The result is that many employees wind up working 80 to 90 hours per week and at odd hours to boot.
They do make more money, but they enjoy very little because they are stressed and exhausted. I’ve known people who worked until 11 PM and then had to return to work at 5:30 AM the next morning.
Those workers barely had time to sleep, let alone enjoy the local scenery and tourist attractions. They were ruining their summers as well as their health.
This is not enjoyment; it is drudgery. It isn’t worth it.
Work Opportunities Abound for RV Travelers
You can find minimum wage jobs in many tourist destinations that have better and more standardized hours than campground jobs do, so don’t be fooled into thinking that campgrounds are the only place where you can find temporary work.
Individuals or couples can work as product presenters at state fairs and RV shows, as clerks in stores such as Camping World, or at hotels, motels or restaurants during busy tourist seasons.
Some travel to campgrounds around the country to sell advertising of various types, while others find work in a variety of jobs such as taking surveys, working in offices, or staffing bed-and-breakfasts.
You can access these and other temporary jobs via the internet or camping organization magazines and by directly contacting venues that are of interest to you.
It's Worth Looking for Seasonal Jobs
When it comes to working as you go, the sky is the limit. RVers have the option of working temporarily, part-time or full-time in any area of the country.
Some even follow the weather and work six months in northern summers and six months in southern winters.
Such jobs are easy to find, and they can be profitable if you work the right deal for yourself.
Remember Your Goals
The most important thing for you to do is remember why you originally decided to become a work camper.
- You wanted to save a little money on fees so that you could enjoy your vacation.
- What you did not want to do was become slave labor for some greedy, pushy campground owner.
Work camping jobs don’t always work out, but when they do, they’re great.
Do what you can to make sure that yours falls into the second group!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Any advice for trying to get my first camping job?
Answer: Most of my advice is in the article you just read. Since it's already July, most of the good jobs probably have already been taken, but it might pay to get on the phone and start calling campgrounds to see if they need help. Many people don't stay the entire season.
Question: Where can I get a work camping job? I'm in Tucson, AZ.
Answer: It doesn't matter where you are because you usually would travel in your RV to get to the jobs. If you read the article, you'll see what you need to do to apply. Any privately run campground and some government parks also offer these positions, but you have to search the internet or a campground guide to find them.
Question: If you are a monthly site renter for a year and you are offered a part-time work camping job in exchange for a free site and things don't work out for you, can they tell you to leave the premises within 48 hours? This person has been a guest at the campground for 10 months prior to accepting the job and simply quit working.
Answer: If the campground is privately owned, the owners have the right to remove anybody they feel has become a problem. Why someone would accept a work camping job and then stop working I don't know, but normally such a person would be able to return as a paying guest unless there has been some sort of disagreement. A deal is a deal. You can't expect the campground to provide a free spot if you're not working to earn it!
Question: When is the best time to apply for campground employment in southern states for the winter season?
Answer: As soon as possible. Many people put their applications in in January of the year they plan to work. The best jobs go fast.
© 2016 Sondra Rochelle