Workampers and Workamping – Our story – (Part I)

 In our second summer of retirement and living full-time in our RV, my husband, Cooper, and I (Tracy) decided to try being workampers, for a change of pace. Let me tell you why.  We are still learning our way around this full-time RV lifestyle. We have read about so many different ways people do the lifestyle (part-time, full-time, RV site ownership, parking on BLM land for free, and being workampers, to name just a few).  We may or may not try them all.

Last summer (2016), we spent most of the summer in Steamboat Springs, CO, parked in the driveway of the home we have owned for more than 35 years. Yes, in the driveway.  We could have moved back into the house, but our daughter and her family are living in it, which affords us the luxury of finally living our RV dream.  For this we are extremely grateful!!  We find our 34-foot travel trailer to fit us perfectly. We love the comfortable floorplan and it holds everything we REALLY need.  We can sleep in our own bed each night, we have all our everyday stuff and nothing we don’t need, and it affords us our own privacy when in Steamboat.  Close, but not too close, if you know what I mean.

Our “home” has three slides, two-opposing slides in the living room and one in the bedroom. It feels more like a home than a trailer. We LOVE it! It’s all the room we need.

 

For one month last summer, mid-July to mid-August, we traveled with our then 15-year-old granddaughter to California and half-way up the coast of Oregon.  It was an opportunity to spend a whole month with her alone, something we thought we might never get to do again, once she has “wheels”.  There is nothing like two different generations of family living together in such close quarters for any length of time to reveal who each person really is.  It is time when those silly family memories can be made, inside-jokes be established, and secrets can be shared.  It was a wonderful month and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

Celebrating National Park Service 100th birthday – that’s Mariam, our granddaughter..  I had to twist her arm for this picture.  She thought it was stupid.

Summer travel lesson

What we learned, however, is traveling by RV in the summer is crazy-making!! (Read about last summer’s travel lessons here ) With children out of school, and the weather generally pretty nice, families pack up their “camping” units and head out.  The size of units range from tents (tiny to humongous with several rooms) to 45-foot behemoths towing boats or jeeps. Minimalists, to “taking it all with you” types. The best weather is from July 4th weekend through the third week of August, just before the kids go back to school.  We learned that there is no “winging it” as far as finding places to park/camp during these weeks, especially near the ocean. The first two weeks of the trip we were mostly inland and parked at or near relatives, which was great, but once we headed to the redwoods of California and up the coast of Oregon, it took several phone calls each day to find a place for a night or two. By the third week of August, we were unable to find ANY place to stay on the Oregon coast (last week of family vacations?) and had to turn inland toward Bend, OR. and head back home.  Even then we learned to stop early in the day to get a place.

Sometimes, when families are “camping”, parents decide they are also on vacation from parenting.  I’m sure we did the same thing when we were a young family, letting the kids have a little more “freedom” than they normally would have had at home. While parents may relax with an adult beverage (or eight),  the kids hook up with other kids, run EVERYWHERE, and make a considerable amount of noise – to which parents can be oblivious.  Kids, not knowing camping etiquette, walk through other’s campsites on the shortest path to the bathhouse, and drop their bikes in the middle of the road. for others to move.  The family dog (oh, yes, he is VERY friendly) runs amuck and leaves deposits.  While these examples are not all that prevalent and there really are some very nice families we have parked near, it’s these annoying exceptions that can spoil an otherwise relaxing and beautiful camping spot. (Sorry, I will tuck my “curmudgeon” back in.)

To make a long story short, we decided, at the end of the trip, that we would go back to traveling in the off-seasons, because we can, and leave summer to the families. So what do we do about summer?  While Steamboat is a GREAT place to spend summer, (Steamboat locals often share the old adage, “Come for the winter, but stay for the summer”), there is so much of this country to see and summer really is a great time to see it.  It occurred to us that we could be workampers in the summer, be in a beautiful place we want to explore, get our campsite for free, and perhaps even make a little money to further our travels.

 

“What is a workamper?”, you ask

A workamper is different from an itinerant worker.  I even looked up the terms to see what the dictionary had to say.  In some ways, they are exactly the same – people traveling around, seeking temporary jobs. But each has a very different connotation.  Workamper seems like a more positive situation, a sense of freedom, choice, and romance.  Itinerant worker brings forth pictures of farm workers slaving in the hot sun under the watchful eye of a demanding crew boss (ala Grapes of Wrath). Here is what Workamper.com says a workamper is. Here is what an itinerate worker is.

For the past several years, while preparing for retirement and our RV dream, I have been aware of Workamper News.
 It is a website designed to connect those looking for workampers and people who want to be workampers.  For a membership fee, employers can list their available positions and workampers can share their resumes with potential employers.  Once we had made the decision to work for the summer of 2017, I created our “Awesome Resume” using the template provided.  They ask pertinent questions and make sure the applicant has included the information a potential employer would want to know.  They also ask what part of the country the workamper wishes to work in, if monetary compensation is required or desirable, and time frame available.
Originally Cooper and I wanted to work in the upper mid-west (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan).  I was born in Minnesota and still have relatives there, along with a lot of memories.  In 2015 we had visited Montana and Idaho very briefly and said that we would like to return.  There was a fire in Glacier National Park that summer so the Going-to-the-sun Road (the only road through the park) was closed. At the last minute, I added Montana and Idaho to the list.
“Awesome Resume” works
Once we “published” our resume, it was time to sit back and wait.  Of course, you don’t have to just sit.  On the website, you can peruse positions offered by potential employers and contact them first.  New positions are coming in every day. September is a good time to start looking for a position for next summer, and spring is a good time to look for winter positions.  Once the active season is over, employers start thinking about what kind of help they need for the next year.  This is only a general rule, however.  If the right position comes up early for the next season and it fits your desired position in every way, grab it.  Lots of employers, however, don’t start thinking about what they need until they have had time to decompress from a busy season. Some don’t think about it until just before they need them.  (I question how good their hiring and business practices are.)

In less than two weeks, in early September, from the time I posted our “Awesome Resume”, I got an email from the owner of a KOA near Whitefish, Montana, asking us if we were interested in spending the summer with them.  He gave me a brief rundown of what the job would entail, let us know there was monetary compensation (yaayyy!) in addition to the free campsite, and the approximate dates we would be needed.  If we were interested, he would have his son, the guy who actually runs the park, call and interview us.  We were EXCITED!  A few days later the son called and “interviewed” us.  It went like this:

Him:  “Dad told you about what we are looking for in a workamper and what to expect, right?”

Us:  “Yes.”

Him:  “Do you have any questions?”

Us: “Well, no.  We thought you might ask us questions.”

Him: “Does it sound good to you?”

Us:  “Yes.”

Him:  “Welcome, aboard.  See you mid-May.”

Of course, as soon as he hung up, we thought of lots of things we should have asked him.  We have heard horror stories about some of the positions friends have taken without having a written contract spelling out what it was they were to do. Some were disasters!  I expected him to email us (from our contact info on our Awesome Resume) with more details of where to be, exactly when, a contract outlining duties and what we could expect… something.  I also had neglected to ask for his contact information, but thought he might include it when he sent the email.  We never got an email.  Next time I will be sure to get that info upfront, so I have it. Basically, I knew the name of the park, the dad’s name and his email address, and the son’s name (but not phone number).  I figured I could look up the KOA on the internet.  I did.  Sort of.  Not much there.  Boy, did I feel stupid!  Was this any way to run a business?  I felt like such a neophyte!

The question of where is answered

At least we had a position for the upcoming summer.  We would be able to enjoy our winter in Tucson, knowing we would be headed to Whitefish, MT, and be close to Glacier National Park from mid-May to at least Labor Day.  We could do anything for four months, if it didn’t turn out well. We knew we would be working the office, cleaning bathrooms and cabins, doing ground maintenance and working the breakfast shifts in the on-site restaurant.  It seemed pretty straight forward.

The spectacular views of Glacier National Park – with some of the smoke from the famous Sprague fire of 2017. Before they close the Going-to-the-sun Road in August.

In Part II, I will give you a run-down on what our experience as workampers was like.  For us, the experience was positive.  As it turns out, the laid-back nature of our “job interview” is pretty much the way Montanans approach everything – pretty laid back.  “Whatever.”  “Nothing is urgent.”  “It can always be fixed – somehow.” “No rush.”  “Live and let live.”  We like that.

 

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