Camphosting/Workcamping are terms that are used to describe volunteering or working at campgrounds, private parks, forest service, theme parks, etc while living in an RV. I’m only going to write about our volunteer experience in State Parks and the advantages of doing so.
Why we love it!
- Since we are retired, we do have an income, albeit a fixed one. We can live comfortably on that alone, if we watch our expenses, but it doesn’t give us much wiggle room. Volunteering for a FHU site can save us anywhere from $900 to $1200 per month (we sometimes get free propane and laundry). That’s a chunk of money that can be added to our savings-we have two, a short term one for emergencies and maintenance and a long term one (IRA) that I call our exit plan for when/if we ever stop traveling and want to settle down. We will have options to purchase a condo or RV lot. The extra money allows for major purchases that the fixed budget does not. Last year we were able to buy electric bikes, kayaks, and do a solar install. This year I upgraded to a new laptop, camera, and sewing machine. We can splurge on spendy tourist attractions and tours, souvenirs, and meals out.
- We have met life-long friends. We first met Faye and Dave through Grand Design, but then had an opportunity to work with them in Arizona. Hopefully, we will get a chance to work with them again in the future.
We met Doug and Judy working two seasons in Cave Creek, AZ. and enjoyed many hikes. This summer we are visiting them in Canada.
Rick really connected with Marv & Alice and may visit them in their home in Colorado. All the hosts were great!
- It gives us some structure and balance from the seemingly never-ending vacation. Traveling 250-350 miles per day to get to the next destination and staying 4-10 days can be exhausting. After being in travel mode for a few months, it’s actually nice to stay put for awhile. We set up the screened enclosure so Rick can do his puzzles. Jeff has time to do any maintenance on the rig and truck and I do whatever! I have realized that not every day needs to have jaw-dropping landscapes or breath-taking thrill-seeking adventures! It’s ok to have some down time to read a book or even take a nap. Although, I am planning on a zip-lining tour over Niagara Falls and a whale/dolphin watching boat tour! Working a few hours per week still gives us lots of time to explore.
- We enjoy giving back. Since we prefer National, State, county, and COE parks vs private campgrounds, it’s the logical choice for us to work at. They tend to have larger, more private sites and are in beautiful areas. You are limited to a 14 day stay, so volunteering for one gives you an opportunity to have a much longer visit. The Rangers are so appreciative, they have told us that if it weren’t for the volunteers, many parks would be forced to close. We’re happy to help maintain these beautiful parks for future generations.
- Volunteering has also given Rick a sense of purpose and validation. They have allowed him to help us or have even given him special projects to do He loves meeting and talking with the Rangers, office staff, and campers.
Jeff loves the zero turn lawnmower!
What we have learned so far:
- Ask questions and more questions-about the specific job duties, hours, time commitment, host site. We accepted a host position at a Wisconsin state park last summer. Knowing that the sites were W/E only, I made the mistake assuming the host site would have full hook-ups. I was WRONG!!! Fortunately we have a portable blue boy and were only there 4 weeks. Inconvenient, but doable. Make sure the host site will accommodate your rig.
- Check out the area before hand. How close are grocery stores, Walmart, and laundry mats? Another mistake we made-the park in WI was in the middle of farmland. Closest town was 30 miles away which took 45 minutes to drive on two-lane winding country roads! And of course the park did not have laundry facilities.
- Is the area one you will want to explore on your days off? While we enjoyed the lake in WI for fishing, swimming, kayaking, and the bike trails, there really wasn’t much else to do in the area. I know, it sounds like we hated the position in WI. It really was fine, but we were glad it was only for 1 month due to lack of sewer and location! The Rangers were super nice and the park was beautiful.
- Consider how long you’re willing to stay in one location. I have seen commitments for 1 month to the season, 5-6 months. We have worked in AZ for 5 months, WI for 1 month, and now are in Delaware for 3. We got a little antsy in AZ at the 4 month mark, but it’s probably due to the fact we lived there for 20 years! We do love the desert and hiking trails, but want to see new places. Two or three months seem to be a perfect time frame to explore an area before getting bored.
- Ask yourself what kind of work you are willing to do or not do, such as bathroom cleaning, They are all different. In AZ we stayed at Cave Creek Regional Park, but worked at Spur Cross Recreation Area. We collected the entrance fees, sold merchandise, and gave out hiking recommendations. It was a good fit for us, as we love to hike and talk to people.
- How many hours are you willing to work for your site? The most we will agree to is 20-24 per week in exchange for a FHU site Ask how many days and hours are required per person or per couple.
- In WI, we maintained the campsites, cleaning the fire pits after the campers left. Although, we liked the exercise, the fire pits can be nasty with people using them as garbage dumps. We enjoy a campfire, but would probably think twice about working at a park that has them.
- Now, in DE we maintain the sites, mow, weed eat, pick up trash along the bay, and hang up the reservation cards. We don’t clean the bathhouse, only check them to make sure they are stocked. The bathhouse is only 2 yrs old and pristine, so I don’think I would mind cleaning them. Our sites are all FHU with no tent sites, most of the campers are self-contained so the bathrooms hardly get used. It would be different if there were a lot of tent sites. And there are no fire pits to clean…score!!
- Our friends have jobs in the office, taking reservations and checking campers in. I’ve seen interpretative positions, tram drivers, and tour guides. I’m looking at a lighthouse guide in Oregon for next summer. How fun would that be?
Where do you find great jobs?
Most states have websites for their parks with links for volunteer information. You usually can apply online. It’s a good idea to follow-up with a phone call to the volunteer coordinator or ranger. Here’s a couple of links, Delaware State Parks, Florida State Parks. Another resource is volunteer.gov. for National Parks.
Last winter we started making our summer travel plans. We knew we wanted to visit Washington D.C., all the New England states, and go up to Ontario, Canada. I applied at a few parks and was offered a position at Delaware Seashore State Park, right on the coast. It sounded ideal, but it was for a minimum of 3 months, May-July. We ended up accepting the position and its worked out well. After leaving AZ, we took 3 weeks to get to D.C, spending 1 week there. Then we’ll have 3 months, Aug-Oct seeing New England. Winter will be spent in Florida & Georgia-2 months at Grayton Beach State Park, 1 month at Topsail 2 at Skidaway Island, then finally John Pennekamp Coral Reef, in the Keys. I hesitated at accepting so many positions in a row, but since they are for short times and in awesome places we thought why not!
We absolutely love our Full-Time lifestyle, balancing traveling with volunteering. Our experiences working have mostly been positive, but I have heard some horror stories. If that happens, you can always leave!
Until next time…….