What Does Workamping Mean to You?

Ask three different full-time RVers who workamp what workamping means to them and you might get three different answers. To me, the traditional workamping scenario is: working a temporary job at some kind of business in need of temporary help in exchange for a camping site.

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Our first unpaid workamping job was more than fair.

This kind of “workamping” has typically been a casual barter between a full-time RVer and a business owner. An employer hires a workamper solo or couple to help during the busy season. In exchange for a few days of light work each week, the workamper receives a free campsite (along with other common workamping benefits, like free laundry). 

Workamping jobs like this have always been something to help offset the cost of campsites. Rarely did a workamper receive cash payment for their efforts in these arrangements. Oftentimes, workamper employers would specifically put in their ad that the employee needed to have another means of income in order to apply for the job.

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Our workamping “pay” was all the fresh produce we wanted.

Occasionally a workamping employer might offer actual compensation, as Larry Vickers did in our Vickers Ranch workamping years. These employers pay because the job calls for harder labor, more skills and full-time work hours. Even so, the pay rarely exceeds compensation for identical work in the non-workamping world, since usually the costs of campsite rent are fully or partially covered.

But now it appears that many full-time RVing workampers aren’t taking this arrangement at face value anymore. This is just a hunch, based on conversations about workamping expectations and pay in Jim’s Workamping Facebook group

What Workamping Means to Some Full-time RVers

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Ranch workamping: low pay, good times!

Job postings in the Workampers Facebook group regularly result in a huge blow-up. It often happens when an employer advertises a minimum wage or – gasp! – unpaid workamping position. As soon as they do, a  handful of workampers become enraged. Their comments range from “It’s not fair!” to “Slave labor!” and worse. Members get banned for profanity and childish name-calling while many employers will delete the post and leave the group.

This phenomena seems to have coincided with what I have seen to be a growing number of non-retired full-time RVers who naively hit the road expecting that workamping alone will cover their cost of living, just as a traditional job would. They buy a rig and start roaming, under-funded and unprepared for the real costs of full-time RVing

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Some “workplaces” offer great bonuses.

It appears to me that they have it all wrong. Workamping was never meant to be a career move. Nor was it ever meant to be a primary source of income. Employers have always known this, and until recently, so have the thousands of workampers who have happily accepted the traditional arrangements. 

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Workamping is Not the Real World – Yet

When Jim and I worked at Vickers Ranch, we knew from the start that the compensation wasn’t going to pay our bills. But from day one it was clear that the benefits of workamping and living on a thousand acres of private Colorado mountain land with a fun and generous family more than made up for the low pay. It was awesome.

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Is the traditional workamping agreement dying?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally in favor of paying people what they’re worth and offering a living wage for even the most menial jobs in the real world. But workamping has never been about the “real” world. The odd jobs and “compensation” have always been a quirky arrangement that was usually great, or sometimes sucked (like when I worked at Amazon). But overall, these jobs never pretended to be anything other than a casual, temporary arrangement. 

I’ve been an employer, and I’ve been a worker. So I see both sides of the coin here. And what I see happening now is that as more non-retired RVers start workamping and vocalizing about the “unfairness” of the traditional workamping arrangement, the more complicated and bureaucratic these jobs will become as employers struggle to find help and cover their butt, legally speaking. 

Ironically, when it comes to full-time RVing and working, the whole point of living this way is to escape the drudgery of the default life. Sadly, these angry workampers might just be dragging all us right back into it. What a bummer.

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6 Responses to “What Does Workamping Mean to You?”

  1. Once again, you’ve written the perfect explanation for what is becoming a clouded and complicated lifestyle. Without a doubt, many full time folks are under the misconception that living full time in an RV and on the road is a simply, inexpensive way to avoid the hustle bustle of the corporate world. I’ve always believed (and you pointed it out perfectly) that there are two types of Work Campers, their are Workampers and Campers who work. The 1st group works more for barter, trading light work for room and board so to speak. The 2nd group needs full time work to make a living, they still owe on their rig, they have no other source of income, some have families to raise, and some still owe on college loans. They want the workamper life, they just cannot afford the workamper life. I see nothing wrong with either group, Many employers need full time help, but most, just need a little help to keep the place running during the busy season (as you pointed out). Unfortunately the 2nd group doesn’t understand the 1st group,, (us retired old geezers) who want to work a couple days a week and be in a location we can explore and enjoy the other 4 or 5 days per week without spending our life savings. I don’t want a full time job, if I did, I’d still live in a sticks and bricks and be spending 60 hours a week in the office I left behind. The really sad part,, is I’m not sure the 2nd group of people understand that their profanity, their condescending comments and their entitlement attitude does nothing more than give all prospective employers a good reason NOT to consider them when a good opportunity arises. Keep up the good work Rene, You’re always right on target and I love reading your articles.

  2. I think part of the problem is that a lot of newer RVers are now people who can’t really afford the RV lifestyle. They get into RVing because they think it’s a cheaper way to live than being in an apartment. They also probably hate their jobs, which may not pay them that much in the first place, and therefore workamping is viewed as a cure-all: it gives them a place to live plus a way to pay for their living.

    But anyone who’s looked at more than a few workamping posts sees that’s not a feasible solution to their problem. Your hours and pay are equivalent to a part-time gig that just about covers the expense of you staying in that particular park. If they want more work from you, they will pay more, but as you said it will usually come with more manual labor and/or unappealing conditions (like being expected to stay onsite 24/7, as in Christmas tree lots).

    So the reaction, rational or not, is to be angry that things will not work out how one expected.

    Most of society is still stuck on the idea that if they just find that one, perfect job or business, it will solve all of their financial problems. The reality is: that rarely happens. The most secure and realistic way to pay the bills and afford the lifestyle you want is to not put all of your eggs in one basket. And to be willing to actually WORK for what you want instead of expecting it to be handed to you.

  3. Amen!!! I will say my husband and I went into this lifestyle eyes wide open, knowing and fully expecting our workcamping positions to be about the experience and not a paycheck. I think many are enamored by the lifestyle and want to be part of the cool life, but like you said, have no realistic plans to support it and unfortunately are part of those that believe it is OK to be beligerant on FB groups because they have free speech and can hide behind their phone. I choose to be one of the happy and satisfied workampers who gladly exchanges hours worked for a site. Thank you for posting this!!!

    • Thanks so much Julie. You and Rick have the BEST attitudes and approaches to full-timing. Workamper employers are so lucky to have you on their team.

  4. Rene that’s a very good on point observation
    Oddly enough when Escapees was in its infancy days it started as a way for Gypsy workers in the trades to find construction work and places to park. The term Gypsy worker is not mine but the term that Joe Peterson (SKP#1) used to describe themselves. Lynn, SKP #2 was at the time a welder. and Joe was an Electrician. If I have my facts correct, they would communicate and move from job site to job site for months at a time. They were not wonkamping, but rather finding the best jobs to support their family and living in RVs. There are still many people now doing that in the construction, oil and even nuclear power industry. The proliferation of “Man camps” in the permian basin during the most recent oil boom is an good example. So anyone who wants a primary source of income while living in a RV can have it, but it’s a real job, not a wonkamping position. Of course there a plenty of medical professionals working as traveling nurses, physical therapists, and pharmacists. But as you said these are not typical workamping positions. I think you hit the nail on the head when you stated that these dissatisfied individuals want a career move but don’t want to prepare, or research how to do it nor do they want to “work hard”. It seems to also be a sign of the times not just in the RV lifestyle but also in the sticks and bricks lifestyle.

    • Hey Larry you sound perky! Glad to see you’re doing well enough to read our blog, thanks!

      I love the history lesson, thank you for refreshing my memory as I had read that several years ago in one of Kay Peterson’s books. No doubt you and Nancy have experienced a huge range of ways that one can earn a living or offset expenses while full-timing. I recall you telling me that early on in your full-timing life you both realized that selling Christmas trees and other typical workamping experiences like that weren’t going to get you where you needed to go financially, so you got serious about finding well-paying work that would fit into this lifestyle. And there’s the problem really; the people who complain about the unpaid/minimum wage workamping positions don’t see the big picture, and have no idea where they want to end up. As you and Nancy have shown, designing your future and striving for it pays off immensely. You are our heroes!

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