Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reflections on our first month of workamping

Current location: Chester, CA

Wow, it's hard to believe we've already been here over a month. Our first day of training was on May 15 and here we are at June 15. And yet, it feels like we've just begun.

Before I go much further, some of you may not be familiar with the term 'workamping'. It's not an official word according to Webster, but it is a trademarked and copywrited term. The basic definition is anyone who combines employment and RVing is considered a workamper. The work may or may not include monetary compensation. A workamper may work solely in exchange for their site. Or, like our current gig, a workamper may receive a wage in addition to their site. It's a common misconception that workamping only includes work at campgrounds. There are many employment opportunities outside of campgrounds too. While the majority are seasonal, there are year-round and career opportunities too. We hope to experience a variety of jobs and look forward to sharing each one.

So back to our current gig. Being that this is our first time working outside the traditional workforce, we expected to learn a lot, both about ourselves and campground management. And we have not been disappointed. It's certainly been an eye-opener to be on the side of the campground ownership/management as opposed to being a guest. Like any job, there are parts we really enjoy and a few things we don't really care for. But that is life, right? You have to experience the bad to truly enjoy the good.

Should I start with the good or the bad? I'd rather focus on the positives, so I'll begin there.

Things we like (in no particular order):

1. The diversity of work. We both split our time between the office/store and groundswork. This is what we wanted. We were hoping to experience as many different aspects of the campground as possible. I like the balance between grounds and store. After an 8-hour day of groundswork, it's kind of nice to have a less active day in the store. Likewise, after a hectic day in the store, which occassionally includes grouchy customers, it's nice to be in your own little world on grounds where you can allow your mind to wander. Tracy, on the other hand, prefers the groundswork. Not that she doesn't like the store, but she's always been more of a tinkerer and prefers to stay busy. But, regardless of where we are working, we are both enjoying our work days.

2. Being physically tired instead of mentally tired. As I mentioned above, our grounds days are typically 8 hours long. After working so many years in a sedentary job, it's no secret that we're out of shape. 8 hours of physical work is a lot when you're not used to it. Luckily, there are a lot of different things to do, so we try to spread the work across the different muscle groups. A typical day might include weed whacking for a couple of hours, camp or beach cleanup, painting, bush trimming, and weeding. That may not sound like a lot, but usually by the 8th hour, I'm looking forward to the recliner. We used to come home from our office jobs equally exhausted, but it was all mental. Our muscles may have been sore or tired, but it was all due to tension. I much prefer the physical exhaustion. And being able to work outside, weather it's sunny and hot or cold and rainy is a nice change. It's good to be out in the fresh air. And, of course, an added bonus is slimming down. Although we don't weigh ourselves regularly, we both notice the clothes fitting a little looser and the belts needing to be buckled a little tighter. Hopefully this trend will continue!

3. Lack of sleep aids. Neither of us like to take drugs, but we frequently used melatonin (natural hormone which induces relaxation), or sometimes a nightcap, to help encourage sleep. I'm sure you've all been there (or still are)...you lay in bed thinking about the day's work, looming deadlines, and all of the things yet to be done, wondering how everything is going to be accomplished. And before you know it, the alarm clock is going off. I think there has only been one time since leaving our jobs 3 months ago, that either of us have used melatonin. and that has been more due to aching and spasming muscles than restless minds.

4. No alarm clock necessary. Of course, we still have a feline alarm clock, but he is slowly getting adjusted too. I can't think of one time that we have set the alarm in the past 3 months. We do have some 8am shift starts, but thanks to Jasper, we've never overslept.

5. The commute. I LOVE the commute! 5 minutes from door to door, on foot no less! No rush hour traffic to contend with. Living in the suburbs, we always had a commute. I don't think I ever lived in the same town where I worked. Although our most recent commutes weren't that bad, we both used to drive 30 miles each way (in opposite directions) to work. It was always at least an hour drive, if not more. My latest commute was to downtown Denver and I was able to take public transportation, which I really enjoyed. Even though I didn't have to drive, it still took me about 45 minutes from the time I left the house, waited for the bus, and then walked from the bus stop to the office. It's really nice to have those 2 hours a day back under my control!

6. Living in the mountains. As I think I've mentioned previously, living in the mountains has been a long-time dream of mine and I absolutely love waking up to chirping birds, the smell of pine, and the beautiful views. Although I'm sure all of our locations won't be this serene, one of the beauties of this lifestyle is that we can choose jobs that are in environments that we prefer.

7. Our site. I've said it before, but we are loving our site. It's really nice to be separated from the campground. We actually feel that we can leave the "office" behind when we're off duty, which I think is important when you're living at your workplace. Our co-workers make it a habit to leave the campground for their days-off. We don't feel the necessity to do that. And actually, we find ourselves without motiviation to leave, even though there is so much to do and see. It feels a bit like our own personal oasis. Although I'm sure that will change somewhat when the next-door cabin is rented through most of July and August. But we'll enjoy it while we can.

8. Mondays. OK, I just had to throw this one in for all of you working stiffs. :) Mondays and Tuesdays are now our days off. I no longer have the Sunday night blues. Although our "weekends" still fly by, I don't dread starting the work week.

9. Eagles and Ospreys. I've had a long-time fascination with birds of preys and I get thrilled everytime I see an eagle or osprey fly by. We've seen a lot of ospreys around (presumably, that is why the cabin next to us is named the Osprey cabin). It's been fun watching them fish for dinner. We've seen a couple of eagles too, but they have not been as prevelant...yet. In past years, they have nested around the cabin, but this year it seems like they might have set up home a little ways down the shore (away from the campground). This morning I took Hunter for a walk down that way and saw 2 in the trees. What an awesome sight. I hope as the summer progresses there will be more.

OK, I could probably go on with our 'likes', but this post is already getting long, so I better move on to the dislikes, if you could even call them that.

Things we dislike (again, in no particular order):

1. The late shift. The store is open until 8pm and usually out of the 5 days we work, one of us is on the closing shift 4 of those days. From so many years of 9-5 work, we are used to getting up early and going to bed early. Typically, we're in bed by 10. We like to eat dinner together, so on these late nights, we don't even have dinner until 8:30. Our eating and sleeping patterns have had to be adjusted. We now tend to eat a bigger lunch and just have a light dinner. This is better for you anyway, so I hear. The person who worked grounds that day still typically falls into bed around 10, but we are now tending to sleep in later and stay up later. To throw our schedule off even more, we also have to do a 10:00pm security run 3 nights a week. We don't necessarily have to do these together, and we may not always, but for now we're both doing all 3 nights. Those nights are really long, especially when your next shift starts at 7:45 am!

2. Security rounds. I have mentioned before that this is not a favorite task of mine. I'm not confrontational and I don't like telling people what to do. But we knew coming into this that this would be on our list of duties, so I just suck it up and hope that everyone behaves themselves!

3. Being the newbie. This was one of the things we discussed in depth when contemplating this lifestyle. Neither of us were frequent job changers because we both dislike being the "new kid on the block". We like learning new things and experiencing new adventures, but it's always hard feeling like you know so little. And there is a lot to learn here. Not only are there a lot of rules and policies to learn, but also learning the layout of the campground and trying to learn a little about the area, the fishing conditions, the weather, and anything else that people may ask. I think we've come a long way in a month, but it's a little disappointing to think that just when we'll probably feel like we have the hang of it, our time will be up. And then it will be time to start all over at a new place.

4. Having to look for a new job every 4-6 months. This was another big issue that we pondered when making our decision. Not only did we not switch jobs because we prefered a known routine, but we also don't like job searching. The job search process really tests your self esteem. Generally, there will be a number of rejections before an offer comes along. And so often, it feels like a lot of effort for nothing. But once again, we knew that this is what we signed up for. Right now, we are working on solifying our winter plans. We've done some research and have some ideas, but haven't nailed anything down. The reason being is that we've decided to try and find traditional jobs for the winter (I'll go into why later). It's a bit daunting because we know that we need to reserve our campsite soon, especially if we're going to a snowbird locale, but yet it's too early to apply for jobs, since we won't be available until late September at the earliest. That's one of the advantages of workamping. The site usually comes with the job and the job can be planned several months in advance. There's a certain comfort to knowing where you will go next.

5. Snakes! I'm sure it will come as no surprise that we have snakes here. Well, I wasn't really surprised either, but I was hoping they would remain hidden. I don't like snakes. I never have. I know it's an irrational fear. They're harmless, for the most part, and they serve their purpose in the food chain. But that doesn't change the way I feel. As long as we don't cross paths, I'm fine...they can live their life, I'll live mine. Unforturnately, I've already seen a few too many for my liking. The first day I did beach cleanup I saw 3. I've seen a couple of others throughout the campground. And when we went hiking last week, there was one that was laying on the trail. I know that's one of the hazards of being a nature-lover, but I still don't like them and would prefer not to have to deal with them.

6. The pay. I almost hate to put this one down, but it's true. Once again, we did not go into this adventure blindly. We knew the general pay of workamping positions and we knew what this particular one paid. And let me state that for workamping positions, this one pays pretty well. All of our hours are paid plus we get a free site, a $50 monthly electric allowance, propane at cost and a 30% store discount. But it's still hard to make a living at these wages, which is one of the reasons we feel the necessity to supplement with traditional jobs from time to time. Maybe once we're a little more comfortable with our budget, we'll find the need for traditional jobs unnecessary, but coming from a financial state where we were living below our means to one where we're living paycheck to paycheck takes some getting used to. That's not to say that we don't have a safety net. We do, but it's not something that we want to touch if at all possible. Instead, we hope that our traditional jobs will continue to add to that safety net so that we can enjoy the workamping positions without having to focus on the money side of things.

7. Monday and Tuesday 'weekends'. OK, so I know that I mentioned Mondays as one of my 'likes' because it was my day off, but if I had the option, I wouldn't choose Mondays and Tuesdays for our days off. We find that there are a lot of restaurants and such closed on Mondays. Also, we miss out on a lot of the special events such as fairs, festivals, concerts, etc. Mostly these things happen are on weekends, but occassionally, they start on Wednesday or Thursday. Coming into this we knew that we'd have 2 days off and assumed they would be weekdays. I didn't think it really mattered, as long as they were consecutive and we both had the same days off. The way the schedule works out, it makes the most sense that we're off on Monday and Tuesday. I recognize that and I'm not complaining about it. But this is an observation that in the future, if we have any say at all, I would prefer to work on Mondays and have some other days off.

I see that my list is getting long again. This turned out to be another long post (that's why I can't blog everyday!) I didn't think my dislikes would be as long as my likes, and if I were to list everything, I'm sure the likes would well outnumber the dislikes. Overall, this has been a great experience so far and we're thoroughly enjoying it. We have no regrets with our lifestyle change. We will enjoy this particular experience for as long as we're here and then we'll look forward to the next. There's no looking back!

p.s. just as I was finishing this (sitting outside on the deck), a bald eagle flew overhead with a fish and settled in a nearby tree. Unfortunately, he's a little too far away for a good picture. Yep, I'm loving this life!


  1. Great post! I appreciate your honesty in your likes and dislikes. In our current camp host position I can identify with several of your points. Perhaps closer to our ending month it would be interesting to do our own list of likes/dislikes. It is helpful to those thinking about workamping.

    I have never seen a bald eagle and can't wait for that experience. Maybe he'll pose one day when your camera is nearby.

    You all continue to enjoy this experience and have fun.

    Mike & Gerri (happytrails)

  2. Hi Connie! I thought your post was great - very balanced likes and dislikes. I can appreciate the challenges of living as a fulltimer and having to make a living at the same time. We wouldn't be so good at just letting things develop - I guess I like certainty too much. For us, that means we won't be joining you on the road for at least 7 years or so. So, thanks for writing so I can enjoy your experiences in the meantime!! LOL

  3. Great post Connie! :)

    Your new lifestyle sounds wonderful except for the snakes and financial security. ;)

    It might be hard to find a 6 month job. When I was out of work a few years ago I worked as a consultant for a .org dealing with the protection of our oceans and wetlands. They didn't care how long I could stay on with them and I worked on a month-to-month basis. When I found a fulltime job they knew I wouldn't be able to dedicate as much time but still wanted me to work for them at the same pay, etc. I didn't do it because I didn't feel right collecting the same pay for less of my time. Something like this might be a good option for you and Tracy however.

    Email me if you want the name of the .org.

    Be well,

  4. A good post, and also good for you to analyze your feelings about how your experiences are going. I think it always helps to write things down...gives me a reality check of sorts. :)

  5. Wow! That was a lot of information! I can tell you are really into camp hosting. Good points you've made and funny too sometimes. My husband and I have been camp hosting for 9 months now. I've been blogging the whole time. Come visit my blogs when you have a minute - A Camp Host Housewife's Meanderings and Levonne's Pretty Pics.

  6. We have never done workamping, but I always find blogs that relay those experiences to be some of the most interesting. I liked this post a lot. You gave both sides of the issue good coverage. Snakes? Yeah, I'd probably faint dead away. I can't stand to even look at them. And if I saw a rattlesnake? Well, I don't even want to think about it.

  7. Reading your list of likes and dislikes, I was drawing comparisons to life as a farmer.
    And when you said you had to work "late" and it meant 8pm (and I know a bit more) I smiled. When I had my "9-5" job, often I was working 8 to 8 or later. I know maybe I did not choose wisely.
    I look forward to reading more of your adventures. Maybe tell us of some of the characters you meet on the job.