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Work-Camper Strategies: 5 Tips to Becoming a Successful Work-Camper

What should you consider before accepting a work-camper position?


Senior men with boys (10-14) camping
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Being a work-camper is not just a job, it's a lifestyle, one that is actively pursued by some 80,000 work-campers throughout the United States.

Many work-campers are retirees with flexible schedules and adventurous spirits. They supplement their incomes and subsidize their love of travel and the outdoors by trading their knowledge, skills or simple sweat-equity for free lodging or campsite privileges (and sometimes a salary) at state and national parks, private campgrounds, and wildlife refuges nationwide.

Some work-campers are on the road full-time, moving from place to place. Other work-campers stay long-term in one location or return to the same campgrounds year after year. But no matter what kind of work-camper experience interests you, there are a few things you should consider before accepting any work-camper position.

  1. Type of housing--If you own a recreational vehicle and plan to drive it to your work-camper assignments, then all you need is a good campsite with a hookup for your RV. Minus the RV you'll need to target work-camper positions that offer other types of housing.

    National or state parks and private campgrounds are the sites most likely to offer cabins, lodges or tent camps for work-campers. While you're checking on housing options, don't forget to ask about showers, kitchen privileges, or whether your work-camper job includes some meals.

    Finally, find out whether there are online photos of typical work-camper accommodations or other facilities that you can look at in advance.

  2. Type of commitment--Some work-campers work full-time, others part-time with plenty of time to enjoy the park setting and explore nearby communities. Some work-campers stay in one location for an entire season, while others are nomads who move to a new assignment every few weeks or months.

    The kind of assignments you choose will depend on the kind of work-camper experience you want. Determining your expectations and setting your goals ahead of time will help you choose the campsites and work-camper positions that are best for you.

  3. Work environment--If you've never visited the park or campground where you plan to sign on as a work-camper, ask questions about the kind of work environment you can expect. Some work-camper locations prefer retirees or couples, while others may attract a lot of younger people or offer special programs for high school or college-age work-campers.

    Do you prefer a quiet location that is off the beaten path, or a busy campground where you can get to know a lot of other travelers and work-campers? Would you be more comfortable at a site that attracts mostly bird watchers and other nature lovers or one that appeals to families? Knowing the kind of day-to-day work-camper experience you want can help you choose work-camper assignments that will meet those expectations.

  4. Compensation package--At some national parks or campgrounds run by charities, work-campers jobs are essentially volunteer positions that offers only free housing or RV hookup. Other work-camper sites offer a salary plus free housing or campsites. Still other work-camper sites pay a salary but then deduct the cost of housing from your paycheck or offer optional meal plans if there is a kitchen on-site for staff.

    As with any job, it's important to fully understand how you will be compensated as a work-camper, along with any additional financial costs or benefits that may apply, before you decide to accept a position.

  5. Get it in writing--Once you've settled the terms of your new work-camper position, ask for a written statement that details everything you have discussed and is signed by the park or campground manager. Getting everything in writing up front will help prevent misunderstandings and disagreements later, especially if you have negotiated anything that varies from the standard work-camper agreement.

    Accepting a work-camper position is a contract like any other-you agree to provide certain services in exchange for specific benefits-so any legitimate organization should have no problem with signing a written agreement. Refusing to put the final deal in writing is a red flag. Walk away and look for another opportunity.

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