Category Archives: Work Camping

Stupid Questions

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There are no stupid questions, educators like to say, but that’s clearly a lie. I’m no stranger to stupid questions. Anyone who works with the public has probably heard plenty of questions eliciting an eye roll or shaking of the head. Of course, we think we’ve heard it all until the next one comes along. I didn’t think I was capable of being surprised but in about 30 minutes one September afternoon, I heard two of the dumbest questions to ever stimulate my eardrums.

I walked out of the back door of the mercantile, step stool in hand, ready to close the yurt’s windows. An SUV was stopped on the road between the mercantile and the camp host’s site. A woman jumped out of the SUV, smiled, and said hi to me. I greeted her, and she asked, The ones with the open signs? Are they open?

She was referring to campsites. Any campsite that’s not been reserved is marked with a sign that reads “open.” Apparently the woman didn’t trust signs and didn’t believe the campsites clearly marked “open” were actually available. I didn’t trust myself to answer her question without saying something snarky, so I simply directed her to the camp host.

After closing the windows, I went back inside and told the mercantile manager what the woman had asked me. We shook our heads and rolled our eyes and felt assured this one took the cake.

But wait! There’s more!

Just as the manager was about to shut the doors for the day, a car pulled into the parking area in front of the store. The people in the car wanted to walk the trail, so the manager said we could sell them the access pass before we closed the register.  The tourist lady was talking a mile a minute as she walked up the ramp to the mercantile. She must have asked the manager what the platforms throughout the campground were for. The manager said, yurts, but before she could explain what a yurt was or say that the actual structures had been taken down for the winter, the tourist lady busted out with Do you have to bring your own yurt?

Perhaps the woman didn’t know what exactly a yurt is. Maybe she` thought “yurt” is just another name for “tent.” She must not have known that yurts are big (the ones the company I work for rents out to campers are 15 feet in diameter) and expensive. While yurts are movable, it’s quite a bit of work to set one up, then take it down. Most people probably don’t have a yurt and those that do probably aren’t traveling with them.

I couldn’t help giggling a little when I heard the woman ask if she needed to bring her own yurt. I had settled my face into a neutral expression by the time the woman entered the store. I took her money and handed her an access pass, and she went on her way.

Bring your own yurt? the manager and I said to each other and laughed. This question really did take the cake.

I’d planned to end this post here, but on my last weekend working at the parking lot, I got what is quite possibly the stupidest question ever. I can’t imagine a dumber question, but then again, people never cease to amaze me.

I was working at the parking lot on the very last day of the season. The sky was hazy with smoke from a wildfire fifty miles away. The fire had been burning for at least a week, and every morning, the sky was hazy from its smoke. By the afternoon, the smoke cleared and the sky was blue until the sun set.

All day people had been asking about the smoke and the air quality. Campers from one campground I was covering decided not to stay another night because they were worried about hiking the next morning with smoke in the air. Honestly, I don’t know if the air quality was dangerous. No one bothered to give me that information. We were’t wading through low-lying smoke and there was no ash falling on our heads, so the air quality seemed ok to me.

A car pulled into the parking lot, and I wasn’t surprised when the passenger’s first question was about the smoke. It’s what she asked that earned her the distinction of stupidest question ever.

Is the smoke from fire?

I didn’t even ask her if it’s possible for smoke to come from any other source.

Lovies

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The family in the mercantile was an interesting one.

There were two older people—a man and a woman—who seemed to be the grandparents. With them was a younger adult male who seemed to be the dad of the two kids on the group. The girl was the older of the two children. She was probably 11. The boy was quite a bit younger, maybe four. Everyone in the group except the girl had some sort of British (or of British heritage) accent.

 

The little boy was immediately drawn to the plush puppets. He grabbed a bunny puppet and hugged it close. I love him, the boy proclaimed in his adorable accent. The boy held onto the bunny puppet as the family milled around the store.

I thought the dad might buy the puppet for the boy, but no. The dad told the boy to return the bunny to its friends. The boy didn’t seem happy to reunite the puppets, but he did as he was told without throwing a tantrum. (I’ve seen many tantrums thrown over those puppets.)

I thought the family would leave after the puppet was put away, but they continued to walk around Rana | Frog by Mawthe store aimlessly. The little boy picked up a green plush backpack in the shape of a frog. It was nearly as big as he was, so he struggled a little to carry it around the store.

After a few more minutes, the dad told the boy to give the frog a hug and put it away. The boy gave the frog not only a hug but several kisses on its head. The manager of the mercantile and I couldn’t help but grin at each other like the childless middle age women we are and whisper Oh! How cute! a few times.

As the boy put the frog back into its bin, the father said they’d be bringing home no more stuffed animals.

The girl looked at me and explained that in their house, each family member had a small bin (she demonstrated the size with her hands) to put stuffed animals in. All stuffed animals owned had to fit in the bin with no parts sticking out. If anyone wanted a new stuffed animal, he or she had to discard from the bin so the new one would fit.

The dad piped in that he and his wife had as many stuffed animals as the kids did. Then the older man added that he and his wife were still storing stuffed toys from the dad’s childhood. These were some serious stuffed animal lovers!

Multicolored Teddy Bears Background by GDJThe girl went on to tell me about the downsizing that happened before the bin storage system was implemented. Everyone in the family chose their favorite animals to keep in his or her bin. They gathered up all the stuffed animals they had decided to discard, and she and her dad took them down to Tijuana where they donated the toys to an orphanage.

I was happy to know this family had donated their excess to people who had less, rather than chuck it into a landfill. I bet it felt just like Christmas to those Mexican kids when the girl and her dad handed over those toys.

 

Images courtesy of https://openclipart.org/detail/159691/rana-|-frog and https://openclipart.org/detail/230149/multicolored-teddy-bears-background

(Guest Post) How I Picked Up Seasonal Jobs to Support My Campervan Lifestyle, and You Can Too

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Van life, while cheaper than traditional lifestyle, is still more expensive than I first thought it would be.

One very real and somewhat harsh reality that came to light early in my van journeys, is the need for cold, hard cash.

When I first set out, I had $500 saved as a cushion. I thought with the lack of a rent payment I would be able to go without a job for a couple of months. However, I was wrong.

I realized pretty quickly I needed to pick up a job to feed myself as well as to buy gas to get us back to our campsite after each day of adventure.

Finding a Job

Leverage your experience and plan carefully

My partner had some experience with the van lifestyle, and he suggested that table waiting was a valuable skill for landing short term work.

Since I had several months to prepare for life on the road, I took a job at Applebees to round out my food service experience and insure that I’d be able to find good gigs in the towns we planned to stay in.

This strategy paid off very nicely when I was hired at a swanky joint to wait tables. This job covered all my expenses while working just a few hours per week. Best of all it left my days free to play in the mountains.

My partner was also able to land a job in a restaurant as a host. Toward the end of our time in Colorado, when the seasonal work at the restaurant dried up, he picked up a short-term day job cutting down trees for fire mitigation.

Location, Location…

How easy it is to find a job depends on where you put down temporary roots. For example, it will be easier in a tourist town than in an unknown small town.

Additionally, the economy of the area should be taken into consideration. I spent time living in Estes Park, CO, and it was quite easy to find a job.

However, in Joshua Tree, California, a smaller, less traveled town, I could not find a job to save my life.

… and more about location

Before you hit the pavement to look for work, consider that it’s most convenient to work close to where you park and sleep. I mean, one major reason for this lifestyle is to avoid a nasty commute! When looking at jobs, pay close
attention to travel logistics.

But sometimes that is not possible, or that otherwise perfect job will require some daily travel. If you will be using some type of public transportation, try to get work near a bus or train stop.

Another option is to plan to camp and work in an area that’s bicycle friendly. Even if you don’t normally pack a bike in your van, a used one can be acquired easily in most areas and then sold, given away or carried along to your next destination.

To improve your options, raise your standards

If you hate working in a certain industry such as retail, fast food, ect. do not even give this type of business a second thought.

I reached that point with the restaurant industry long ago. It took some effort, but as I upped my standards for the type of work I was willing to do, I started getting better jobs.

Craig can help

Craigslist is a great place to find some temporary work. My partner used to find odd jobs on Craigslist regularly. He found jobs as a mover, a construction worker, and a maintenance man.

Sometimes, a small job on Craigslist leads to longtime work. Other times, you want to run the opposite direction. Either way, it’s often tax-free money, and a networking opportunity!

It’s not what, but who you know

Keep in mind that most business owners don’t fill positions via ads, but by networking with people they already know.

One of the absolute best ways to network for any job is to decide on the industry you want to work in and meet people who are already working there. This is not always easy to do on the road, but it can be done.

Here are a few quick and simple places to network for short or longterm jobs

  • Others you meet at the camp area. Find the folks who’re up early and heading to work and pick their brains.
  • On the trail or other outdoor activities. Strike up conversations and ask folks about how they’re supporting their travel passions.
  • Local coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Talk to the barista, bartender and waitstaff and strike up conversations with other patron.
  • Go to the types of businesses where you want to work, and meet people who already work there. For example if you want to pick up landscaping work, get to know the local nursery and plant supply. Into horses? Head to the tac shop. Willing to walk dogs? Go to local pet stores and veterinarians and introduce yourself. Comfortable with computer hardware? You get the idea.
  • Meetup.com groups related to your industry. Make friends in the industry you want work in.

Tips For Nailing The interview

in a what?

I’m not advocating for outright lying…however, it is best to avoid telling your potential employer you live in a van. If you must say something, do it after you are hired.

I personally did not tell my employer I lived in a van until I had to. This was something my boyfriend warned against, based on some bad experiences, so I listened.

If asked about your living situation, a good response is to say you are camping/staying at a friend’s place until you find a rental. If you know someone in the town, this conversation can be avoided by using their address on the application and for mail.

Clean living

Showering before your interview should be among the first things on your mind. You can find showers at local outfitters, gyms, and laundromats. At the very least the confidence boost will help with the interview.

Leave your crew behind

This one will be obvious to most of you, but… my younger self had to learn it the hard way, so I’ll share this misstep.

While it may be tempting to bring in your peeps for support, it will backfire. Even bringing your crew just to wait inside (or even within eye sight) is a bad move because it rings immature. Honestly, it is just as bad as bringing your parent along!

Dress to Impress

Always dress nicely for interviews. If you don’t have any business or business casual clothing with you, try to bum from friends or buy something from a thrift shop. I know living in a van does not always jibe with dressing to impress, primarily because storing nice clothing takes up space.

Obviously if the job requires decent clothes you’ll have to buy them anyway. If not, get something decent for interviews and then donate them once hired.

Point is, don’t have “I live in a van” written all over yourself when you show up for an interview.

Scheduling and freedom

The most important thing for most rubber tramps is finding a schedule that works with their lifestyle. Finding a place that allows for flexibility is important.

When I lived in Colorado, I found a place that would work around my climbing schedule. When you go in, feel out the management and try to work out the best possible schedule for you.

You may need to interview at more than one place, so don’t be afraid to tell a potential employer you will think about their offer. I have found businesses near National or State Parks to be more accommodating.

Get paid what you’re worth

Always try to negotiate pay, no matter what industry. It won’t always work, especially with seasonal jobs. However, playing a bit of hardball can be worth your while. Once I was hired onto a position making $3 more than they offered, just because I asked.

Of course this depends on your level of flexibility, expertise, the availability of other workers in the field you’re applying for and other factors.

Keep in mind that many employers will respect you more if you are reasonably assertive and show you can take care of yourself.Try this line: “I plan to give this job my all, and to help you be as successful as you can while I’m here. In light of that, (plus my experience, my education, my talent…) I feel I’m worth $x per hour.”

Breaking up: Leaving your short-term position

I would never suggest lying to an employer about how long you intend to stay in a position. I also feel there can be gray area here, such as with jobs that tend have a very high turnover rate, where an early exit can be easily justified and even expected.

During the interview the fast food manager is going to talk about career opportunities and long term benefits, but no one (not even that manager) is going to be surprised when you leave that job within 3 months.

Of course in any tourist town, how long you stay will resolve itself as much of the available work will be short term.

 Bridge burning

As for non-seasonal jobs where the expectation is that you stay long term, you’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to fib about your long-term intentions. Ask yourself how this will impact your future work in the particular industry.

Obviously, if you’re applying in a professional situation where your long-term reputation is at stake, consider your actions carefully. Will the stress of maintaining a lie be worth a few bucks? Did you land the interview through a relationship that will be damaged if you don’t stick around? Would it make more sense to be honest and risk not getting the gig, in hopes the employer will hire you anyway?

Pros have options

Consider my partner’s advice from the top of this article. Acquire a skill that pays well and is appropriate for short-term, seasonal, or gig work.

A girlfriend and fellow van lifer, upon arrival in any town, peppers local bulletin boards, power poles, and Craigslist with fliers for pet sitting and dog walking. She’s got a list of referrals as long as your arm and she gets repeat business whenever she visits those towns. No fibbing required.

Another friend is a computer hardware wizard. He can build you a gaming box that will blow your mind, assemble a network for a small business or repair your laptop, and his skills are applicable anywhere he lands.

Simple math for nomadic income

The formula here is to have a skill that pays well, is in reasonably high demand, plus your willingness and ability to promote yourself when you need work.

I’m not saying you should starve, or even miss out on road adventures to avoid lying to an employer here and there, but do some careful thinking and planning to set yourself up for the best possible work life while van traveling.

Share your campervan work life stories

We’d love to hear your thoughts on finding seasonal work as a campervan traveler, and we’re more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

Please drop your comments or questions below and we’ll do our best to answer.

Thanks for reading.

When she’s not writing guest posts about van life, Veronica Cavanaugh from VanSage.com is camping, backpacking, or planning her next outdoor adventure. She also enjoys watching old movies and writing poetry.

Photos from Joshua Tree National Park courtesy of the author.

I Just Wanted to Connect

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My least favorite part of being a camp host was the lack of privacy. Unless I was in my van with the curtains closed, I felt as if I were on display in a department store window. The worst times were when I was on my day off and in the campground. Even if I wasn’t wearing my uniform, even if I had up a sign that read “Camp Host Off Duty,” people in the campground sniffed me out.

One day off, I got back from exploring early in the afternoon. I pulled into my site and sat in the van fiddling with my phone. A woman marched up to my open door and demanded to know if I was the camp host. My answer that I was the camp host on my day off seemed not to deter her in the least; she let go with a whole list of questions.

The campground where I was the host is in a remote location, so I understand that when visitors see somebody–anybody–it’s in their best interest to start asking all their questions. If the woman hadn’t asked me, she might not have had a chance to ask anyone. I honestly didn’t mind answering her questions, even if I wasn’t getting paid to do it. However, when she launched into a tirade about the poor condition of the road into the campground, I was done. I was not interested in discussing the condition of the road. I was not interested in hearing her complain about something I had no control over. I was simply not interested. As politely as possible, I conveyed my lack of interest, and the woman finally went away.

Another day I didn’t leave the campground on my day off. I was wearing my bright pink housedress and doing housekeeping on my campsite. Some campers had come in the day before, but becasue I’d been off that day too, I hadn’t spoken to them. I looked up from whatever I was doing and saw the woman camper walking purposely over to my site.

She asked if I was the camp host, and I said yes, I was the camp host on my day off. She didn’t even have any questions for me, but she didn’t seem to care that I wasn’t getting paid to talk to her. I just wanted to connect, she said. Apparently it didn’t occur to her that maybe I didn’t want to connect, that maybe on my day off I was enjoying my solitude.

When she said she wanted to connect, she actually meant she wanted to talk about herself. She started in on a monologue about being a textile artist and the book she had written. She didn’t seem very interested in who I might be when I was not busy hosting a campground. I tried to be stay polite, but I was relieved when she finally wandered away.

Am I a bad person because I don’t want to connect with every person I meet? Sometimes I just want to be alone.

I took this post’s photo.

Offering

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A man tried to give me a kid one morning at the overflow parking lot.

I don’t mean he used a bad pickup line on me like, Hey, baby, let’s make a baby.  I mean he offered me one of his already born offspring.

He was only joking, I know, and it’s not the first time it happened. (Once a lady in a pickup offered me her friend’s dog in exchange for the parking fee, then the friend offered me the first lady’s infant.) It’s always an awkward situation for me because I usually don’t know what to say.

On the morning in question, the family pulled into the overflow lot at the campground before I made it to the main parking lot. I showed them where to park and told them about the $5 access fee. While I wrote out the pass, the whole family tumbled from the vehicle—mom, dad, and four wholesome-looking blond kids. Soon the parents were having a Do you have cash? No. Don’t you have cash? conversation.

Mom had her wallet but there was no cash in it. Dad had cash in his wallet but had left it back where they were staying. (I hope they were staying in a cabin or a lodge or at a friend’s house. I hope Dad hadn’t left a wallet full of money in a tent somewhere.)

Gee, he was really sorry, Dad said. It looked like they didn’t have any cash, but I was welcome to take one of the kids instead.

I looked over at a big boulder where the four kids were lined up, grinning. Apparently this was a joke Dad used often. Apparently none of the kids were yet old enough to find the joke corny or annoying.

This time I came up with an answer rather quickly.

I really can’t take one, I said. I live in a van with a man and a dog, and there’s really no room for a kid. Don’t worry about the access fee. Just go enjoy the trail.

I was gathering up my belongings for my walk to the main parking lot when the dad called out to me, My daughter has $5. We really want to pay.

I would have been happy to let them go, but I put down all my stuff and walked over to the SUV where the oldest girl was fishing out a $5 bill. I handed her the pass and wished them all a good day.

I took this photo of a giant sequoia.

Stupid

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I’m so proud of myself. For once, I kept my big mouth shut.

It was the end of the camping season, and I was spending my Sunday afternoon collecting access fees in the campground’s overflow parking lot.

A Jeep pulled into the campground’s driveway. It was followed by one of those minivan/station wagon hybrid vehicles.

I approached the woman driving the Jeep. Yes, they wanted to walk the trail she said in response to my first question. I told her there was a $5 access fee, and she pulled out a twenty.

I want to pay for the kids behind me, she told me.

While I was making change, I noticed the vehicle behind her backing out.

Are you with them? I asked the woman in the Jeep. They’re backing out.

She said she was with them, so I started gesturing at the second vehicle so the driver would not back out.

That’s my daughter in the car, the woman in the Jeep told me. Her boyfriend is driving. He’s kind of stupid.

I didn’t know how best to respond to that allegation, so I simply said, I’m sorry.

I am too! the woman laughed

I looked back at the second vehicle and saw the stupid boyfriend had stopped backing up and was pulling forward again.

Maybe she’ll get over it, I suggested optimistically to the woman in the Jeep.

I hope so, she said.

It was only later I realized I’d done a good job and not said anything regrettable. I thought about all the scandalous words that could have popped out of my mouth had I been less vigilant.

Maybe he has other talents. (said in a wink wink, nudge nudge double entendre voice)

Maybe he’s good in bed.

Maybe he’s got a big cock.

Maybe she wants to be sure she’s the smartest person in the relationship.

Maybe he lets her spend his money.

I’m so proud of myself. I didn’t let my big mouth embarrass me for once.

 

Restroom Monitor

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It was Labor Day weekend and the mercantile was packed.

I’d tried to go to lunch twice before I succeeded. Both times I went outside, got to my van, and watched a crowd of people head to the store. I could have left the manager to deal with the customers alone, but I try to be a team player. Both times I turned around and went back into the store to help.

Right before I finally left for lunch at 1:15, one of the camp hots of the campground where the mercantile is located came into the store and said he was closing the women’s restroom at the front of the campground because there had been an “accident.” He said the restroom would be closed for a while.

The restrooms at the front of the campground get a lot of action. Not only are they used by campers and the employees of the mercantile, they’re also used by people who walk the trail. Lots of people park in the overflow lot at the front of the campground and visit the restrooms before and after their stroll through the trees. Other visitors utilize the restrooms when they leave the trail to shop in the mercantile or to take a look at the campground. It’s not unusual in the late morning or early afternoon on a weekend to see lines five or six people long waiting for both front restrooms.

A little after 2pm, a woman stepped up to the counter where I was standing. Is there another women’s restroom? She asked me. That one’s locked.

I glanced out the yurt’s front window. I saw five or six people (not just men) in line in front of the men’s room. It appeared the camp host had not yet cleaned the accident in the other restroom.

I told the woman the restroom had been closed because it needed cleaning. (I didn’t mention it had needed cleaning for at least 45 minutes.) Then I told her about the two additional restrooms at the back of the campground. I pointed to the road she should follow to the restrooms and sent her on her way.

When I wasn’t looking, the mercantile manager must have loaned the tourist woman a little bottle of hand sanitizer because several minutes later, I saw the tourist woman handing it back to the manager.

Did you find the restroom ok? I asked the tourist.

Actually, the ranger told me I couldn’t use it, she said apologetically.

My mouth literally dropped open, and I had quite a difficult time closing it. The manager of the mercantile was looking at her incredulously too. One of us managed to ask, What?, and the woman elaborated.

As she walked toward the back of the campground, the female camp host (whom the tourist mistook for a ranger) stopped her to ask where she was going. When the woman said she was going to the restroom, the camp host told her she couldn’t use the restrooms in the back!

The manager and I both apologized to the woman and told her the camp host should not have denied her access.

Both the manager and I were astonished. While we trusted the tourist woman was telling us the truth, we could hardly imagine a camp host prohibiting a visitor from using a functional restroom.

There are many reasons a person might not be able to stand in line and wait for a restroom.  Maybe the woman was pregnant. (Granted the woman didn’t appear pregnant, but I’m not an obstetrician.) Maybe the woman had a physical condition that necessitated an immediate restroom visit. Maybe she’d simply pushed her body to its limit and needed to go NOW! Maybe she was trying to be efficient and take care of her needs elsewhere while her family was using the one open restroom in the front. Maybe she just didn’t want to go into the overused men’s room. The bottom line is, the camp host should not have denied the woman the use of any open restroom in the campground.

During my profuse apology, I asked the tourist woman if she wanted to write a comment card. She said she did. When she finished, I promised to get it to my boss, and I did so by sending it home with his wife.

The next day the mercantile manager and I saw The Big Boss Man talking to the female camp host. I was busy when he came into the mercantile, but the manager later told me he said the camp host said (this is like a game of telephone, I know) there had only been a couple of people in line for the restroom when the tourist lady tried to use the back restroom. That, of course, was a lie, but even if only one person had been in line, the woman should have been allowed to use one of the restrooms in the back. The camp host went on to say she didn’t want any day-use visitors messing up the restrooms the campers were using!

I’m not going to say day–use visitors wouldn’t mess up a restroom in some way. However, it’s the camp host’s job to clean restrooms, no matter who messes them up. I sure hope The Big Boss Man explained to his employee that cleaning a dirty restroom, regardless of who made the mess, is the duty of a camp host.