Tag Archives: Work camping

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.

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.

Biker

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I was working the main parking lot on the penultimate Saturday of the season. I hadn’t been there clouds, countryside, forestlong when a bunch of folks on motorcycles pulled in. That’s when I remembered the same thing happened late in the season the year before. There was a motorcycle rally in the valley and the bikers were coming up the mountain to enjoy driving the winding, turning, curvy roads. Lots of bikers roared past the parking lot, but just as many decided to stop and see the sequoias.

The majority of bikers were men, and most were traveling in groups of 3 to 6. I did see a handful of women and a few lone wolves, but while none of the groups seemed to be organized gangs, men traveling together was the order of the day.

At one point, a small group of guys was milling about near the front of the parking lot. Most of them were probably in their 20s, while maybe two of their number were middle age. One man was older, with glasses and a grey ponytail. He looked like Jerry Garcia might have looked had he lived another decade. I could see the older man was looking at me, but I thought I probably had dirt on my nose.

Finally, he approached me. He must have been looking at me trying to get his courage up because he asked me in a low voice, as if he were embarrassed, Is this hike hard? I’m an old man. I don’t get around like I used to.

headlight, motorbike, motorcycleMy heart went out to him. Here was this tough guy biker, hair in a ponytail, wearing black clothes and boots, worried he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the young bucks on a walk through the trees.

Don’t worry, I answered softly so none of his buddies would overhear. It’s more of a stroll than a hike, It’s paved and wheelchair accessible. There are lots of benches on the trail too, I told him. If you need to sit and rest, just tell the others you’re basking in the glory of the trees.

After my reassurance, he walked away with a grin on his face.

Even the toughest of us will be old someday, but we’ll always want to be able to keep up with the kids.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/clouds-countryside-forest-idyllic-319833/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/headlight-motorbike-motorcycle-vehicle-1658/.

Nice Day

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Toward the end of the camping season, the mercantile was closed for inventory. The manager worked with two ladies from the corporate office to count everything in the store. Apparently four people would have been one too many for the task because when I showed up for work, I was told my services were not needed. The Big Boss Man didn’t want me to lose pay, so he told me I could work in the campground to make up my hours. I walked over to the parking lot where The Man had my van and changed into a cobbled together camp host uniform. Back at the campground, I cleaned restrooms, raked campsites, collected access fees, gave directions, and had a very nice day.

guide, idaho, mapFor a slow parking day, I gave a lot of directions. So many people who pull into the campground or the parking lot are unsure of how to get where they’re going at best, but usually out and out lost.

I talked to a lovely young woman who wondered if she and her guy should take the time to visit the nearby national park. I told her they totally needed to visit. As I told her, while our trees are beautiful, the national park is like a magical fairy land of giant sequoias. That’s what she wanted to see, she said, so she and I discussed the best route to take.

The next people who needed directions were an old couple from West Virginia. They were totally lost. They were supposed to meet the woman’s brothers in a national park, but followed their GPS (which had been programed to our coordinates while they were still in West Virginia) to a campground hours away from where they wanted to be. I told them how to get where they wanted to go,, and they hoped the brothers would still be there.

Another older couple pulled in later in the day. I noticed their big ol’ Chevy conversion van right off. I explained the access fee of $5, and the woman in the passenger seat asked if her Golden Age card would cover it. I said it would not cover parking, but it would get them half off camping. Most people who want to use an access pass to pay for parking don’t want to camp, but this couple decided to do it. I told them what sites were available, and they drove through the campground to pick one.

I talked to them quite a bit that afternoon. The man said they were from Illinois, and when I asked about their Southern accents, he said they were from southern Illinois. I thought he was joking until he told me they do their grocery shopping in Paducah, KY. (I always forget Kentucky borders the Midwest.) They also spend a lot of time near Gulf Shores, AL, which I’m sure also enhances their accents.

I asked the fellow about his van, then told him about mine. He and his wife aren’t full-timers, but they do travel extensively in their van. Las year they’d visited the area (their daughter lives nearby) in a Chrysler Town and Country minivan, but the mountains destroyed its transmission. They already owned the conversion van, so this time they decided to travel in it. The minivan was really too small for two people, they agreed, and they were really enjoying the extra room in the larger van.

The fellow asked me if I watched YouTube videos, and I said not so much. He said he really liked watching van-build videos. He talked more about van builds, and some part of our conversation led me to say, If you go to Quartzsite, AZ in January, you can go to, and we both said, the RTR. He’d heard of the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous! He said he’d never been but would love to go. I told him I’d been to three RTRs, and I became something of an instant celebrity. He was quite impressed to learn I’d been where he wanted to go.

When The Man came to the campground to pick me up that afternoon, we went over to the couple’s campsite. I wanted to introduce them to The Man, and I wanted to give them my business card with the name of my book (Confessions of a Work Camper) and my blog address on it. The four of us had a good conversation about minivans and transmissions and traveling. When we left, I said, Maybe I’ll see y’all at the RTR someday. They agreed that maybe I would.

Between meeting the people in the conversion van and going home that afternoon, I met a group of adventure, camping, forestyoung people on a birthday celebration camping trip. I showed them to their campsite and told them how to get to a secluded waterfall. They were mellow stoners—love kids—and I enjoyed sharing my knowledge of the area.

It was fun to be a camp host again, especially on a slow day near the end of the season. I didn’t have to work too hard, and I met nice, interesting people. If every day as a camp host could be that good, I’d never want to do anything else.

Photos courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/map-navigation-guide-108942/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/forest-trees-adventure-tent-6714/.

I Don’t Like People

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The black SUV pulled into the campground early one Sunday afternoon late in the season. The Man and I were working as camp hosts there, and I’d stationed myself near the overflow lot to collect access fees while he worked the main parking area.

The fellow driving the black SUV was rocking the wet look; he’d gelled his curly dark hair to within an inch of its life.

I asked the man if he wanted to park so he and his passenger could walk the trail. Curly said yes. I told him about the access fee and pointed to the dirt area where he could park. He gestured in front of himself and asked what was all of that. I told him it was a campground. He asked if there was any parking in the campground. I told him the parking in the campground was for people camping.

My confusion must have shown on my face because the woman in the passenger seat said, He doesn’t like to park by other cars.

Yeah, curly agreed. I don’t like people!

O-kay! I thought, but I found a spot where he could park the SUV away from other vehicles.

As I wrote the parking pass, Curly explained himself. It wasn’t really that he didn’t like other people. I’m a people person, he proclaimed. The problem was door dings. He didn’t like door dings, and people are just not careful with car doors. It was ok if the wind flung a door; he understood the wind sometimes caught doors and crashed them into other cars. However, he didn’t want to park near people who might be careless with their doors.

It’s going on three years, and not one door ding, he said proudly.

The woman in the passenger seat just grinned. She had heard this all before.

I don’t really understand the preoccupation with keeping vehicles “nice.” I live a rugged life and my material possessions—including my van—show wear and tear from the way I live. But to each his/her/their own. If Curly wants to spend his time and energy worrying about door dings, that’s his business.

Before paying me for his pass, Curly jumped out of the SUV and ran around to the other side to open his companion’s door. After the exchange of payment and pass, I watched Curly and the lady walk away, one of his hands in hers, the other carrying a picnic basket. I was glad I could help him have a nature experience free from the worry of coming back to a dinged door.

 

Lock the Door

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It was the end of the season, and The Man and I were the last camp hosts standing. While we started out working at the mercantile, by the beginning of October, the two of us were covering the parking lot and the three campgrounds on our side of the mountain.

It was Saturday, and The Man was working on a special sign assignment twelve miles down the road, so I was back in the saddle at the busy parking lot.

I took this photo of a giant sequoia in Deer Creek Grove, the southernmost grove of giant sequoias.

Before I was fully out of the campground, I was waylaid in the driveway by some people from Florida  who wanted to know if it was really worth stopping to see giant sequoias.

Um, yes, I said as politely as possible while selling them a day pass. I guarantee they’d never seen anything like a giant sequoia in Florida.

When I got to the parking lot, I started right in on the restrooms, as I always do.

I knocked on the door on the left. No response. I opened the door, pulled over one of the big metal trashcans to hold it open, and assessed the toilet paper situation. So far so good.

As I moved to the restroom on the right, I noticed a kid milling around. He was about eight and appeared to be alone, but I didn’t think much of it. I was on a restroom-cleaning mission.

I took this photo of the restrooms in the parking lot.

I knocked on the door on the right. No response. I opened the door and when I looked inside, I saw a person. I assume the person was male even though the person’s back was to me. I assume the person was male beause the person was in the distinctive taking a piss stance male people get into when they pee.

I was surprised and a little embarrassed, although I’d done nothing wrong. I knocked and no one responded. I opened an unlocked door. Why hadn’t the occupant locked the door? Why hadn’t the kid standing outside warned me about the guy in the restroom? The kid must have known the guy was in there.

I turned away and let go of the door immediatley, letting it slam shut. I didn’t hear the pisser apologize or say anything at all.

My parting words?

Lock the door!