I wrote the following article and pitched it to various simple living-style publications, after our workamping experiences during our road trip sabbatical.
Workamping is great; work a few hours a week in exchange for no rent and other perks like free laundry. Sometimes you even get a small salary too. But if you’re a fulltimer who’s thinking about applying for workamping jobs in order to save money, there are some important things to consider before sending out your resume.
What kind of work environment are you most comfortable in?
Are you someone who craves structure? Do you work best when you act as one integral cog in a large corporate machine? Are you more comfortable when working within a well-defined job description? If the answer to all of these is “Yes”, then perhaps you should focus your search on large organizations, like State and National Parks.
Because workamping job descriptions can sound identical from place to place, but how those jobs are managed from the top down can make all the difference in the world when it comes to your happiness, and that of your co-workers’.
Is Workamping for Mom and Pop for You?
When we first saw the Vickers Ranch workamping ad, the job descriptions were a little vague. It went something like “Help out with ranch duties and have fun.” We knew that Jim would do maintenance and ranch hand stuff, and I would be cleaning rental cabins. But we were told there would be other unforeseen duties too, so flexibility was a must. Things could change daily. Some days we would work 8 hours, others maybe 4. We might get 2 days off a week, or none.
Call us crazy, but it sounded like the perfect job. We love working in small businesses. Jim’s always worked for companies with less than 50 people, and I’ve found that I thrive in those with fewer than 20. I love the challenge of wearing many hats, and never really knowing what to expect from day to day.
If you haven’t worked in a small business before, or disliked working at one, here’s why you should stay away from small, family owned RV parks and resorts when you apply for workamping jobs, even though they sound like fun.
In a Mom and Pop business, there is no set routine.
Owners often fly by the seat of their pants and make things up on the go to keep things running. Situations can change radically from the minute you start your day, to the second you clock out. As an employee, you’ll often be asked to do things outside of your job description. And even if you aren’t asked to do something, you should have the wherewithal to know when it’s time to look around for projects that need to get done, and successfully execute them without needing much direction.
In a Mom and Pop business, “the business” and “the home” are the same.
Entrepreneurs have little time for anything but the business, and if they have paid staff, they’ll often ask them to do things to help make their home lives a little easier. I can’t count the times I’ve ordered gifts for bosses partners, or made personal travel arrangements, and I never gave it a second thought.
At the ranch, if things were slow, I would help Paulette out in her yard. She, like me, loves to dig in the dirt, but gardening season coincides with tourism season, so during the summer months she rarely gets to garden. I love any change in routine, so getting outside was fun for me. On other occasions when it was quiet around the ranch, I gave Paulette some computer lessons.
The Vickers also had some renovation projects around their house that needed to get done before fall, and the guys were always there to swing hammers, when they weren’t maintaining cabins or working with the horses. We often worked on spontaneous projects that weren’t in our job descriptions, and nobody seemed to mind. Well, almost nobody.
How Not to Win Friends While Workamping
There was a third workamping couple who started the season with us, but it didn’t take long to see that they weren’t having a good time.
When they were hired, they swore that they were flexible and real go-getters, but as time went on, their true work attitudes were revealed.
They were two retired, lifetime government employees, and both seemed to find it difficult coping with the improvisational nature of working in a small business. If something wasn’t in their job description, they didn’t do it. The husband only wanted to work on his special projects, never offered to help another ranch hand in need, and refused help when it was offered. The wife worked hard while cleaning cabins, but if we were done early, she would ask to go home instead of pitching in somewhere else on the ranch or at the Vickers’ home. It was later revealed that she felt that the owners were using their employees, by asking them to work on their house.
Their lack of familiarity and comfort level with Mom and Pop businesses resulted in clashes with other workers, and working with them was difficult at best, for everyone. Then, one day in mid-July, the couple had a blow up with Paulette, after the wife was asked to re-schedule one of her days off, because it fell on an unusually busy day. A shouting match ensued, and the next day, they left the ranch.
Everyone was stunned, but their departure was a welcome relief. Once they left, a great big ball of invisible stress left with them. Everyone suddenly worked better together, things got done, and we all started having fun again.
Think Before Applying
The workamper job ads can sound easy and laid back, especially if you’re coming from a stressful career. And maybe some are, like sitting behind a cash register. But if you’re not the right fit for a national park gift shop, life can easily be miserable for you, and your co-workers.
So do yourself a favor, and conduct an honest assessment of your workplace background and attitudes, before you apply for any workamping job. And just remember, if you don’t like it, you can always leave, and you don’t have to make a scene on your way out.