Making the Most of an Extended Work-camping Stay

A lodge in the Tetons

A lodge in the Tetons

Sometimes I get customers at my checkout line who think working at Yellowstone National Park must be about the neatest thing ever, but sometimes their comments are at the other end of the spectrum – how sad it must be to live in a park but have to work all the time.

The truth is somewhere in the middle. Given the choice I wouldn’t work full-time while I travel, but it’s so much better than working full-time while living in an apartment like I use to. There’s no way I could afford even a month inside a national park if I wasn’t working there given how expensive the campgrounds are, so for me the pros outweigh the cons. Those of us who spend a whole summer in a park will get to know it in a way that vacationers never will.

And one really great thing about my current employer, it’s not full-time. It’s a 30 hour week, and you’d be surprised how much of a difference those ten extra hours a week make.

But it is true that about this time of the summer (12 weeks in) that the travel itch sets in. Having close to three years of full-timing experience under my belt I’ve come to the conclusion that for a work-camping job, three months is about the ideal maximum stay for me.

Unfortunately, summer national park jobs run longer than three months. Ah well, it could be a lot worse. If you’re working a 40 hour week or a longer season than you would prefer, there are things you can do to keep it feeling like a working vacation instead of just another full-time job.

West Thumb geyser basin

West Thumb geyser basin

Make a list of things you want to see and do in the area during your stay. It’s easy when you’ve been in a place for a while to lose interest in exploring as the day in-day out humdrum of everyday living sets in. Don’t lose that spark, ask the locals for advice on things to see and do in the area and spread your list out through the season to keep things fresh.

Organize your week so that you have plenty of time off for fun. When I’m working full-time, I make sure I get my chores done on weekdays whenever possible, so that my weekend is completely open to get out and see the sights. You may prefer to do all of your chores on the weekend so that you have some time every day for shorter trips closer to your home base, it’s a matter of preference. The big thing is, don’t spend it just parked in front of the TV or surfing online.

On top of Mount Washburn

On top of Mount Washburn

Do something small regularly that reminds you of why you started traveling in the first place. Even on busy work days it’s usually possible to squeeze in a half-hour or so to set up my chair outdoors and enjoy reading my kindle while soaking in the sights of Yellowstone around my camp. It may not be a grand adventure, but it’s something that really drew me to RVing. Other ideas include taking a walk around the campground, a quick campfire, or visiting other campers in the club house.

Hold on to Spontaneity. One of the big benefits of full-time RVing is the degree of flexibility and spontaneity this lifestyle allows for, and one good way to keep an extended stay from feeling like you’re back in the rat race is to refrain from trying to schedule every hour of your day. Leave some breathing room for opportunities that may pop up. For instance, trips with coworkers, picking a random restaurant to eat at, or getting in your vehicle and driving without a destination in mind.

So when customers ask me what it’s like to work seasonally I tell them the truth: It’s a heck of a lot more fun than I had working stationary! Do any of you work-campers have tips you’d like to add? Do any of you dreamers have questions you’d like to ask?

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Double rainbow over the employee complex

Double rainbow over the employee complex

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33 Responses to Making the Most of an Extended Work-camping Stay

  1. Rhonda August 3, 2015 at 10:08 pm #

    I am a dreamer and I have a question. How does a full time rv’er deal with lonliness? I understand you work, Becky, so this might be a question better suited to the full time solo rv’er who doesn’t work…but, surely, there must be some sense of lonliness…sometimes. Yes? No? Thanks for responding…Rhonda

    • Becky August 3, 2015 at 11:02 pm #

      Hello Rhonda,

      I’ve written a very in-depth post about that exact topic actually. It, along with a lot of other useful posts, can be found at under the “Useful Stuff” tab at the top of the blog, under “full-timing logistics”

      http://www.interstellarorchard.com/useful-stuff/

  2. Jerry Minchey August 3, 2015 at 10:18 pm #

    Becky,

    You hit the nail on the head about the 3-month time. I don’t know what it is, but after three months. I’m ready to move on.

    Some people call it “hitch itch,” but whatever it is, if you were happy staying in one place for long periods of time, you wouldn’t have chosen the RV lifestyle.

    • Becky August 3, 2015 at 11:04 pm #

      The time varies for everyone I imagine, but I’m still willing to put up with with longer seasons for getting to live in a park. 🙂

  3. Pleinguy August 3, 2015 at 10:19 pm #

    I used to work at theme parks like Busch Gardens, Seaward and Disney. Sometimes I felt cheated because everyone was playing while I had to work. But, being there provided opportunities to do things the public might not know about or be able to do. One bit of advice for RVers, if possible, choose your exploring time on slow days, or off season or hours. I like your advice about being aware of little things that can make a big difference in your overall experience.
    Pleinguy recently posted..Buffalo Bill CenterMy Profile

    • Becky August 3, 2015 at 11:06 pm #

      Hey Plein, I was just thinking I hadn’t seen you comment in a while, hope all is well. 🙂

      That’s good advice. In Yellowstone I like to hike in the middle of the day when the crowds are the worst, and walk the basins and other busier areas in the morning/evening.

  4. Ron August 3, 2015 at 11:13 pm #

    We do not full time but are retired snowbirds who travel a lot by RV. I totally agree you on the 3 month time frame. After 3 months in one place we get restless and are ready to explore elsewhere. We have a nice home on a lake and another near Mexico and our friends wonder why we are seldom there.

    • Becky August 4, 2015 at 7:49 pm #

      I should start an informal poll to see what people’s ideal length of stay at a gig is, would be interesting to see the results! Thanks for sharing Ron.

  5. jonthebru August 4, 2015 at 3:49 am #

    And if you weren’t there for the summer you would have missed that double rainbow shot!

    I have a young friend from Eastern Canada who is a cook on a really authentic inter-island freighter in the South Pacific. On Facebook one of her friends asked when she was coming home; her reply was simply “never”.
    I have enjoyed reading your posts of the hikes and excursions you go on.

    • Becky August 4, 2015 at 7:57 pm #

      I hold to the opinion that here’s something worth seeing no matter where you end up. 🙂 Thank you for reading Jon.

  6. Mark Watson August 4, 2015 at 4:00 am #

    Nice rainbow pic. What kind of lens are you using? My point and shoot would only capture about 40% of what you got. I haven’t posted since your Kanab Utah trip, but have been following every post since then. Thanks for a wonderful blog site.

    • Becky August 4, 2015 at 7:59 pm #

      I’m just using my iPhone 4S Mark, this was a panorama shot, a feature that came with the phone.

      You’re welcome, I’m glad you’re finding IO useful and entertaining.

  7. PamP August 4, 2015 at 8:25 am #

    Great topic!

    I’m so fortunate as a single senior to be able to spend each winter as a volunteer at Florida State Parks earning a free campsite. Perhaps because of my personality, lonlie-ness never enters the picture. I get plenty of interaction with other people talking to visitors and working alongside other staff. At the end of my workday, I’m happy to step inside my little camper and be greeted by my little dog.

    I agree with others who say at 3 months, I’m ready to roll on to a new location.

    • Becky August 4, 2015 at 8:03 pm #

      I really enjoyed my time (3 months!) this past winter volunteering for the Texas state park system, it’s a nice way to earn a campsite for sure.

      I personally rarely get lonely, that’s just the way I am. But my post covered all angles, to try to be as useful to as many people as possible. It’s one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written.

  8. Jim Schmechel August 4, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

    I really love the double rainbow photo! This is a great perspective. I recently had a conversation with a friend that was considering the full-time lifestyle. She was worried that it was romanticized by certain bloggers. I told her that I felt it often was, and that there are advantages and disadvantages, just like every other choice we make in life. I think you do a great job at presenting the reality for us. Thank you for being so honest!
    Jim Schmechel recently posted..Farment MadisonMy Profile

    • Becky August 4, 2015 at 8:05 pm #

      You’re welcome Jim. As I say frequently, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. 😉 The problem with people asking me “Is it really as fun as everyone makes it seem?” is that it’s such a personal thing. For some people yes it would be, and for others it really wouldn’t. It all depends on what a person’s wants and needs are.

  9. jim August 4, 2015 at 3:27 pm #

    I’m in the group that thinks working in a park must be the neatest thing ever. As for the people who think it’s sad I hope you directed them to your blog so they could see just how wrong they are to feel sad for you. Have you considered posting any new videos on youtube? Have fun and be safe.

    • Becky August 4, 2015 at 8:08 pm #

      When people seem really interested I’ll tell them about my blog Jim. 🙂

      I’m unable to upload videos here in Yellowstone, remember I only have 3GB of bandwidth for the whole month and the nearest free WiFi is 45 minutes away and too slow. Hopefully when I get down to Texas I’ll be able to. 🙂

  10. Maura August 4, 2015 at 5:14 pm #

    It’s interesting how that 3 mth maker tends to be universal. It’s long enough to get a solid sense of an area, which cements it more in the brain. I like how you work on continuing to make it an adventure, a very good tip.
    Maura recently posted..JUST SMILEMy Profile

    • Becky August 4, 2015 at 8:09 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed this Maura, 3 months does seem to be the consensus so far!

  11. Pamela August 4, 2015 at 7:13 pm #

    Hey Becky,
    Where are you headed next? What grand adventures you’re having, kudos!
    Pamela recently posted..Up Next for Van HalenMy Profile

    • Becky August 4, 2015 at 8:10 pm #

      Off to Amazon for the fall again Pamela, this time near Fort Worth, TX. After that, well, I’ll be releasing more info on that soon. 😉

      • Angela August 6, 2015 at 4:21 pm #

        Working at Amazon in the fall is one of the jobs I plan on persuing once I hit the road. Silly question maybe, but if my rig is a Class B, could I carpool with those people that have toads? I would hate to have to break camp every day. Or I could bike if the campground is closer. (although in the winter, it might be rough!)

  12. Dawn August 4, 2015 at 8:29 pm #

    People that love to read used to tell me (when I was working at Borders Books) that it must be wonderful to work in such a huge book store. But in reality, retail is retail, and if you spend 7 or 8 hours standing at a cash register it really doesn’t matter where you are.

    Glad you’ve figured out a way to enjoy the park while working a lot, you have good ideas!

    • Becky August 6, 2015 at 11:58 am #

      Well, to me it does matter to some extent Dawn. Working retail in the clothing department of a big box store was less interesting (I was never a clothes person) than working here in a park where I have more in common with the shoppers to talk about. That being said I know where you’re coming from, the job remains the same everywhere, it’s the people who make a difference.

      Thanks for commenting!

  13. Jodee Gravel August 4, 2015 at 9:37 pm #

    We are fortunate to have a pension to live/play on, but would have loved to be on the road earlier in life. Seems there is always a pay-off, but as you’ve aptly stated, it’s about making the very best of where you find yourself. We have found some real treasures off the beaten path, surrounded by unbelievable beauty – both natural and human.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Why We’ll Likely Wait for SolarMy Profile

    • Becky August 6, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

      Glad to hear that the road is treating you well Jodee. 🙂

  14. Cate August 6, 2015 at 11:22 am #

    Hi Becky,

    I don’t comment often, and thank you for the helpful information and comments on work camping. I work 30 hrs/wk in an office and escape to the beautiful outdoors via your blog. I am dreaming and planning…hopefully on the road in 2 yrs. I will have a modest but probably adequate budget for full time RV lifestyle, however, suspect that if I can land some gigs that will be a good way to keep money in savings for emergencies and special treats.

    By the way…the little box that promises to send email alerts when you have a new posting is not working for me. I have entered my email twice and requested this link…no luck. If there’s a way to fix…that would be appreciated.

    I’m amazed at the beautiful photos you are able to capture with your Iphone! Your choices of shots and compositions are excellent!

    Be well. Thanks again,
    CateW

    • Becky August 6, 2015 at 12:15 pm #

      Hello Cate,

      I’m glad IO gives you an escape from the mundane, and hope that before long you’ll be making the escape to the road yourself. 🙂

      I’ll look into the comment subscription thing, it’s given me problems once before in the past – there’s possibly a new version of it that I need to update to and if that’s the case it’ll take a while until I can drive to West Yellowstone for free Wi-Fi (my phone internet is pretty limited).

      Thank you, and I’m glad you’re enjoying my photos. I like to think that a person doesn’t need to have a fancy camera to take good pictures, a lot of it is just practice and I’ve had a few years of practice now.

      Safe travels and happy trails,
      Becky

  15. Rhonda August 6, 2015 at 10:40 pm #

    Thanks for directing me to your “Useful Stuff” section…I am now closer to the answers I seek. 🙂

    • Becky August 7, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

      Glad to hear it Rhonda!

  16. Steve Holt August 20, 2015 at 2:51 pm #

    Becky: If you don’t mind saying, could you tell me the wage range for working in a NP? What other benefits go with the salary? i.e. camping priviledges, gift shop or food discounts, etc. My wife and I are retired and plan to hit the road soon. We foresee wanting to occasionally find a part time job to break things up and earn a little money. Love your posts. Steve

    • Becky August 22, 2015 at 10:48 am #

      Here you go Steve: http://www.interstellarorchard.com/2013/04/05/working-at-national-parks-for-rvers/ (for anyone else reading, remember that I link to my most useful posts – such as this one – in the “Useful Stuff” tab at the top of the blog).

      Basically: You’re going to be at or near minimum wage for the state you’re working in. Most places will want you to work 40 hours a week. You’ll get a discount off your campsite but will still need to pay some of it (usually deducted directly from your paycheck), you’ll probably get a discount on shopping, and may be eligible to enroll in a meal plan which may or may not be cheaper than cooking for yourself. Again, read that link above for the full story.

      For myself and everyone else I’ve talked to the conclusion is basically this: if you’re frugal like me, you’ll be able to save a little at a national park job (a couple hundred dollars maybe) but most people just break even. These jobs aren’t about making money so much as getting to live in a national park for a season.

      Best of luck to you whatever you decide!

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