Comparing Work Options for RVers

Still camping at Lake Crowley, CA

Currently camping at Lake Crowley, CA

Having now acquired a good amount of experience while RVing with both working in a fixed location, and working remotely, it feels like a good time to give a rundown on both types and the positives and negatives of each.

First an explanation of terms, as not everyone may know what work-camping is, and definitions do vary depending on who you ask. If you look at the words “work-camping”, you’d think it should encompass any kind of work done while camping (and maybe someday it will), but for now the majority of people I’ve spoken to agree to the following:

Work-camping: Working in a fixed physical location while residing in an RV.

Work-camping covers jobs specifically for RVers where an RV site is provided, often at a reduced rate or free as part of the job contract, but also to more traditional temporary jobs where the RVer finds and pays for their own RV site.

Most often, a work-camper is an employee or contractor working for someone else, although that isn’t always the case. I know RVers who sell goods at shows or festivals and are self-employed, but since their work requires a fixed physical location (in this case a booth at the show to make the sales), I personally consider that work-camping.

Working Remotely: Work that does not require a fixed physical location.

Most people think of self-employed individuals who work from their computers when they think of working remotely, and that probably is the largest percentage of location-independent working RVers, but not by any means the only option.

Employees who telecommute, and folks who run a business with physical product and ship it by mail (where the selling does not require a fixed physical location) also fall into this category.

Next I’m going to go over my own income evolution since I hit the road, for the benefit of readers who haven’t been with IO from the beginning (and long-time readers who’d like a refresher):

My first year as a full-timer (September 2012 to September 2013) was funded entirely by work-camping – specifically by taking seasonal jobs as an employee. I worked for Amazon in the fall, Lowe’s in the winter, and at a National Park from spring until the start of the next fall.

That first year, I had about 8 weeks without working, better than the two weeks of vacation I use to get living stationary and working a “real” job, but a decent chunk of that 8 weeks was spent driving from one job to the next.

In my second and third years, I started making some money working for myself remotely (through this blog and other writing endeavors) and cut out the winter job. I still worked for Amazon in the fall and a National Park for the summer, but over the winter and early spring I took volunteer positions. Volunteering gave me a free site, and the online income slowly accumulated throughout the year was enough to cover the rest of my living expenses for the gap without employment.

Now in my fourth year on the road, I worked Amazon in the fall and am attempting to cut out the summer job and boondock from winter until next fall. 5 months down, 3.5 still to go, and so far I am on track.

It's spring in the campground

I’m doing a pretty good job of following spring so far this year

So which is a better way to make a living on the road, work-camping or working remotely?

From the trend in my personal employment you know which I prefer, but there isn’t a “best” way. Actually, I recommend having more than one income stream – whether you’re working in a fixed location or remotely. That way if your primary job fails, you’re still bringing in some money. When deciding which route is best, there are actually two variables to consider: whether you’re working for yourself or someone else, and whether you’re working in a fixed location or remotely.

Individual cases will vary of course, but here’s a few generalized pluses and minuses:

Pros

Cons

Other

Fixed-location, employee
  • Anyone can do it. There are plenty of work-camping jobs out there that require no prior experience or schooling.
  • Social networking is easier, you’ll likely be in one place long enough to make friends.
  • Steady paycheck.
  • Most work-camping jobs require a stay of at least 3 months, so less travel flexibility.
  • Often pays at or near minimum wage, unless you have specialized skills.
  • Less flexibility with work schedule.
  • You’ll have a boss calling the shots and looking over your shoulder.
  • Opportunity to try something you’ve never done before and learn new skills with less risk, as you’re being trained by your employer and are getting paid whether you’re good at it or not.
  • Despite the low pay, can be a living wage if you’re frugal.
Working Remotely, employee
  • More travel flexibility.
  • Steady paycheck.
  • Boss won’t be on-site looking over your shoulder.
  • Need to be self-motivated.
  • You’ll have a boss calling the shots.
  • May or may not have a say over work schedule.
Fixed-location, self-employed
  • Social networking is easier.
  • No boss, you call the shots.
  • Need to be self-motivated.
  • Usually takes time to establish a business.
  • Variable paycheck.
  • May or may not have a say over work schedule.
  • May or may not have travel fexibility.
Remotely, self-employed
  • More flexibility with work schedule.
  • More travel flexibility.
  • No boss, you call the shots.
  • Need to be self-motivated.
  • Usually takes time to establish a business.
  • Variable paycheck.

Note that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list and not every bullet point may apply to every possible situation. That being said, if any of you working RVers out there have any tips or experiences you’d like to share, please let us know in the comments below!

Looking for more? Check out the Resources page, where there are several articles listed about work-camping and earning a living on the road.

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