essays

Das Verkkampers

Route 66 TV showTraveling across America, taking a job here, a job there. Meeting new people and finding adventure in unexpected places. If it all sounds like the original network pitch for the TV series Route 66, it may come as a surprise that it’s the life many baby boomers are leading these days.

Boomers call it “workamping” and its popularity is growing among retirees. Instead of driving Corvettes, these workampers are piloting recreational vehicles and exchanging their labor for a place to park the beast.

My first exposure to workamping occurred many years ago in Death Valley. Hundreds of RVs dotted the outskirts of town and many of the owners worked in the gift shops, gas stations, motels and the National Park. In May, when the temperatures rose to unbearable heights, the RVs would roll out of town like a massive butterfly migration.

The fact is that many retirees cannot afford to take off for a six months or a year without supplemental income. Workamping allows them to travel around the country, see the places they’ve always wanted to visit, and find the temporary employment they need to finance their travel.

Summertime is the easiest season to find work. The Army Corp of Engineers hires temps, and there are loads of seasonal jobs at amusement parks, water parks, and the service industries that surround popular tourist destinations. The jobs pay minimum wage to $12 an hour, and sometimes workampers work in return for a campsite with water and electricity.

When Todd and Buzz drove the Vette around the country, issues such as health care, taxes, licensing and registrations never seemed to crop up. Workampers, on the other hand, have to figure out what state to claim as a domicile and how to get their mail forwarded to wherever they are taking up temporary class B RVresidence. It can get sticky, but not insurmountable, and thousands of workampers manage just fine.

So, how many boomers are out on the roads in their RVs? No one really knows, but if you go online and look at the proliferation of websites devoted to full-time RV living, it looks like more and more boomers are joining the ranks of the workampers. There’s Cheap RV Living,
RV Dreams, RV Life and Travel, Workamper News, and too many personal workamper blogs to mention.

The big question for those considering the workamper lifestyle is how long can you call the road “home?” Living in cramped quarters and taking some not so great minimum wage jobs can take its toll. Best advice to future workampers? Do the research, rent a camper and try out the lifestyle for a full season before you sell the ranch.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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