Thursday, January 11, 2018

Get a Job Easily: Everything You Need to Know About Camphosting

Job Sweet Home

I've wanted to do this blog post since I finished camp hosting back in October, after I completed my first season.   I decided to upload this blog post now because the time to get a camp hosting job, is quickly approaching.   Camp Hosting companies usually do the bulk of their recruiting at the end of January for the following spring (May and June typically).  Since I want to be thorough, it will be a lengthy post, so sorry about that in advance, I will try to break it up as best as I can.

If you are more of the "Show don't tell" type, I also made a video covering these points and giving a demonstration of typical camp hosting day.

What is Camp Hosting?

You may not even know what Camp Hosting is, so let me explain.   Camp hosting is a job where you manage a campground for a concessionaire (company) to take care of the area, collect fees, and make campers happy.   It is nearly always a seasonal job (but not always) and most jobs take place in the spring-autumn months (but not always).   The specifics of these jobs vary widely by not only the particular company you work for, but by the location even in that same company, and even by the particular land owner/planner (typically government or utility) that contracts that company. 

This is the overall area I managed, 6 recreation areas daily. 
Some others occassionally.

So I will mostly be speaking about my experiences, with my company.   If you read my blog before you know i don't like vague, wishy washy posts.   I will always give you the details.   My company that I worked for and will next season is American Land and Leisure.   They are one of the largest in the country, so allow you to move around each year if you want.  If you already know what camp hosting is and just want to know how to score a job already, you can stop reading, click that link, and apply to them right now.   Give the HR guy a call, he is really nice. 

Chances are extremely high you will be hired, probably right on the phone (assume you are being interviewed if you talk to him, even if it seems casual).

If you want to learn more about what camp hosting is like and other options before applying, then read on.

Lindsey Lake, late May. One of my campgrounds.

For people like me, who are not disabled or are too young to collect social security or retirement, one of the biggest concerns about living the nomadic lifestyle is how you will pay for it.   As cheap as this lifestyle can be, you will eventually need some sort of money to live on, its just a fact of the world we live in.   While there are some opportunities available to work online at your leisure, these are not as easy or as lucrative as a lot of the internet and others will have you believe.   Camp hosting is a sure fire way to put money in your hands, while providing you a (usually lovely) place to live in the mean time. 

What Will They Require of Me as a Camp Host?

Fuller Lake, My Host Site

Usually you are a temporary employee and are expected to work and live on a campsite they provide for 5-6 months, after which you are cut loose.   Though you are often invited back to the same position, or get first crack at another open position that is available next season, you are technically laid off at the end.   This is a good thing, because you can, and are often encouraged to, apply for unemployment afterwards if you meet the particular states eligibility.

As part of your agreement to work with them, you will be provided a campsite.  Not all campsites are the same obviously, and what amenities are included are different for each site.   It probably goes without saying, but full hook up sites go first, and are often taken by people with larger rigs.  Sometimes you will be right next to customers, sometimes you will be all by yourself and drive to the campground or campgrounds.

Feeley Lake, one of my campgrounds

The more remote you get, the less hookups will be available.    These companies DO ask you what kind of rig you have and SOME are particular about your rig size, type and even age.   Typically they want you to have a toilet and indoor shower.  Some want you to have a hard side camper (cold and bears).

The more remote you get, and the less amenities you require, the less they give a damn.   If you are in a cargo van, then no, you are in a self-contained campervan and willing to work remote and without hookups when asked.  Capiche? As the season draws near, some spots i think they'd take a guy with a bike and a tent they are so desperate to fill spots (I'm exaggerating, but i did hear about a biker who worked a site once).

Even if you say you don't need hookups, they will provide you water via tank and most likely sewer, and you'll have all the toilets you need cause you'll be cleaning them :)

Carr Lake, one of my campgrounds

You will be required to have a cell phone, you won't be reimbursed for it.   I have heard that some companies will provide you with a phone, walkie talkie or radio.  But mine did not. 

Even though I barely got a signal where I was, I still had to have a way to contact the Area Manager or emergency services.   Sometimes I had to drive to a spot where i could get a signal, check messages, etc.  I once stood on a rock, held my phone up in the air on speaker to call the fire department.   You might be able to use email as well (i found that data or text worked more consistently than voice calls).  This might not be a factor for you if you aren't in a remote area like I am.

Road to one of my campgrounds.

Depending on the position, you may be required to drive your own vehicle (with gas reimbursement, but not wear and tear.).   Unless it was a paved campground, and not too big at that, I wouldn't take such a position.   My company provided me with a four wheel drive truck, and a gas card because the insane roads I had to travel.    A lot of places provide a golf cart if you in just one spot (my job next season is like this).

You will not be required to have any tools, supplies and things of that nature as they will be provided.   However, both I and a lot of the hosts i worked with would bring more tools or things to make the job easier even if it meant the company wasn't providing them.   For example, I bought a smaller/lighter electric weed eater, because the larger gas ones can strain your back.  And since I planned to continue this job in the future, it was a good investment to me.

You will be required to work physically.   Some of you out there are seniors or older, please do not go into this thinking it isn't manual labor.   Just remember, they are huge safety buffs, so ask for help.   Go at your own pace.

Twice a season, had to hike 2 miles to this one.

You will be required to walk, and maybe sometimes hike miles (i was a little surprised at this one), and lift heavy things.   My job says 'lift up to 50 lbs" but I will tell you now, picnic tables will be moved and they weigh like 500 lbs.  DO NOT let anyone convince you that you should relocate a table alone.   You will be required to scrape old paint off tables and repaint them.

You may be required to shovel firepits out and level them, lift logs, rake, trim brush, use a weed eater and a leaf blower.  You may be required to hang up signs and notices, repair signs, and even replace broken toilet seats.

I had to replace this seat, no biggie, look up at those pics above for solace.

They will require you to clean bathrooms.   Inside the toilet riser, and the outside, the floors, everything.  You will be provided with gloves and supplies, its not the most fun job but its not brain science either.   People can be gross, and you will be shocked by how messy they can be, but get it over with.  Eventually you won't even be bothered.    Some places will give you water hoses and pressure washers so you wont have to even touch anything.  If you don't have water available on demand (they usually provide you water somehow for cleaning, like a tank on your vehicle), i recommend talking your AM into getting you a pressurized garden sprayer or just ponying up for one, makes your life so much easier.

You will be required to pick up trash and haul trash away.  You should be provided with a nice grabber tool which I actually enjoyed playin...err...working with.

I had to replace this sign.

Some positions require paperwork, computer work, reservation handling, money collection and counting.   You may be required to ask customers to pay up directly, and/or collect from 'iron rangers' (metal safes near sign boards).

They require you to deal with people in a friendly but firm way.  From my experience, you should ALWAYS go with the honey, not the vinegar approach.  Mostly because you have no real authority, as you are not a ranger.  People may think you are one, and may call you one, and may comply because of that (when i knew i had some fishy characters to deal with, i would dress up in my 'ranger' uniform).  But they may not comply or respect you at all.  Don't get yourself in a position where a customer can call your bluff.

Most customers, like these, are cool. I liked their trailer.

People will try to lie, and cheat you and not pay.   But my company, for instance, is more worried about them being happy customers than they are about making a few extra bucks.   Stay within the rules, but be flexible if you can be.  Offer alternatives to something they don't like (like if they couldn't pay, tell them about a free spot elsewhere).    If they give me a line of BS I would just tell them to drop it in the iron ranger later.   Some campgrounds that isn't an option if you have reservations to deal with, so escalate to the AM if you have to.

No matter what I said, these deadbeats wouldn't pay.

The worst thing for you is getting a complaint, because it will always be your fault in the end even if it wasn't.   Your Area Manager may back you, but anything above the AM level will most likely side with the customer, because they aren't there and can't judge (and a lot of people will go to the land planner/forest service/utility directly aka 'worst case scenario').

So How Much Can I Make?

Almost all of them start you off at minimum wage or slightly above it.   So if possible, take advantage of your mobile lifestyle and go where the minimum wage is higher.   I went to California, which was at $10/hour i believe, and is slated to go up to $15 in the future.

You do get raises at my company the more seasons you do, and I imagine the other companies have a similar policy.   Remember, you may only start with minimum wage but you are getting a place to stay and some or all utilities covered.   So be sure to factor that into your decision.

How much you can make in a season varies of course on the hours you work.

You will be required to work a preset amount of hours each week, but you are not guaranteed to work these hours.   You do sign an agreement for these hours but there will be something in there that lets them cut your hours due to weather conditions, low revenue, things of that nature. 

Sometimes you will get less hours on your agreement for the first month and last month, as they are slower.  They want you to be happy and keep working, so if at all possible they try to keep your agreement hours though.   Sometimes, it works the other way too, in your favor.   My job required a certain amount of picnic tables to be repaired, replaced, and painted.   I received extra hours during the slow months to do this task, since they didn't have time the previous year to do them.

This needed hauled off and replaced!

Your area will have an Area Manager (AM) or other supervisor, that will determine this week by week.  They usually handle several hosts in the area, and also the ones who provide you supplies and support.   They occasionally inspect your areas to see how you are meeting goals but they won't be hovering over your shoulder (least not the good ones).  Three times, campgrounds were inspected by the land planner (the guy in charge of making sure the concessionaire is fulfilling the contract they made for the area.)

The hours given are tied to the site you will be working at, and from what I can tell are already set so no real negotiating for more hours (though you might be able to ask for a position that has more hours available).

Most sites are 20 hours per week, with sites requiring a couple each getting 20 (for 40 total).   Though way more common, not all sites require you to be a pair.  I worked a '40 hour' single host job, because my position was more demanding than usual (it was 30-40 actually, with less at the beginning and end). 

I was required to drive several hours a day and care for 6 different areas spread out over the mountains, which would be impossible in just 20 hours a week.   I was also required to visit more sites a different number of times per week and even a couple just 2 times a season.   This isn't typical, usually you are in a single campground you (and perhaps your partner) manage with maybe a day use area nearby.

Rucker Lake, you guessed it, one of mine.
That is a fake duck on that kayak that some geese were fascinated by.

You are sorta 'on the clock' all the time for customers.   Typically you set your own daily schedule, and my company is very focused on letting you decide how best to manage your time and campground, within the hour and rule constraints they outline.  You DO get a day off, or even two, to go to town and resupply, whatever.   A good area manager will be very flexible and fill in for you when things come up as well. 

On a slow day, I decided to knock off early and visit Donner Lake and
Donner Party Museum Nearby.

As an example, on days I knew I had to go to more remote campgrounds, or do paperwork, I took an hour from one day and moved it to those days.   I maintained the same weekly total, but allowed myself more or less time as needed.  You won't be getting overtime except in the most extreme of cases though, so plan around that...

You will typically have a physical address to get mail and packages.   This was a big boon for me.

Uniforms are provided by my company.

Since it is a seasonal job, they won't be providing medical or similar benefits.  If this is the only job you work, however, you may qualify for free medicaid in your state though.

My coworkers, most of which were awesome!

There are some fringe benefits not easily quantified as well.   Typically, you have regular safety meetings that are usually more like bbq parties (if your AM is good).  You meet other hosts of various origins, experience and form some cool friendships.  Two of the people I camped with near the end and became friends with are going to be my new AM next season.   How cool is that?

You can access all the recreation areas at your leisure.  My company gives you a free stay even when you aren't working in any of their campgrounds across the US (with prior approval).  They also pay for a big party at the end, ours was at a nice restaurant...I got a New York strip and clam chowder, with a cheesecake dessert, if you are wondering :)

I took a day off and checked out this lookout tower.
That lake lower left with the tiny island is Island Lake, and yeah, you guessed it...

Your host site is basically yours to do with as you please as long as you keep it clean and accessible to customers and don't encroach on anyone else.  One of my coworkers built an entire deck around his camper, had a fenced in area for his pets, put up a doorbell and gate, had a trailer with his own washer, dryer and multiple refrigerators.

I redid my rear drum brakes at mine, though I was careful to keep it clean.  It was nice having an unhindered place to work on them and take my time.

This took a while...

A Typical Day As A Camp Host

Although my position was a little unique in how my day went (3 hours of driving...) I still basically performed the same tasks as other hosts, so I will describe a typical day without the extracurricular activities.

You wake up in the morning, when you feel is the right time.   There is no clock to punch.  You don't want to sleep in too late, because customers will be expecting clean bathrooms in the morning.  Remember its all about them. 

I typically got up at 8am and packed up the supplies i will need for that day.  If you have reservations, you will most likely have a printout of the days reservations, or an email to print out, so prepare that.   Reservations usually require you to put up a sign of some sort (im vague here because all my sites were first come, first served).

Grouse Ridge Campground and my truck.
Not one of my campgrounds for a change (its free btw!)

I head to the campground, and empty the iron ranger of fee envelopes.  On a sheet of paper that I numbered with all the sites, I mark down the checkout dates of the people who paid.   This is so when I go through the campground, I can note who is there that didn't pay yet, and ask them to do so.  You kind of want to time this with the check-out and check-in times of your campground, so you aren't bothering people who might not have checked in yet but don't let people sneak in extra days either.  You get a feel for the campground and when is a good time to go.

You want to interact with customers, make nice talk, before you hit them with payment requests or ask about rule stuff.

If they seem receptive, just shoot the shit with them for no reason.   Informing yourself about the area, fishing spots or habits etc will make your job a lot easier.  I'm not required to, but sometimes if I see people hauling in a cooler or kayak when I am driving through, I will let them toss it in the back and carry it for them.  People really appreciate that.

I make my way toward the bathrooms, being sure to inspect the area for trash, hazards, or sites that need cleaned up for the next customer.   I clean the toilet, inside and out, stock the toilet paper, sweep then mop myself out (if needed...).  Clean up spider webs inside and outside of the bathrooms.  If you have more than one, clean one bathroom at a time, because customers will constantly ask to use a restroom as you clean it.

I empty trash cans if there are any.

Raked and Cleaned

I then go through and clean out the empty campsites.   I check for trash, check the bear box (if applicable), rake around and under the picnic table, and around the fire ring (clear anything from around it out to 5-10 feet).   Clean out any wood or ashes in the firepit (my company specified a certain clearance inside the firepit from the top of the ring).

I will also drown any fires or firepits that were hot or recently used (never bury fires btw, they just smolder for days).  Although they provide metal buckets for hot ashes and logs, it is often better/safer to leave them to drown in the pit and then clean it the next day if possible.  Remember, you decide the best way to deal with your campground, it can wait a till tomorrow if you say so, unless someone else directly says otherwise.

You have to spot and fix hazards like this.

If needed, I did some bush trimming or weed eating on the parking areas or trails.  Once a week and after storms, I would blow leaves and pine needles.

The bulk of the work is done if you just have one campsite.  Head back to your rig for lunch or whatever.   You should make a return round to the bathrooms in the afternoon, and maybe one before evening.    Adjust based on how busy it is.

What does your breakroom look like? :)

At the end of the day, enter the fees in the computer, and then eat dinner or whatever and chill.  I might go for a hike or something.

Customers will occasionally come by and ask you questions.  It can be annoying, but remember it is your job, just politely help them and send them on their way.    I'm usually in my rig at dark unless I want a campfire with friends/other hosts, and I'm ready for bed by 10 or 11.

Once a week at an agreed upon time in the morning, ill see the AM who will bring me asked for supplies, collect my money, timesheet and paperwork, and ask if there is anything else i need.

Sounds pretty simple right?

OK, How Do I Sign Up To This Awesome Job

The jobs are surprisingly easy to get.   You don't have to pay to sign up to some newsletter, don't go for that scam.  Most concessionaires have a website, and you can apply through them.  They will likely call you and interview you right over the phone.   Paperwork is then mailed to you, and you mail it back, or you fill it out with the AM when you get there, or a combination of both.  Remember that although these jobs are more casual affairs, they are employers and you are a prospective applicant, so be professional and eager to be hired.

Most positions are filled by the end of january, but not all.   Not all positions are updated on the websites.   Don't be afraid to call and ask if they have something in the area you want to be in at that time.  If you don't find a position at first, try calling again in late April, early May if you still need a job as a lot of people drop out at this time and they become desperate to fill the positions again.

You can apply in person 

Big RV Tent Show, I found 2 concessionaires outside of the tent itself!

Every year, almost all of the camphosting concessionaires out west will be recruiting at booths at the Big RV Tent show in Quartsite, Arizona at the end of January (I went on Jan.21, but check dates).   This coincides with the conclusion of the  Rubber Tramp Rendevous, which was perfect for me.

I'll tell you exactly how it went:

I just walked in there day one, found a promising looking booth at the event (i was looking for California Land Management, but never found their booth, it was a madhouse in there), and told them I wanted a job.  It was American Land and Leisure.  There were several people standing around, looking at a board of available jobs.   The company HR guy, the president and vice president were the ones hiring.   They approached me with a smile.

They asked me what area i wanted to work in and tried to accommodate me.   They asked what kind of rig I had. 

I told them i had a campervan, which they seemed less enthused about until I told them I was willing to work remote with little to no hook ups.   They became all smiles again then, and gave me multiple suggestions/positions.  Sites without hookups are really hard for them to fill.

They asked if I had experience, which i didn't.   I did mention that I had worked in a similar industry though.  They gave me a general rundown of what the job entailed.

After narrowing down a site in Northern California, they called the regional manager (a great guy, we ended up camping together for a while) to let me ask him specific questions.   I asked him what the road was like snow wise to the host site, starting date and ending date, amenities, did i get a 4x4 vehicle etc.  The new details actually made me change my mind, and go with a different one that started and ended earlier that he suggested.

After the HR guy briefly talked to the regional manager on the phone, I was hired on the spot.   I filled out some paper work and was eating a pulled pork sandwich 20 minutes later. 

In February I received a packet in the mail with company forms, uniform order form etc, I mailed off.  The Area Manager was supposed to call me closer to the start date, but she was pretty bad at her job (another story), so I had to call them to confirm when to come out (cause whether can change things) etc.  And that was it.

You can also do it online or on the phone too

Here is a list of places to try online:
American Land and Leisure - Concessionaire (Nationwide, Utah based, mostly west)
California Land Management - Concessionaire (California, duh)
Thousand Trails - Resort Company
Cool Works - Camp Hosting Job Directory
Workers on Wheels - Camp Hosting Job Directory

Final Warning

There are a lot of devious players in the recreation business.   Make sure before you commit to traveling somewhere that you are actually getting PAID to work there.   Many of the sites will offer work for pay...ment for your campsite.   With a vague promises about additional hours (you'll never see) over the site cost being paid to you.  Screw that.   Plenty of jobs with a free site and hourly wage out there, don't be fooled.   Some will even offer to pay you, but want to take out for utilities or the site from your pay.  Don't sell your soul to the company store.  Observe due diligence.

Thanks for reading this, i know it was crazy long.   I hope it provides a unique insight into Camp Hosting, or maybe not.   Do you have experience as a camp host or campground manager?   Share your experiences below, knowledge is power :)


  1. I like your style. You tell it like it is. My first experience seeking a job as a Host was around 1980. I drove around 200 miles to check it out and took a friend as we hadn't been to the area before. When I learned that I would be charged for my camping spot and utilities whether or not I was actually earning enough to pay for them my red hair lit right up...then we went back to Palmer TX. Years later while living in SD I accepted a position in the Pierre SD area as a resort Kitchen Manager and there was a position on the boat dock for my teenage son when summer started. It sounded great! A 2bd rm mobile home with utilities at no cost and wages for us both. I loaded my full size Bronco with all the important stuff. Dammit the untrained attack cat, sewing machine, TV, fans, bicycle, food, clothes, fishing rods, camera and away I went straight across SD E to W. There was a note on the MH to go right in. So in I went to someones dirty underwear laying under the coffee table, a shut off before being cleaned frig left to sit and a BIG HOLE in the hall floor covered with a throw rug. It also only had 1bd rm. That we could have dealt with. Not last seasons filth and being lied to. I took pictures wrote them a not very nice note and turned around and went home.
    You said it in your warning about being aware of promises.
    My pictures that I took went with me to the SD Employment Service and saved my benefits from being denied. I was unemployed, then hired by the campground and then quit. By quitting and providing proof that I quit with a valid reason I was able to draw my benefits until I found a good job.

    I'm retired and would like to do some voluteering or maybe work for pay at some type of campground in the future. It might not work for me. My Son sez that the older I get the meaner I get. I tell him I'm like a vintage car. Replacement parts can be hard to find. My "Others Folks B.S, Filter" is full and can't be replaced or cleaned. I'm nice and friendly to a point. I'm lucky that few get to that point.

    Your inexpensive van conversions were one of the 1st things I saw when my son hooked me up on the SKY NET 2yrs ago and I joined CRVL.

    Thanks Jewellann aka Txjbird

    1. I really appreciate that. Sorry you got caught by some o the bad eggs, I've heard other horror stories too, but the good stories outweigh them imo.

      Being in a beautiful location does wonders or my temper!