RVing is the great equalizer in the U.S. Stroll around any RV park or campground and you’ll meet people from all walks of life. Many campers are permanently on the road workamping and full-timing because they want to. But an equal amount are doing it because they feel they have no other choice. A new book published in September 2017 called “Nomadland” dives deep into some of their stories.
Is the full-time RVing and workamping lifestyle that bad?
“We were doing what we thought was the right thing to do and we got screwed,” said Bob Apperly, an Amazon CamperForce workamper. In 2013 he told his story to Jessica Bruder, a journalist with a penchant for sharing the stories of America’s subcultures.
Bruder wanted to reveal the stories behind full-time RVing and workamping travelers for a Harper’s Magazine article. The piece would evolve into Nomadland, released last September. She talked to Apperly was working as temporary staff for the Fernley, Nevada Amazon distribution center when Bruder learned that he, like many others in the park, had lost their homes in the Great Recession and were now making ends meet through workamping and temporary jobs.
“The Apperleys weren’t the only foreclosure victims I found in the ranks of Amazon’s CamperForce. I spoke with dozens of workers in Nevada, Kansas, and Kentucky. Tales of money and trouble were rampant. Sometimes I felt like I was wandering around post-recession refugee camps, places of last resort where Americans got shipped if the so-called “jobless recovery” had exiled them from the traditional workforce. At other moments, I felt like I was talking to prison inmates. It was tempting to cut through the pleasantries and ask, “What are you in for?” – Page 56, Nomadland by Jessica Bruder.
A respectable effort spotlighting the worst aspects
Anyone who has tried full-time RVing and workamping understands that like any job, the tasks may be strenuous or easy, repetitive, or mentally stimulating. The workamping jobs discussed in Nomadland are among the most challenging of all.
From hosting busy campgrounds with rowdy visitors to assembly-line work for Amazon, Bruder zeroes in on the most difficult aspects of these jobs and stories of a certain segment of RVers who do them. She calls them “downwardly mobile older Americans,” a segment of the RVing community comprised of individuals who are close to retirement or on the verge of utter destitution. They often work for little pay and long hours that take a huge toll on their bodies and energy.
Bruder attempts to understand her subjects better by purchasing an old 1995 GMC van outfitted with the most basic facilities. She traveled solo over 14,000 miles while living out of her van and visiting full-timer watering holes like Quartzsite. Her itinerary also included a Rubber Tramp Rendezvous to learn more about “stealth camping” survival tips.
In just under two years she explores the outer fringes of the full-timing lifestyle. She takes a job with the Amazon CamperForce and befriends a full-timer traveler named Linda. The woman is one of many workampers scraping by while holding out hope for better days.
Nomadland is a respectable effort at telling the stories of a small segment of America’s full-time RVers and workampers. Unfortunately, it uses every opportunity to highlight the worst aspects of the lifestyle and paint it with the same brush. Anyone thinking about workamping will appreciate the book’s honesty but should also maintain a healthy dose of skepticism while reading it. You can find it on Amazon here.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.
I haven’t yet read the book.
However, I’ve worked in RV parks in the past and the pay was not very good. In some areas don’t expect anything over $10.00 per / hour. I worked hard mowing lawns, clean-up, etc. Some of the lawns were large over 10 to 15+ acres. My duties mainly involved mowing, trimming, clean-up, pumping gas and other miscellaneous duties. The payment method was a deduction from my monthly rental fee. I got along with parks daily and monthly customers. No problems here.
I found the main thing when working in a RV are how the owners treat their employees. I found a few park owners some were younger and new owners didn’t really know how to treat their employees. Especially when only paying them $10.00 per / hour. If they were to hire professional maintenance people for yard work, clean-up and other duties the cost would be much higher. IMO, treatment of the employees by RV park owners can become a huge concern when finding RV related jobs. They can make things terrible for employees trying to do a good job. Often treating them like second class citizens as their are always others around ready to take over a park job.
I notice this sort of treatment in some of the parks I’ve stayed in the sometimes the park employees are treated very well as often they’re working for rent money and the owners may not have enough of this type of experience, i.e. hiring people who stay in the park to work for rent.
It’s alot different when hiring people who don’t stay in a RV park, as they come into the park, do their job and then leave and are normally paid a better or professional wage
The last part of my previous comment I meant to say “in some of the parks I’ve stayed in the park employees are treated very well however there are other parks were the park employees are mistreated, Imo is usually due to the tenant employees are working for rent money and the owners may not or don’t have enough of this type of business experience, i.e. renting and then hiring tenants to work for rent. As employee needs to be both a tenant and an employee. After a days job, there’s no going back home away from the workplace, for the tenant and also usually also for the employer.”
Andy Friedman says
I am not defending employers’ mistreatment of workampers, but to play devil’s advocate these campground employers deal with all sorts of transient employees on a regular basis and I’ve seen first-hand how some of the employees they get are lazy, difficult to work with, or have some sort of health restrictions to work around. Sure in the “real world” employers have to deal with crappy employees too but the key difference is workampers are by definition very temporary which means there’s always that percentage with questionable work ethics who are just looking for a way to scrape by for a few weeks or months so they can move on to wherever. So I can understand employers’ lack of tolerance when dealing with so many different people and personalities over short periods of time. Again not defending it, just saying I can understand if I were in the employers’ shoes which probably explains their “take it or leave it” attitude.
Bruce Lefebvre says
We’ve been full timing and workamping for around 11 years now and our experience has been very positive a majority of the time. Every situation will have it’s occasional issue, but you deal with it when it happens. If somebody tries to take advantage of you and you can’t get it resolved, take your home and leave. We love the workamping life as we have been to so many places and made many close friends while spending very little money for every day living. As long as I don’t pay rent, I’m happy.
Andy Friedman says
I read the book and while it does highlight some of the popular aspects of the lifestyle such as freedom and travel, it focuses heavily on hardship – people in their golden years struggling physically and financially just to survive. However, I think this represents a small segment of the nomad community. Nomads cannot be defined by a single demographic and we all have our unique backgrounds and reasons for doing this. It was a good read but by no means does it represent all nomads or workamping situations.
Tom Reeber says
Found this book depressing highlighting the lifestyle of financially tight full timers who lack funds,must work, and talks of the harsh working conditions at places like AMAZON. No matter if you live in an rv, a rundown home or apartment, or live on the street, being old, poor, in failing health, and marganilized by society sucks and ain’t no fun and this books highlights this misery. If you want to learn about having a comfortable nest egg, FREEDOM, and enjoying SOME work to stretch your retirement, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.
If you want to learn how hard working Americans can find themselves poor and struggling to get by in their “golden years”, then read this book.
I read the book and felt it was less a report on full timing and more an accurate documentary about the harsh realities of our current economic state in the US. Despite a “growing” economy, the houseless community is increasing and frequently not by choice. Yes, many people choose and enjoy full time life in an RV to save costs while working or making their retirement more interesting while stretching their dollar (I may choose this myself in future, if our fearless majority in Congress manages NOT to decimate the Medicare I’ve contributed to since I was 18). But more and more people are now living in their vehicles because they’ve experienced a very harsh turn of events financially, such as a lost job, health crisis, foreclosure, or rent increase beyond their means. The gap between the wealthy and what used to be the middle class is increasing. More and more people are falling below poverty levels. It’s ironic that increasingly, large cities are outlawing overnight stays in vehicles, which just penalizes those who don’t have the means to pay a ticket! Pretty sad state of affairs, and I was glad to see that someone was documenting it. It’s great to live in an RV if you are financially secure. If you’re not, it can be a harsh existence.
the truth is if living and working in the cities is not a guaranteed lifestyle, nor is workamping!
I have not read the book but I heard the report and interview on NPR. We full time and prefer to camp in state, COE and federal campgrounds. Our neighbors have been humble, budget minded, middle class, and this past weekend, ostentatiously wealthy. The latter camper showed little consideration for those around him. In the past six months this rudeness was not evident from the other camper groups. Yes some folks were devastated by the 2008 crash. They are rising up and holding on within our camper community. Hopefully more humble folk will attend the camp potlucks. There’s always too much food.