The third year started off pretty rough for us. We were in the midst of our worst work kamping job to date, selling Christmas Trees, and I at least was seriously wondering about the balance in our lives. It was clear at this point that work kamping jobs were much harder than we originally expected and we had to face the reality that our lives were not going to be the fantasy that we had built up in our heads.
We learned about this lifestyle reading blogs and talking to lots of people, but most of our initial role models had access to savings or other income streams that we simply did not. We don’t resent that; I am happy for people who have lots of money in the bank or multiple retirement sources, but that is not our reality. And I think we both had to come to grips with the fact that comparing our lives to our perception of theirs was a losing proposition. If we had a slogan for year three, it would have been “That’s Not Our Reality,” as we had to keep reminding ourselves things were different for us. And that actually became easier throughout the year when we met more and more people who were in financial situations similar to us and were still finding a way to make it work.
Gate Guarding was our first experience with that and thank heavens we got that job. It not only was the first job we had done to date that we both really liked, but also gave us the opportunity to connect with other full time RVers that needed to work. Let me make a distinction here. Most of the RVers we know supplement their income (either with work kamping or volunteering), but needing to work is different from that. There is a huge difference in mindset when you have “Screw you” money in the bank and quitting a job means you will need to dip into savings versus needing a paycheck to pay your bills.
We had an opportunity in our third year to meet many more people who were closer to the edge financially and our own savings dwindled, moved more into that category emotionally as well. For us, working these jobs and the full time lifestyle is still better than our previous lives. The pressure is much less than having a mortgage, kids in college, or years invested in a job you need retirement from. But it is not the life we imagined with months of traveling and a few work gigs in between. Rather the opposite is true. We worked 10 months out of 12 this year, and are trending to barely break even. Lee in particular had to makes peace with that reality and found it very frustrating since he envisioned more of a 50/50 split in work time/play time. I wrote a post about living a full year with no corporate money that sums up the financial realizations we finally came to.
On the plus side we really started talking about the importance of the jobs we selected. Initially we said we can “do anything” for a few months, but when that few months became 10 months the conversation had to change, Gate Guarding was a great example of this because at first glance it was a crappy deal. Working 24/7 in the middle of a dusty oil field with no days off for $125 a day sounds pretty unpleasant, but we really made the most of it. The job also has minimal supervision and tons of free time (especially later in the assignment) and we both made the most of it. Lee edited some 20 years worth of home videos and posted them online for our kids to see and I finally finished the recipe book I had started back in Alaska.
Becoming a published author was a very big deal to me and the time to create was priceless. I had no illusions that my cookbook would become a best seller, but the experience meant something to me and the response I have received from our readers was wonderful. And despite the low wages we were able to put some money back in our bank account because our costs were the lowest they have ever been. And when we left that job we were able to cram a ton of experiences into the 5 weeks we had between jobs, meeting with friends, seeing new things, and Lee got to spend a week with our youngest daughter in Las Vegas, which was something we had committed to prior to ever starting the lifestyle.
I do want to take a moment here and say how grateful I am to our friends for going to some trouble to see us despite our work schedules. We realized this year that our travel had to be largely dictated by where the work was, and were worried that this meant we wouldn’t be able to see our friends. But many of our fellow dreamers made a significant effort to to see us and Cori/Greg, Steve/Deb, Kat/Bert, Jim/Diana, and Rick Raab saw us multiple times throughout the year in more than one state. Those moments spent with our fellow RV-Dreamers kept us connected to why we started living this lifestyle and gave us important perspective on our overall goals in year three.
This year we also got serious about health care on the road. The last couple of years healthcare took a back seat to other priorities, but this year we were able to get physicals, dental work, and I even got my first colonoscopy. Although not glamorous, this was a very important step for us as being able to receive medical care on the road is a very big deal for long-term sustainability. Thankfully Oregon is a very friendly state when it comes to health care and all of our experiences with health care providers were good ones.
We also found ourselves wanting to return to a job for the first time this summer. We absolutely loved Oregon and the people we worked for were really great. I didn’t like the specific job we did very much at all, but working for a large company allowed us to talk about coming back in different roles. I also came to the realization that I am not willing to clean toilets all day every day. That may sound like a no-brainer, but it was an important step for me, because we were still living in the mindset that we could “do anything” for short periods of time as long as it kept us on the road. Some time this summer I hit my limit, and finally said out loud that I simply not willing to “do anything”.
It’s not because I think I am to good to clean a toilet. I’m not, and don’t even mind if that is a part of our job. But I need more in these temporary positions than that, and I came to the realization that’s it’s OK that I feel that way. After talking to Lee about that realization we approached the problem in two ways. First, we decided to apply for a lead role for next season with the company we were working for, and I simultaneously started looking for consulting work. In the back of my head the timer for working in my field has been ticking, and I started looking with the hopes I could find a 3-4 month job somewhere in the south over the winter. We had signed up for Amazon back in January, but my hope was that I could find something that both paid more and was more rewarding.
Unfortunately this search was much more frustrating than I originally expected. There were far fewer short-term contracts than I expected and most of the interesting ones were 6+ months. Since I was keeping May open for the possibility of us going back to Oregon I really couldn’t accept anything longer than six. And the timing was weird. Most of these jobs expect you to be onsite in no less than two weeks, but the interview/hiring process generally takes at least a month. Compare this to work kamping jobs that you often set up a year in advance and I was trying to full in gaps in an existing work schedule, which simply did not work well.
Couple the timing issues with the fact I had to be in a warm area for the winter and wanted to be on the east coast to be near family and the selection of open jobs was much smaller. I also was hoping that recruiters would help me with the search, but ran into some issues early on with my home location. Linked In requires a home state in your profile and my home are is Jacksonville Florida because that is where my mailing address is. Despite updating my resume with language like “Ability to relocate at own expense” the only recruiters I heard from were in the Florida area. At one point I tried to change my location to San Antonio to show up in different recruiter searches, but then I was concerned about what other potential employers in Florida might think.
And no, you can’t leave it blank either on Linked In or Indeed. There is definitely an employer bias on location for short-term positions which I understand because they don’t want to pay for relocation for a short-term employee. Yes, there are companies that specialize in consultants and I looked at those, but you are essentially working for them and they largely get to decide when and where you work. The entire process was extremely frustrating and felt like I was trying to shove the square peg of my full-timing life into a round hole.
I haven’t talked about it much, because I kept hoping I would land on the “secret formula” but at least in Year Three I haven’t figured it out yet. At this point I am actually thinking I would be better off getting a Virtual position. Initially I wanted to work in an office and in person, but going the virtual route will bypass a lot of these issue with explaining where I live. Most of those jobs I have seen are full time positions and I would prefer not to start there. I like our summer work kamping jobs and in a perfect world would consult in the winter and work kamp in the summer, so at least for now that is what I am going to keep striving for. Eventually I might need to bite the bullet and get a “real job”, if for no other reason than we need health care.
Speaking of healthcare, in 2017 we were on ACA or ObamaCare and it worked well for us. 201 was a crazy roller coaster ride with health care, but as of this writing we are on a subsidized plan out of Florida for 2018. We have no idea of what this looks like long-term for us, and are making these decisions one year at a time. We can do this because we feel we are in very good health, but of course that could change at any time. That’s one of the reasons why I feel it is so important to keep my options open with my previous career. Very few of these seasonal jobs offer healthcare and even the ones that do have pretty expensive COBRA plans to bridge the gap between jobs. We would have a difficult time absorbing $1K a month in healthcare premiums within our existing budget and for us at least it would require compromises we would not be willing to make. We could always roll the dice of course and go without coverage of just get a catastrophic plan and both of those choices are on the table. For right now we are trying to keep it in perspective and not make it the deciding factor in either our job or lifestyle decisions. Update: Turns out that our healthcare costs for 2018 will actually be $200 a month lower than in 2017. Yes premiums went up, but so did subsidies and I was pleasantly surprised that with the same estimated revenue costs were so much left. We even had enough money to add dental this year, which hopefully will help cover some of my periodontal disease costs. Again, I am taking this year by year but we appear to be fine for 2018 which is a great thing.
So that’s where we are for the year and as I write this we are working at Amazon. In Year 2 I decided I wanted to try all the major types of work kamping and Amazon is the last one on my list. After this experience, I will definitely feel we have learned enough to make decisions about employment going forward, and are seriously talking about repeating jobs and developing a “route.” Most people we have met who need to work follow a pattern of travel that allows them to keep their costs down and have assured income throughout the year. It also helps with maintaining a relationship with health care providers and depending on the route allows people to routinely see family.
For us the last is a challenge. We love the west, but our family is all back east and this year in particular really brought home to me how difficult seeing family and being there for important events would be. I wrote a blog post about it. One thing we know for sure is we can no longer afford to keep criss crossing the United States if we rely solely on revenue from work kamping jobs. Our choices are to develop a route in the east, find other sources of revenue, or be resigned to seeing our families less. Not great choices, especially since I got into to this lifestyle primarily to see new and interesting places. It’s clear though that some compromises will need to be made and I expect Year 4 will be the start of that.
The last thing I want to say is despite this being a year of change we still saw a lot of really cool stuff. At the end of the day I still heavily weigh the people and places we get to see when judging the quality of my life and this year we managed to do an amazing amount with the free time we had. So I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite pictures for the year and the hope that you will continue to follow our journey in Year 4. As always thank you for your support, because it truly does matter to us.
A wonderful year of seeing friends and family and amazing experiences. Plus of course you really can’t beat our views.
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