Generating Revenue on the Road

One of the first questions people ask when they are researching becoming full-time RVers is “Can I afford it?”  There are two sides to that question.  One is controlling costs (I have provided extensive information on my Budgets page), and the second is generating income or revenue.  This subject can be a little more difficult to tackle.  I have seen numerous blogs touch on ways to make revenue, but none provide the comprehensive view that I was looking for.  Since at the end of the day the money you spend is really only limited by what you can make, we decided in Year 2 to focus on trying those jobs that everyone talks about, the full-timer “standards”.  Here are my thoughts in summary on the jobs we have tried.  They are listed in the order we experienced them.  Please keep in mind these accounts are somewhat subjective and your mileage may definitely vary.  If you are interested in trying one of these jobs I absolutely recommend you seek out additional accounts to get other viewpoints.

Mobile Corporate Job    

Loving my new truck office

I spent the entire first year working my corporate job from the road.  Although the company I worked for was not traditionally comfortable with mobile workers, I had worked myself into a position where they were willing to try it with me.  I eventually left when the company offered me a buyout, but there are many advantages to bringing a corporate job on the road, especially in the early stages of full timing.

  • Guaranteed income at the highest wage rates. If you are debt-free, it’s relatively easy to live a full-time lifestyle on corporate salaries. Also benefits such as health insurance, 401K, life insurance etc available are significantly reduced rates. 
  • 40-50 hour work week with opportunities to see surrounding area limited mainly to weekends.  That being said, you don’t need to travel far to get to places, so there is more opportunity to see a variety of places than in a traditional lifestyle. 
  • Traveling from one location to another can be complicated. or take precious weekend time.  We had some success with creating a mobile office setup so I could work from the truck, which allowed for some travel days mid-week, but those were limited to days with light conference call schedules due to problems with cell phone connectivity when traveling. 
  • Which brings me to the need for near-constant connectivity via the phone and internet which can complicate or eliminate staying at some of the more remote areas.  This was one of the major disadvantages to working a corporate job in our view because every stay needed to be carefully researched to ensure we had adequate phone coverage.  Despite doing the research however, everyone I know who works a corporate job has had to move last-minute at least once because they did not have adequate cell/internet coverage.   For us this issue came to a head when I was sitting in a parking lot taking an early morning conference call near  Glacier National Park and ultimately was one of the deciding factors in me deciding to take the buyout and try other types of work. 
  • Most of these mobile corporate jobs do require some travel (although there are some exceptions) and this can be very complicated.  For us this required planning our RV travel routes at least a couple of months in advance and always staying within two hours of a major airport in case I needed to make a last-minute   trip.  Although the travel criteria gave us plenty of places we could explore the most interesting places like Alaska, Glacier, and the Badlands were off the table with this requirement.  This was another reason we reached the decision to try to find other ways to generate revenue on the road. 
  • Higher stress levels.  Don’t get me wrong all jobs have an element of stress to them, but most high level corporate jobs are extremely stressful.  This did get better when I was working in a remote environment, but simply moving my location did not change how I dealt with that part of my life.  In some respects I felt more pressure because I was had put myself in a riskier position at my company and felt I had to work extra hard to prove the mobile lifestyle was not going to be an issue.  This will of course vary depending on the culture of the company you work for, but I don’t think those feelings are that uncommon when transitioning to a mobile worker.

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 Volunteer Work Kamping

Out framed sweet

We had two opportunities to volunteer work kamp while we were living on residual buyout funds and I remember both experiences fondly.  Not only were we treated very well in both cases, but we got premium camping spots and “backstage passes” to see some pretty cool things.  Volunteer jobs do vary, but most of them seem to be designed to make the experience as pleasant as possible for the worker.  And although they don’t usually generate revenue they do allow you to keep costs lower which is why I have included them here.  When anyone talks to me about work kamping, I absolutely recommend trying a volunteer job first.  It will give you a feel for what work kamping is like, help you build your work kamper resume, and hopefully allow you to try something new and interesting. 

  • Usually requires around 20 hours per week (either per person or per couple this varies) although can be much higher in “destination” locations such as Yellowstone, Florida Keys, Grand Canyon etc.  The work is not generally physically demanding and arrangements can often be made to accommodate health issues. 
  • Many of the jobs are as little as 30 days in duration.  Some are longer (again in more desired destinations) but commitments are generally more flexible for those who like to change location frequently. 
  • Numerous perks are common including free propane, laundry, firewood, etc.
  • Provides an opportunity to really get to know an area and the people who live in it.   Also lots of insider information about things to do locally along with access to areas that travelers don’t often get to see.  
  • The feelings of “giving something back” are pretty special.  This is reinforced by the employers who are usually very grateful for your time and work. 
  • Job responsibilities are often somewhat ambiguous.  This can be stressful for us Type A personalities who like to have clear expectations set, but it can also be a good personal growth opportunity.  
  • The type of work is often not mentally challenging. Volunteers are generally the arms and legs of the paid employees who are the decision makers.  Although the good ones are interested in feedback, since volunteers come and go mainly they are looking for people who work hard and follow established processes.  If you are a person who is used to being a decision maker this can be a difficult transition.
  • Some level of bathroom cleaning may be required.  There are jobs that do not require this, but it will limit your choices somewhat.   If this is an issue for you, it’s important to ask those questions up front before committing. 

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Paid Camp Hosting

Boy was he happy

There are some similarities between volunteer camp hosting and paid camp hosting, but the main difference (at least in our experience) is how you are treated by the employers.  When volunteering, there is an understanding that you are providing value above what you are receiving, but in paid positions (even ones with low wages) this is not generally the case.  That being said, there is a tremendous amount of variation in camp hosting jobs.  These notes are based on our experiences and research, but we highly recommend you ask a lot of questions in the interview process to ensure you know exactly what you are walking into.

  • Generally 20-40 hours a week, often with some portion of hourly wage going to pay for campsite.  This varies though with some jobs paying nothing above hours for the site and others paying for all hours worked with the site being free.  Often extra perks are provided (use of facilities, free laundry, propane, etc).
  • In general, the more desirable the location the lower the pay and less perks.  This industry is definitely driven by supply and demand, so the best paid jobs are often in less desirable areas. Pay is also driven to some extent by state minimum wages, with states with higher minimum wages having higher camp hosting wages.  That being said, the highest we have seen these jobs for is $15 an hour and those are few and far between.  The average wage seems to be around $9 an hour although that may change over time as more Baby Boomers leave the work pool and labor pressure forces owners to pay a higher wage.
  • These jobs are often seasonal in nature, although I have been seeing more year-round positions.  The season varies depending on the camping season in the locations which northernmost areas having the shortest seasons and the southern areas having the longest or year-round positions.
  • Work is often split by gender roles with men providing maintenance/lawn care and women providing housekeeping/office work.  The work is also often tedious, but does have a social aspect that many people like.
  • Although some camp hosting jobs are run by larger companies, most are small businesses and family owned.  Processes and procedures have been developed by the owners over time and usually in response to problems they have experienced in the past.  Consequently, the rules are often very detailed and specific and micro management by owners is commonplace. This can be a difficult transition if you have been working in environments that allowed more autonomy.
  • Personality conflicts (either with owners, other camp hosts, or guests) seem to be fairly common.  Unlike a corporate environment that has strict HR regulations these environments have less structure, which can be a good thing if all parties show respect for one another.  Largely the climate is driven by the owners, but in the case of absentee landlords can be driven by long-time employees.   Often camp hosts will have good success when applying for a position previously held by a friend, but more often than not, job selections are made based on location, schedule, and wages. Culture, working conditions, management style, and team dynamics is much more difficult to ascertain in a phone interview, so to some extent these jobs are taken on faith. At least one solid interview and outside research is a critical before accepting one of these positions.
  • That being said the positions are temporary and you can leave.  Almost everyone we have met has done it at least once, usually having a “family emergency” to allow them to leave with minimal hassle.  Although it happens, it is harder to leave one of these jobs than you would think.  There are costs associated with traveling to and from a location, concerns about finding other revenue streams last-minute, and for many people it is difficult to walk away from a commitment.

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Beet Harvest 

blog_0936One of the most lucrative of the traditional work kamping jobs, the beet harvest is also one of the most physically demanding.  Despite the name, the beet harvest is not picking beets from the field.  Rather it is operating the machinery that process and piles the beets and directing trucks in and out of the yard.  Twelve hour shifts, no days off, and working in the elements all combine to make this a very challenging seasonal position.  That being said, I was rarely bored and both Lee and I lost weight and were in great physical shape when the season was over. One of the main questions I would ask of any company is whether or not they pay “stay pay.”  Beets cannot be processed when it is too hot, too cold, or raining too heavily which can lead to lots of unpaid downtime.  Our company paid four hours of “stay pay” which made the season more lucrative and made those off days more palatable.  Along with the bullet points listed below you can read our summary or read our daily account starting here

  • Weather plays a huge part in the position as many days are very cold and/or rainy.  Proper clothing and many layers can help, but there are time periods where it was just miserable. Thankfully beets are somewhat fussy and cannot be harvested when it is too cold (sustained temps below 32 degrees) or too hot (sustained temps above 70 degrees).
  • The schedule is pretty intense with 12 hour work days only broken by days when weather caused us to be sent home early.  If everything is perfect the harvest lasts roughly 22 days, but that rarely happens.  We worked a longer season which ended up lasting 39 days.  Twenty of those were full days but the others were partial or days off.
  • You never know when you are going to work.  You have to get up every morning at 4am and check a hotline to see if you are working that day.  We had numerous issues our season with being called in then sent immediately home or receiving conflicting messages on the hotline.  This was pretty frustrating, especially as the season wore on, because everyone was so tired. Also you can’t really plan anything because you never know when you will be off.
  • You will be exhausted.  Regardless of your physical state, the pace and hours get to you.  When we were working we had very few slow days and most days only received two 15 minute and one half hour break a day. This is definitely not a job for a person who has health issues, but if you are reasonably healthy and up for a challenge it may be for you.  The foremen are all very aware of the toll it takes on people and do what they can to provide extra breaks towards the end of the season.
  • Safety is a primary concern for the yards, but the work can be dangerous.  We saw a truck that flipped over, and several people were bruised from beets which weighed between five and 30 pounds.  Exhaustion also plays a part in this, because it is much easier to be hurt when you are psychically and mentally exhausted.
  • The work itself is largely repetitive, but as I stated I was rarely bored. Mental alertness is called for and the job lends itself to that.
  • People treat you very well.  We received some of the best treatment from any management team to date in this job and their folks genuinely looked out after our well-being.  They had strict policies and procedures in place, but their processes were pretty good.  Also because the beet yards are owned by larger companies, HR rules were established and largely followed, but without the micromanagement that is often associated with a low-level corporate position.
  • This laxity however did lead to some issues with team dynamics.  We saw several personality conflicts between team members while working, which were more extreme because of the extreme conditions.  Team members were given position training, but then sent to a machine to work out their own individual dynamics.  Not surprisingly this led to multiple conflicts in the beginning and ultimately team members being moved.  Supervisors kept an eye on conditions, but largely stayed out of things unless someone escalated.  In response to this many good teams formed alliances and returned year-after-year to work together.  A good or bad team makes all of  the difference in the experience.

Selling Christmas Trees

y016This is a commission based position lasting from late October or early November through the end of December.  The amount you can make varies depending on how busy your particular lot is, but the workload to some extent is the same regardless of how much you sell.  As lot managers you are responsible for hiring staff, scheduling, taking money, helping customers, and processing trees.  Most duties fall along gender lines with women handling the bulk of the cashier responsibilities and the men handling the tree processing.  11-15 hour days coupled with no days off and a physically demanding job, make this the most difficult of all the jobs we have worked.  Along with the following bullet points you can read our summary or our day-to-day account starting here.

  • This job is very physically demanding as we both had to lift very heavy trees on numerous occasions.  We were les to believe that we would hire staff who would do most of the manual labor, but in order to make our labor expense targets that simply wasn’t possible.   Simply put, the people who made the most money did the most physical work.
  • We were also told that people would just show up to be hired, but again for us that wasn’t the case.  Other, more established lots did have that experience, but since ours was relatively new I spent hours interviewing and hiring people.  Because the positions were low paying ($8 an hour) and the work was demanding, I had a very hard time keeping the staff that I did manage to find.  The stress involved in this aspect of the job was extremely high and I was by no means the only person who experienced it.
  • The company was owned by a couple who had a very hands off management style, which would have been a good thing if we had the tools and experience we needed to be successful.  Instead their lack of solid training and support made the job much more difficult and ultimately resulted in us making less money.
  • Payment for these positions is not given until the end of the season and the “bonus”, which is where the real money comes in, is entirely subjective.  This required us to accept the conditions as they were or understand we would be leaving with nothing to show for our hard work to date.  After this experience I am not completely against taking a commission based position, but I would never take one again where the money was held for such a long period of time.  We worked for two solid months and ended up making $7.12 an hour or $130 a day which was in no way fair compensation for the work we did. The job is also 1099 so extra taxes are owed, and there is no workers compensation in case of injury, which due to the nature of the work does happen.
  • Selling trees itself was a fun experience though.  Most of the customers were really nice and it was gratifying to be part of a families special moment.  Unfortunately that was a relatively small part of the job and the other aspects were largely unpleasant.

Gate Guarding

To give you a feeling of the scale

Gate guarding in Texas requires a state license and that process can be somewhat difficult to accomplish on your own.  We worked with one of the many staffing companies who hire gate guards so the process was much easier.  You can read about how we accomplished it here. Once you are licensed you can work with any of the staffing companies that you would like and accept the positions on a contract basis.  Almost all positions are 1099 and most companies do not pay workers compensation (ours did) despite the fact that injuries can happen.  The job is relatively easy, opening the gate, logging trucks, and shutting the gate, but the hours are long and the conditions can be rough.  You can read our summary here or check out out daily account starting here.

  • Wages are very low generally starting at $125 per day for a 24/7 shift.  Although there are some 12 hour positions, most jobs require each person in a couple to work twelve hour shifts.
  • Some positions have guard shacks, but many allow you to work from your rig.  This is a huge benefit as you can watch TV, read, complete personal chores, etc during your down time.  You could even work a second job during this job, if the job allowed tasks to be completed at nonspecific times.
  • You never really know what the schedule will be.  There is a project plan and an overall schedule, but this is rarely shared with the gate guards or the gate guarding company.  Even the teams of workers on the rig only know their specific part, so most days you are not quite sure what the traffic levels will bring.
  • The work is mostly easy, but it is outside and elements can be at play.  Extreme heat, high winds, thunderstorms and tornado warnings can all be a factor and vary from day-to day.  Rattlesnakes are also a concern in the more remote areas along with illegal immigrants in some areas.   Most positions near the border are covered by armed guards, but encounters with illegal immigrants is not uncommon in other areas.  You house WILL become extremely dusty if you take one of these positions as the constant traffic and dry conditions make dust clouds a constant element.
  • Physically the work itself is very easy, but it can be tiring on busy days.  Truck volume can range from a few trucks a day to several hundred and on very busy days the pace can be a bit brutal.  Usually gates with exceptionally high volumes of traffic pay more, but even a slow gate will have busy days. String several of those together and you will be tired.
  • The positions generally last through the drilling process and are roughly 8 weeks in length.  That can change suddenly and with no notice however, especially if oil is not found.  Since these jobs are contract positions, you can find yourself suddenly out of work and even when things are going somewhat normally it is difficult to line up your next gig when you have no idea when your end date will be.
  • The location of the jobs is usually pretty remote and internet services can be limited.  You are provided a water tank, a generator for power, and weekly dump services included in your contract.  The services provided have been more than adequate for us, but service has been delayed on occasion.  This is a pretty common occurrence and one you should be aware of when starting one of these positions.
  • There is minimal management in these positions and since the work is so easy, this is actually a huge benefit.  The most important relationship is between you and the “company man” who is the foreman of the drilling site.  That being said, the contracts are written so your job responsibilities can be changed.  For example, we were given a directive that we had to open and shut the gate between every truck and this significantly increased our workload.  There is no appeal, you simply follow the requirements as stated or they will find someone else to fill the position.

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