October 6, 2020 — Tens of thousands of retirement-age Americans will be migrant laborers next year, even if the economy recovers quickly. Laid off from their jobs before they wanted to, bored, or finding that their meager savings plus Social Security aren’t providing enough for a comfortable retirement, many are hitting the road, driven by economic necessity and wanderlust.
Workcampers (also workampers and workvampers), as these nomads are often called, represent a growing niche of the retirement world. They have even spawned an industry, van customizers, who can’t keep up with the demand for converting delivery vans and the like into rolling homes with every necessity included. In addition to making a living, devotees of the lifestyle enjoy the freedom and flexibility that comes with living on the road.
We have written about retired nomads in the past, retirees who roam the country for seasonal work, take stints in temporary jobs, or do volunteer work. Around Christmas, big outfits like UPS and Fedex can’t get enough help. National and state parks, plus private campgrounds, need additional workers in the busy summer season. As Americans got on the road last summer trying to keep the virus at bay, the pandemic helped spur even more jobs in tourist areas. Retirees headed for those places to find work and get enough money to live.
The PBS Newshour has a really interesting 2 part segment on the movement. You can either watch it online or read the transcript. The first segment is These Retirement Age Nomads Find Work Wherever the Road Takes Them. In it Paul Solman interviews Judy Arnold about her fourth year workcamping. She tended a store in Yellowstone National Park this summer for her job, living nearby in her RV.
Solman’s second video segment, How Some Americans Are Monetizing Their #Vanlife, describes some of the unique ways to make a living with a home that has wheels. Surprisingly, podcasting on Youtube is an enterprise for many of them. Bob Wells is an example. He created a Web site, CheapRVLiving.com as well as a Youtube channel. He also hosts seminars and a community, RTR, the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous at the annual big show in Quartzsite. Some workvamping entrepreneurs have enough subscribers or advertising revenue from their RV living how-tos (cooking, repairs, equipment, how to find workamping jobs) to get by, or even do well. Others struggle, and wonder if it is worthwhile to continue.
The biggest meeting of workvampers seems to be held in January in Quartzsite, Arizona, the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation, and RV Show. Here vendors of every kind of equipment come to sell their wares to the thousands of attendees. Companies looking for seasonal workers for the next season also have exhibits, and frequently use campers to work those booths. Companies need oil field guards, christmas trees need to be distributed and sold, and warehouses have orders to fill. Private campgrounds need workers of every description. Beyond that, the convention seems like a giant party of like-minded people.
Not all a bed or roses
Some of the people Solman interviewed discussed how difficult the jobs can be. In places like an Amazon warehouse there are strict output quotas, requirements that can be tough for retirees with bad joints and old muscles. When a job ends, they have to move on and find the next one. Living on the road is usually pretty economical, since there is no home to maintain or rent to pay. The jobs often come with a place to park the camper. But fuel, insurance, and repairs can be costly. The elephant in the room is, how long can anyone do this? Some of the rigs these folks have are big, and driving them around the country is not for the faint of heart. Finding good healthcare can be an issue.
More Nomad Retirement Lifestyles
The Retiring Nomads
One of Baby Boomers Biggest Regrets – Not Traveling.
Retire to a Cruise Ship
Van Living in Retirement
A Next Chapter…Afloat
Betty Loves the Mobile Lifestyle (5 part series)
How to Live for Free as a Second Career Volunteer
Comments? Are you a workcamper, or have you considered it? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below.