Things cost money. I didn’t want to be the one to break this news, but it’s true. Even if you take off in a camper to chase your dreams, you still have to pay for stuff. Bummer, right?
Choosing to make a life on the road involves a lot of “figuring it out.” At least for us, the biggest scariest part of the decision was figuring out how we would pay for it all. We knew two things for sure; we wanted to be able to serve each camp as we learned from them, but we didn’t want to be another burden to the camps either. So, we work alongside staff at the camps and try to become a part of their community, but we don’t really make money from it.
“Okay, then how the heck do you pay for stuff?”
Like many full-time RVers, we rely on multiple income streams to make this project sustainable. The key for us is that they are flexible, allowing us to work our schedule around the camps’. Some allow us to work from wherever we are, while others are temporary but require us to park it for a while. For the past year, we have been able to travel full-time through:
Back at home, Sam worked full-time at a camp and I worked a couple different part-time jobs. Obviously, we had to leave those when we started traveling. I will admit, it’s a pretty gut-wrenching experience to quit stable employment as 20-somethings with a ton of student loan debt. We had great support from our previous jobs though, and they encouraged us to pursue this calling. One of those employers actually worked it out so that I could maintain a remote position with them as an independent contractor. If the majority of what you do is on a computer or could be done online, there’s a possibility that you could take that job on the road. This has been a huge help for our journey, as I am able to complete projects when we have time off from camp or on travel days, and that steady monthly income helps keep us sane.
I work in content and design. Sam is a photographer and videographer. Is that what we thought we would end up doing when we paid a ton of money for our degrees that have nothing to do with that? Not exactly. But life happens, you start out, you find out what you can do and what people need, and you make it work. I went to school for English and psychology (stop judging me I can hear you) and Sam went for social studies education. I was supposed to be a counselor. He was supposed to be a teacher. Long story short, that didn’t happen. But would we have been able to do this project if Sam was teaching full time and I was knee deep in grad school homework? Probably not. God prepared us for this in those years of figuring it out. I tried finding work writing and ended up finding a niche in nonprofit marketing. Sam took a summer job at camp and ended up discovering his calling to camping and love of media.
As unexpected as those jobs were, these skills open us up to the possibility of finding work on the road. We’ve been able to freelance projects for a variety of clients, including some of the camps we visited. There are also plenty of online resources, like fivrr.com, that connect people who need things done with people who can do things. Having a creative skill is a huge plus for the “traveling marketplace,” and that can be what draws people to this lifestyle. Again, there is also the freedom to take on projects when you have time, and freelancing lets you try something new all the time. This income isn’t huge, but it’s still another great way to keep going. Assess your skills and consider how you can fill a need while (partially) filling your wallet.
I would say most people who adopt the RV lifestyle utilize “workamping” as a source of income. Workamping is short for “work camping” and typically involves working to pay for a spot to park your camper and the utilities that come along with it, with the potential to make a paycheck for hours worked beyond that. This can look like a lot of different things. The most popular version is working a season for a campground or park, but those usually don’t pay enough and require too long of a commitment to be compatible with the focus of our trip. Our friends that do these jobs love them, but March – August is kind of an important season in camping ministry. We just can’t justify giving up that time. We do, however, work what we call “labor gigs,” which are shorter seasonal jobs that need manpower and hire workampers to get it done.
We just finished our first season of the beet harvest, which is a pretty infamous job among full-timers. When you say, “we’re going to work the beet harvest” among workampers, those who have done it laugh and those who haven’t ask, “why?!” The harvest is certainly among the harder workamping jobs, but there’s a reason people go back every year. (Spoiler: It’s the money.) It’s a whirlwind job that happens in October (and some select employment before) in the northern midwest. We worked for American Crystal Sugar in Reynolds, ND and put in a total of 16 days. That is 16 consecutive work days on 12-hour night shifts. The work is not hard, but it is work. At the entry level, your three main jobs are signing in trucks, putting beets in bags, and shoveling dirt. Not hard, but not Disneyland. You will be tired and very ready for a day off by the end of it. You will also be standing outside for your entire shift, so that is a factor to consider depending on your physical limitations.
This job also involves a lot of uncertainty. There is no way of knowing how many days you will work, what days you will have off, or when the harvest will be done. Overall, it’s the best money you can make in two weeks and we valued the experience. We were able to meet people from all different walks of life and it helped us practice mental and physical perseverance. These kinds of jobs are great for putting money away and can get you through for a while if you live frugally.
This will be our second year as workampers for Amazon. This job is called “Amazon Camperforce.” It helps support the Christmas season demand for the company, so they offer a lot of incentives to ensure they can hire the staff that they need. They pay for your campground spot, the wages are good, and they do make sure you feel like a valuable part of the team. There are a couple different locations that take on Camperforce employees; we have worked in Murphreesboro, TN and will be in Campbellsville, KY this year. Amazon is a workamping job most people go back to each year. The days are definitely long and you will walk SO MUCH (10-15 miles a day), but you get what you put into it. It’s possible to make the work fun (I bet I can pick more items than you) and you do get scheduled days off (hallelujah), so you can easily make friends during your time there. We met people who we now consider lifelong friends working this job, so as tired as our feet and brains are by Christmas, we think it’s worth it.
The hardest part of Amazon for us is all the time spent in your own head. As you work, there is nothing to listen to and not much time to talk to others. Not sure about all the other 24-year-olds out there, but I’m not great at silently letting my thoughts wander for 10 hours without spiraling into the occasional existential crisis. For a few reasons (mostly the existential crises), we decided to do six weeks at Amazon this year instead of three months. It means less money, but more brain cells. Still, between Amazon and the beet harvest, our workamping money is really what makes sure our bills are paid and we can eat.
I am an ambassador for the health and wellness company Plexus. In addition to using and sharing the products in my daily life, I work as a team leader to provide support for the health journeys of my teammates. This is a passion that took me by surprise, but has been an unexpected financial blessing as we travel. It offers us a little extra money for unexpected expenses like breakdowns or campground fees. If there are products you believe in and love or a passion that you could share from the road, it’s worth considering how you could utilize that to support your journey.
Patreon is an online resource that allows artists to fund their creative projects through the support of others. Essentially, it is crowdfunding for creatives. We use Patreon to give people who value our project and its goals a way to be a part of it with us. Ideally, people who value your work can discover it on Patreon and support your creative work through monthly giving. For us, our Patreon supporters physically get us from camp to camp by putting gas in our tank. If fully funded we would also be able to use this money to increase our production quality with new equipment. This is a more difficult tool to really reap the benefits of, but if you are creating something you think other people might care about, it’s worth a try. We haven’t really mastered the art of it (pun intended), but we sincerely love Patreon and its mission. We double love the people who have committed to sponsoring us. You guys are the best.
Amazing, Generous People
As you can tell from this list, we kind of run in a hundred different directions to make this lifestyle work. It works for us and we love the ever-changing nature of our day to day. We are able to live a life we love, work toward something we are passionate about, see beautiful new places all the time, and still pay our bills like upstanding members of society. We started this trip out of a desire to share something we love, not to run away from anything. It’s important to us that even while we are on this crazy adventure, we maintain our commitments and pay our own bills… including our mortgage sized student loan payments. So, we do a little work here and a little over there and it all adds up to living a life we wouldn’t think was possible if we weren’t living it.
But to be honest with you, even with all our jobs all over the place, we still couldn’t make this work without the amazing, generous people who have been a part of our journey. There’s just no way we could have fixed that exhaust manifold in Texas (and then again in Pennsylvania), or made it all the way to California(and back), or even had a nice computer to edit videos with after ours crapped out in Michigan. God has taught us gratitude in a huge way. Our friends and family at home have prayed for us and given us dollars we did not earn. Camps along the way have not only made sure we were well taken care of, but often provided for us financially despite our wish to not burden them. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has contributed to this journey. You keep us going. Literally.
We aren’t your typical full-time RVers. We aren’t retired or simply working to fund our travels. While we have come to love this lifestyle and community, we set out on the road with a mission. We always come back to that purpose – to serve God and share camp. Especially when we doubt, we have to remember what got us into this mess. That is what keeps us motivated when the hours are long, we’re running in a hundred directions, and a relaxing Sunday at home sounds pretty darn good. In reality, we probably work more now than we ever did in our “normal” jobs, but there is something different about this. Something fulfilling, but at the same time full of longing. I don’t necessarily know when life will start to look “normal” for us. I’m not sure if/when we will have 9-5 jobs, a house, or a vehicle made in this century. But this work we are doing right now is working for us right now, and I’m okay with that.
If you are considering making a living from the road or have any questions for us about how we travel full-time, please reach out! We would love to connect with you. If you have tips for us, those are certainly welcome as well. We can’t wait to hear from you!