Camp Hosting: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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Camphosting is a work arrangement where RVers work for a campground in exchange for a campsite (and sometimes a wage). This is a review of our first camphosting job.

As with any “job” there were good and not-so-good parts. Here’s a sampling of what we experienced:

The Good:

People

  • The other three camphost couples (and their dogs)
  • Tom, the surfer, and his wife Terry (thanks for the delicious Labor Day dinner)
  • The couple providing Miranda her first dog-sitting job (while they visited Victoria for the day)
  • The Dutch family with the motorhome-driving Mom
  • The two smiley “tweeners” who daily came in to the shack to buy a sweet
  • The Maryland couple in site 27
  • The Australian couple who had to stop at the office to say Goodbye (wish we’d had more time to visit!)
  • The Scottsdale couple and their Westies (Miranda was hired to watch them for a day)

The Port Angeles Area

  • Library cards that allowed us to check out 5 items each (We’ve missed checking out library books)
  • West End Pizza where we ate for less than $20 (once treated by Harrison).
  • Independent Bible Church (although the church lacked in “welcoming” new people, the teaching was good and we appreciated attending the same place each week)
  • The ‘Nasty Chinese Restaurant (a source of chuckles for our family every time we drove by) and a good meal (Miranda’s treat)

The Olympic Peninsula

  • The Quinn family only 2 hours away (loved visiting with you!)
  • The waterfalls (Madison, Merrymere, and Sol Duc)
  • Hurricane Ridge (including the hike Crissa didn’t think she could complete)
  • Hoh (temperate) Rain Forest
  • Kalaloch National Park campground on the Pacific coastline (where our friends, the Quinns, were camphosting)
  • Neah Bay (smoked salmon snack and Cape Flattery view)

The Campground

  • Watching several different types of ships going through the Straits including military submarines escorted by military and coast guard ships
  • Animals - baby seals, many black-tailed deer, bald eagles, starfish, anemones, crabs, sea urchins, and other sea creatures
  • Quiet and dark park at night for most of the summer
  • Laundry facilities on-site
  • Kids earning money by picking mat-weeds (Harrison made a killing)
  • Several great sunsets

Other

  • Being parked for the two months allowed Mike to crank out a big client project, gave us a free full-hook-up camping spot, and kept our fuel costs down.

The Bad:

  • Any time we went exploring, Crissa experienced car-sickness. The two hour drive out to Neah Bay was bad. She tried Dramamine, but the side effects (tiredness and a numb face) weren’t much better.
  • We only enjoyed 3 days of warm, sunny summer weather. Literally. Most of the other days included heavy fog, wind, and temps in the low 60s.
  • There wasn’t much for the kids to do while at the campground. We’d hoped the beach would be a hit for Miranda but she didn’t much care for the kelp and sandfleas.
  • The fee structure at the campground limited the number of families, so the kids didn’t have many playmates.
  • We had mice in the trailer.
  • Free showers and laundry were not provided to camp-hosts.  The showers required quarters (1 1/2 minutes per quarter), so the kids and Crissa took showers in the trailer.
  • During many week-night shifts Crissa would sit in the office for hours with nothing to do (no phone calls, no guest visits, already dusted and swept and emptied the trash, etc.)
  • The salty air took its toll on our bikes, truck and trailer. I’m seeing things with rust on them that were fine before.

The Ugly:

  • I’ve never been as micromanaged at any job as this one:
  • We were watched from afar.  Arrangement of owners home, beach and campground is such that they could use either a telescope or binoculars to watch the beach and most of the RV park from their home.
  • We were constantly getting calls at the office to run people off the beach, get dogs back on a leash, etc. because they had been spotted through the lens.
  • We were listened to. The park owners provided radios to the hosts for communication and then monitored the channel all day.
  • The park owners wouldn’t respond using the radio directly as “guests may hear that, who knows who is listening, etc” so after a host radio conversation the owners would call the office person on the phone to give their orders.

Picnic Tables

  • There were not enough tables to have one per site. As camp hosts we rarely had one as it got used for campers when the park got busy.

I’ve got 32 tables for 34 campsites and can’t figure out why we’re still moving tables all the time.Park Owner

  • Already short on tables, the owners order a table refinishing project during the summer busy season.
  • We were constantly shuffling tables around, only giving big group of tenters one table as “they can share”.
  • Tables were too heavy to move by one person, so we had to call owners down to move them for us.

Owner Liability Concerns

  • Sign on candy dish in front office: “___ doesn’t want small children to have candy as it is a choking hazard.”
  • Someone tripped on the (broken) front concrete in front of the office so the table is there to make them go around.Park Owner
  • Miranda was told she could not put a sign in the office advertising a dog-sitting service because it would be a “liability”.
  • Harrison was not allowed to drive the camp golf cart while doing campground chores because it was a “liability” and he was an “unlicensed driver” (on private property).

Park Conditions

  • Electric stops working on a site, so it becomes a tent-only site. Same price as other tent sites that have working electric (but with 30A service only).
  • All electric breakers for campsites were located in a central box, so if a camper tripped a breaker the camp-hosts had to deal with it.
  • The park has 4 showers but one needs a repair so is locked and used for storage.
  • An RV dumped and overflowed the septic, a camp host (not us) went and cleaned it up using doggy bags for the solids, and used Clorox around the spill.
  • The site is “rested” for a week with no further action by owner. Tenters scheduled to camp in that site the next weekend.
  • Water leak in park.  No secondary shut-offs so entire park is w/o water while repair is made.  Split in water pipe repaired with section of rubber and hose clamps.
  • Leak becomes visible on ground by office septic. Water is turned off, rendering the office bathroom unusable.
  • Office people can either “walk to the bathrooms or go back to their own coaches”. This happens on 8/6, owner has no intentions of fixing until after Labor Day.
  • Low point in the bathroom septic system is the floor drain in the men’s room. The system is not emptied on a regular basis, but only after it backs up onto the floor and host cleans it up a couple of times thinking a camper has made a mess (thankfully not on our shift).
  • Owners never gave feedback.  If you saw something that needed to be done (areas mowed/weedwacked etc) and took the initiative to do the work you would never hear “thanks, that looks much better”, etc.

Beach Patrol

  • The park’s beach front is private and abuts a public county park with the property line being the middle of a creek that runs to the Straits.  While the road (past the county park parking lot) has signs, and the county park’s parking lot info signs delineates the boundary line, the only signage on the actual beachfront is an old, rusted, and barely legible “no trespassing” sign on a pole at one end, and a telephone pole with rainbow stripes at the other.
  • On nice weekend days there are usually many people that cross the creek to sit on the less-busy beach.  The owners either call the park office to have the desk person relay a message to the male camp host to “check some people on the beach” or they pair up themselves and sweep the beach, telling people about the boundaries and that the land is private but they can register for a $6 per-person-and-dog day use permit.
  • When we took the job the beach security was downplayed and positioned as something only done while we were “picking up trash on the beach”. When we got there I was suddenly expected to “make a quick check of the bathrooms then head down to the beach” (to spend the entire afternoon there) when my shift started at 2:00 on a busy weekend.
  • I was taken along on a couple of beach sweeps by the owner and walked along with him as he chased people off.  It was done in an aggressive manner - not in the “carry a bucket, pick up trash and if you happen to bump into someone” manner it was described to us as before taking the job.  He quickly walked after people, and doubled back if they didn’t move fast enough for his liking.  He received verbal abuse from a couple of people.  He wore nothing with the park name on it and produced no means of identification, yet people did what he wanted them to and mostly without question.
  • The owner has “caught” people who had walked up from the county park on the private beach and made them walk 1/2 mile back down the blacktop road. One couple was in their 60’s at least - and had no shoes.
  • The owners started a “contest” for camp hosts to see who could “register the most people on the beach”.  The beach registrations were not mentioned to us before taking the job, and the contest has never been formally presented to us - only paperwork left laying about the office regarding it.
  • Remember all the concern over liability?  The owners had no trouble sending mostly retired camp-hosts down to the beach - alone - to take part in a potentially hostile action (running people off the beach) with only a radio for backup.

Other “Law Enforcement”

  • Owners continually chase people off the road - even if they stop dead in the middle just to take a quick photo.  They say it’s a “private road”.  The county sheriff deputy I spoke to says “it’s an argument” but from his perspective since the country maintains it, it appears on maps, and the owners don’t have gates at either end - it’s a public road.  There is probably an easement meaning some of the shoulder is public as well - but there is no standard width for easements in this county and I would have had to talk to the road commission to find out what it is for this specific road.
  • We were told to enforce keeping dogs on leashes since it’s “a county law”.  The officer I spoke to checked with an animal control officer and told me the county has a law saying your dog “must be under your control” - which means if it’s a well-behaved dog it does not need to be on a leash.  However we are on private property so the owner sets the rule - and is responsible for any issues raised by an out of control dog.

 

 

Good - kids working

Good - kids working

Good: New friends Glenn, Hazel, and Coco

Good: New friends Glenn, Hazel, and Coco

Good: New friends Jerry, Shirley, and Yogi

Good: New friends Jerry, Shirley, and Yogi

Good: New friends Karen and Dale

Good: New friends Karen and Dale

Good: Miranda with Yogi

Good: Miranda with Yogi

Good: Glenn making margaritas for a camp-host cookout

Good: Glenn making margaritas for a camp-host cookout

Good: awesome sunsets

Good: awesome sunsets

Good: awesome wildlife

Good: awesome wildlife

Ugly: Poor private beach signage

Ugly: Poor private beach signage

Ugly: Unsuspecting family made to walk the road back to public park

Ugly: Unsuspecting family made to walk the road back to public park

Ugly: Older couple made to walk road back to public park - barefoot

Ugly: Older couple made to walk road back to public park - barefoot

Ugly: Liability concerns

Ugly: Liability concerns

Ugly: Out of order toilet in office

Ugly: Out of order toilet in office

Ugly: Trying to motivate hosts to do a distasteful job with a contest

Ugly: Trying to motivate hosts to do a distasteful job with a contest

Would We Do It Again?

The benefits are clear: You meet great people.  You slow down spending.  You get the chance to explore an area in depth. 

But there are potential drawbacks as well.

You may end up representing a business you have little-to-no investment in and have to communicate & enforce rules you might think are stupid.

There’s also the length of commitment - most parks want you for an entire season so they can keep turnover and training time down. But an entire season can be 5-6 months in one place, and often with not-great weather on either end of that.

We were in this spot for 8 weeks, which was around 2 weeks longer than our interest level.

Questions to Ask

If we do look at camphosting or workcamping again we’ll have a few questions to ask:

  • How many of your camphosts are returns?
  • Can we speak to some previous camphosts?
  • Are free laundry & shower facilities available to camphosts?
  • Is shopping available within 10 miles or less?
  • What’s the management style/method?
  • Can we try it for 1-2 weeks before committing to an entire season?
  • Does the park have activities for its guests - movie nights, open campfires, hayrides, etc?
  • How does the park encourage community among its camphosts?
  • How many of your guests are returns?

Gluttons for Punishment?

It took us a while to get over this experience, but we have done a couple more camphosting/workcamping engagements.

Our next camphosting job was for Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa, Arizona. After that we work-camped on a private Texas Ranch. We have special memories from both of those jobs.

This first one?

Not so much.

Have You Camphosted?

If you have been a camphost or workamper, what’s been your experience? Were you taken advantage of and over-worked? Or did you find a fair employer who treated you well?

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16 Comments Camp Hosting: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  1. Picture of Ali WorkentinAli Workentin September 13, 2011

    Wow…you had a very different experience than what we are having.  I don’t know if we would do it again if we had to deal with what you had to deal with.  Just curious if you would share the name of the park?

  2. Picture of Larry LeakeLarry Leake September 13, 2011

    Wow - You’ve taken a big step towards curing my curiosity about camphosting! What a terrible experience in such a beautiful place! Feeling sad for the owners living in such captivity. Loved your pics of the area. Sorry it was such a drag…

  3. Picture of BoyinkBoyink September 14, 2011

    Hey Larry -

    Again the other camp hosts assured us this was not their typical experience.  Two of the couples had worked together at another park in Colorado where the park cooked breakfast for them every morning, th e hosts had group campfires all the time, and if you worked for the park for a solid number of months (I forget the exact number) they paid your way to Hawaii to stay in their condo for a week.  That example and this one might be opposite ends on a scale with a lot in between.

    Your “captivity” word is dead-on.  It struck me that previous to this experience I would have thought owning my own stretch of beach would be a dream, but after seeing what it does to your life wouldn’t want it ever.

  4. Picture of HollyHolly September 16, 2011

    We’ve camphosted and one thing I’ve discovered is it’s more about the people you are working with/for than any location. You could be in the best location but if the work atmosphere stinks, none of that matters. The only thing I would disagree with you on is the 14 yr. old driving the cart. A definite liability and perhaps illegal. I’ve seen too many tweens and too young teens driving parents golf carts like a bat out of h*ll!

  5. Picture of Ali WorkentinAli Workentin September 16, 2011

    We also have the rule here in our park NO unlicensed drivers to use golf carts or riding lawn mowers or tractors - that is based on our insurance company stating in writing accident involving a non-licensed driver will not be covered.

  6. Picture of BoyinkBoyink September 16, 2011

    I can possibly concede liability, but it wouldn’t be illegal.  State driving laws don’t apply to private property.

  7. Picture of CrissaCrissa September 16, 2011

    The issue of liability and licensing aside, Data is actually a very conscientious driver of all vehicles.

    —Mom feeling the need to defend her cub ;)

  8. Picture of LauraLaura September 16, 2011

    @Crissa - I was thinking the same thing: no way is Data, in and of himself, a liability on a golf cart! ;)

  9. Picture of Tricia (GeekyExplorers)Tricia (GeekyExplorers) September 20, 2011

    Just came across your site today, so I look forward to reading about your future travels. This is by far the most detailed post about workcamping I have seen and the questions to ask future places is great. It’s not something we plan on doing when we hit the road, but you never know when the right opportunity will present itself. Here’s hoping that if you do it again, it works out a lot better!

  10. Picture of BoyinkBoyink September 20, 2011

    Hi Tricia - thanks for stopping by.

    I think in the right spot, for the right reasons, and the right owner/managers, camphosting could be one of those situations where you could “double-dip”  - working online doing client work while also being a camp host.

    This wasn’t that sort of place however.

    Good luck with your trip prep - there’s more to getting mobile that most people realize!

  11. Picture of LJ PeterlinLJ Peterlin October 06, 2011

    I appreciate the detailed chronicle of your experience. I have been toying with the idea of working at a campground, for all the good reasons you have listed. However, I am worried about commiting to a long stay and finding out I would have to deal with people like you mentioned.
    Most places want a longer length of stay, and I am worried I will not like it and will want to leave. Thanks for giving me more to think about.

  12. Picture of BoyinkBoyink October 06, 2011

    Hi LJ -

    Thanks for the comment.  We’re definitely not going to commit to an entire season again without a trial period.  A good week in this location would have been enough to know all we needed to know..;)

  13. Picture of Ian HardingIan Harding August 05, 2013

    Washington does allow the bizarre notion of “owning” a beach, but you only “own” down to the median high tide line.  Anyone can walk any beach anywhere on the Washington coast on wet sand any time.  The “owners” of beaches often “don’t know” this law and have to be “made aware” of it.

  14. Picture of AndrewAndrew April 10, 2014

    Mike,

    Thanks for the write-up!  We have been considering hosting, but I have always been concerned about exactly what you experienced.  I know its not every place, and your suggestion on interviewing the owner (or other hosts!) is good.
    I am also glad to see that your experiences are backed by other online reviews (like google+ or rvcampreviews.com) of the place by people who stayed there!  Now that there are so many online resources to share information, it may be easier for others to avoid the nightmare you had!

  15. Picture of BoyinkBoyink April 11, 2014

    Good to know it was useful Andrew. While we didn’t want to publicly ‘name and shame’ is sounds like you were able to figure out where we were..;)

    I should note - subsequent to this experience we did indeed camp-host again. Our second time was for a public park in Mesa, AZ. That experience was much better - being government run ensured some order to the management (if not still some strange decisions being made).

    We also work-camped for a private ranch in Texas which overall was the best ‘work for your site’ experience we’ve had, mainly due to not being on someone else’s schedule.

  16. Picture of Mike GoadMike Goad May 06, 2014

    After reading this post, I was curious about what other people thought.  From online reviews that matched your descriptions, I figured what campground it was. Definitely a place to be avoided.  I’m sorry that you had such a poor introduction to camp hosting.  It’s good that you’ve had better experiences since.

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