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Being a Campground Host: How to Have a Good Experience


There are several different ways to workamp, which combines paid or volunteer work with RV or tent camping. One of the most common is that of a campground host, as you can often bring a partner with you, and normally get a free campsite as compensation.


In this post, we’ll look at the pros and cons of the position, my own experience as a camp host, and how to have the most successful experience.

What Is a Campground Host?


A campground host works a decided up number of hours per week in return for a free campsite. Positions vary from place to place, with duties depending on the needs and staffing of the park. Most positions will generally have these things in common:

Help enforce park rules and regulations

I was given a thick packet of rules and regulations to know about the campsite, so that if campers had questions or complaints I would know what actions to take. However, camp hosts are not rangers. If you ask a camper to quiet down after quiet hours and they get confrontational, you should turn the responsibility over to the duty ranger or police.

Help with check in and out

It is important that parks have a system to keep track of who is leaving, who is arriving, and how to tidy up campsites in between. This is because campers come and go every day, and on holidays or during the summer, campgrounds that normally have a few van lifers or backpackers will now be filled with families. At my park, the rangers station took care of check in/out while camp hosts did a sweep of the sites, ensuring that everyone who was supposed to have left had done so, hurrying along those who were dragging their feet, and cleaning up after campers. This included emptying the fire pits of ash and picking up litter.

Customer service

On a campground, customer service mostly means answering questions and fielding complaints. This could be anything from pointing out the entrance to the closest trail to nodding sympathetically about the amount of mosquitos plaguing the area. More importantly, it means keeping the maintenance managers and rangers aware of plumbing and electricity issues, campers not following regulations, and emergencies. When possible, finding solutions to smaller issues on your own saves everyone time and keeps the park running smoothly.

Other duties

Camp hosts are often expected to do light maintenance and clean bathrooms. Along with these things, I also sold firewood and ice since we didn’t have a camp store, as well as called the supplier to refill them when we ran low. Having camped in many places, the handling of firewood and ice varies and is not always the responsibility of the camp host.



You are often the go to for first aid, either to care for campers or call for help. My first aid kit got put to good use taking care of scraped knees, snake bites, poison ivy, and more.


Pros and Cons

There are several pros and cons to camp hosting. Like many work camping positions, you will have to weight them based on your camping situation and personal capacity to do the work.


Pros:


Connect With Nature

During my time as a camp host I spent most of my day outside. At first it was simply practical - I could spread out my laptop and paperwork much better on the campground picnic table than I could on my tiny table in the bus. However I tended to stay outside much longer that I intended. Outside I could catch the rare breeze, wave at the people who passed by, and see the sun go down every day, dappled by the trees. Possibly because of this, I found myself having a more regular sleep schedule, was more relaxed, and even my normally brutal spring allergies seemed to last for a shorter amount of time.


Easy Access to Exercise

Most campgrounds have at least a few short trails. Despite working two jobs alongside the camp host position, I found time to explore the woods I lived in. The campground of the park I worked at had a direct entrance to a two-mile trail that wound around the small property. By the end of my camp host experience, I had found a way to turn it into five miles by connecting it with smaller ones through small pathways and back roads. I had also started to walk it barefoot, as a way of meditating and connecting with the earth. I tried mountain biking, and despite it being terrifying and slow going I made some progress. When you live directly surrounded by nature, you have ample opportunity and motivation to move, and exercise doesn't feel like a chore.


Meeting People

This job is all about people. As a camp host, you'll meet people from all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life. I enjoyed having engaging conversations with my fellow camp host and with other campers.


Stability

Van life can be chaotic, and going from deciding where to park every day to having a spot dedicated as "mine" was calming. Especially for people with unwieldy vehicles like busses or large RVs, having the same place to park every day can give you mental space to relax and reset, or the physical ability to do work on your vehicle. The campground I worked at even allowed me to send mail to their office due to the length of time that I was staying.



Cons:


Dirty, dusty work

Spending my days walking on gravel, shoveling ash pits and scrubbing toilets is dirty work. I was constantly covered in a layer of dirt and dried sweat. All of this dirt will be tracked into your rig as you go in and out throughout the day. You can try to reduce this by using a mat at the doorway and immediately removing your shoes when you get inside, but you will still have to sweep or vacuum often.


Cleaning the bathrooms

Before I left my previous apartment to become a camp host, my housemate warned me against it. He had been a camp host for a month and hated it, mainly because of the bathroom cleaning duties.


“There’s nothing worse than cleaning up after people who have spent the weekend eating camping food”, he told me seriously.


I waved it off, thinking that after changing diapers at a daycare and scooping manure on a farm, this couldn’t be so bad. Oh, how wrong I was. It took less than a week for me to become an expert at plunging a full toilet without making the water go over the edge, pulling massive hair clots out of the shower drains, and emptying unwrapped tampons and pads out of the little box beside the toilet. The men's room had its own issues, with campers regularly managing to miss the urinals or use entire rolls of toilet paper in a single visit. I became mostly desensitized to cleaning these dismal bathrooms right before lunch, and scrubbed my hands so often and so intensely that I had to walk around with a small bottle of lotion in my fanny pack. Thankfully, not all campsites require hosts to clean bathrooms, and the campground that I worked at had a unique plumbing situation that exacerbated these issues. This means that for most camp hosts, cleaning the bathroom won't be torturous, it will just be a little gross.


Hard to Be Completely Off Duty

While camp hosts have strict times that they are on and off duty, campers and often rangers (depending on the park you work at) may ignore it, resulting in you being asked questions or requested to do tasks anyway. I resorted to leaving the campsite when I wanted to be left alone, especially on my off days.


Working Outside Regardless of The Weather

For most who take the job, working outside all day is a perk. However it becomes taxing sometimes, such as periods of heavy rain, high pollen days, and dangerous heat during the summer. It's important to consider your ability to handle these conditions as well as the capacity of your rig to keep you safe.





One of my favorite things to do while camp hosting was to make a final round of the campground and appreciate all of the glowing tents and fairy lights every night before bed. Definitely one of the pros.


How to Have a Successful Camp Host Experience

Being a camp host can be fun, but it can also be hard. When I first decided to camp host, it was not only my first time hosting but my first month living RV life. It was important to have a positive outlook in order for the experience to be a good one.


Appreciate the Small Things

When working a dirty job in the hot sun there is nothing better than a hot shower. Though there was a working shower at the campsite, I began to work out more so that I could shower at Planet Fitness. I appreciated being able to go through my personal care routine without people recognizing me and asking me questions.


Take Safety Into Consideration

You may have to forgo some comforts while camp hosting. For me, I love being barefoot, including outside. However, while hosting I witnessed people struggling to empty their black water tanks and getting waste on the ground, found shattered beer bottles, helped people who were bitten by snakes, and learned how much work it takes to clean the bathrooms. I quickly became more careful about where I walked barefoot. I have more tips on barefoot hiking and safety here.


Through a few hapless mistakes I was given a harsh reminder that nature didn’t care how long I spent in it - I was still a soft vulnerable human. After getting lost off trail in the woods and having to call a ranger for help, I began to be more prepared on hikes, including my simple morning walks. I always wore sunscreen and bug spray, carried water, and checked for ticks when I got back. I carried a full pack for longer hikes and a fanny pack was stocked with simple essentials for short hikes.


Finally, after seeing my first dog fight and nearly losing two fingernails trying to help the owners break it up (which you shouldn't do, but I didn't know at the time), I realized how important it is to leash your dog. In an area with many dogs around, it is important for everyone to follow this rule. This also helps to keep your dog safe from snakes, speeding cars, and children with no boundaries.


Ask for and Offer Help

On my first day as camp host I was exhausted from the long drive and lack of sleep, only to find that there was something wrong with the electrical system of my bus. I was not getting any power from my solar panels and I didn't have a cord for shore power yet. My fellow camp host Stan saw me squatting in front of the fire pit, frustratedly using up fire starters but unable to keep the flames going long enough to boil my ramen. He decided to help. Instead of just giving me food, which would have only helped for the immediate moment, he taught me how to properly light a fire and keep it going. I continued to cook food over a fire twice a day for a week despite the summer heat, until I finally found someone to diagnose and fix my electrical issues. Since then I have been very handy with campfires.


I am grateful to Stan for giving me this skill that I will not only carry with me for life, but have been able to share with other struggling souls. Sharing knowledge is an amazing way to help everyone enjoy camping, because you are not only connecting with others but learning new skills that could be lifesaving if needed.


Make time to socialize

If you camp host as a single person like I did, it can be a little lonely to have constant background noise of people having fun - barking dogs, screaming children, laughter, and music - while you're on your own. When meeting new people, don’t be afraid to reach out and turn a short encounter with someone into an actual friendship. Ask to join them for their night time campfire, for dinner, or on a hike. I made several good friends this way, including the amazing person that invited me to Reggae Rise Up.


Advocate for yourself

If your park is understaffed, the lines between camp host duties and favors might become blurred. After all, you're there all the time. It's easy for staff to radio you questions or send campers your way without checking your work hours, or ask you to do a task because the maintenance team is unavailable. It is important to read your paperwork and talk to your manager, then set clear boundaries regarding your responsibilities. This includes asking campers to come back later if their question or request is not an emergency. As someone who spent my last few weeks camp hosting on their own without help while also juggling a full time job, this was very important.


Don't Be Afraid to Take Up Space

Ask a black trans-masculine person I knew that I would be playing with fire by choosing this position. The area I worked in was home to mostly white high income families, who I worried would be intimidated by my presence. I was not wrong - campers treated me differently than my peers. Many people gave me weird looks, were more willing to be rude to me, and acted afraid when I approached them. None of this happened when I was accompanied by one of the rangers or by Stan, all of whom were white.


Other minorities noticed it as well. They made an effort to stop and talk to me, saying that they felt more comfortable knowing that I was nearby. Growing up in the military I was used to being the only black kid in the room - I thought it wouldn't bother me. But I did feel a little affronted when I once walked up to a family's camp site to ask a question and the parents dramatically held up their hands, palms out in surrender, saying “I don’t want any trouble,” or the time that I reminded an elderly couple of check out time and they began to angrily shout profanities at me, saying that I had no authority to tell them what to do. I was bothered by how often kids stopped to pet my dog only to be violently yanked away by their parent as if I was trying to give them drugs. Things like this happened all the time, and almost overshadowed all of the people who were perfectly nice.


I will always remember the day when an old white man walked up to me while I was eating lunch to say, “You don’t look like an RVer.”

I put my peanut butter sandwich down, annoyed, and asked what he meant. He looked my bus up and down as he tried to find his words. “You got a boyfriend?”

"No."

"This your rig?"

"Yes."

"You the camp host?"

"YES. Can I help you with something?"

He frowned, sucked his teeth and walked away.


What this man was trying to say, as were many people throughout my experience, is: why are you taking up space at this campsite? Why are you the camp host, when that’s not only a cis man’s job, but a white man’s job? By openly taking part in this white and male dominated activity, going so far as to take a position of authority (no matter how small), I was challenging his view of what RVing was meant to be and who was allowed to do it. Therefore he was offended, despite him having been the one who was rude to me.


Black Folks Camp Too is a movement to promote unity in the outdoors while getting more of the Black community out enjoying nature. While I haven't had the chance to camp at a Unity Blaze certified campground yet, many outdoor retail stores, RV dealerships, and gear manufacturing businesses have joined in. You can support the movement as an individual simply by joining their social media pages or reading up on the website.


Summary

Overall, being a camp host was a life changing experience. Constantly being in nature made me want to do nothing more than explore it. When I was in my little bubble of city life I was tempted to stay there, even though I hated it. I would go home to my apartment and only leave to walk the dog or go on planned excursions. In contrast, as a camp host I would finish work and rush to go on a hike before sunset. If I felt stressed, I would grab my bike and pump it out instead of sitting and seething. Spending more time in nature genuinely made me happier and healthier at a time when I needed help moving forward. It also made me realize how important it is to speak out about the microaggressions that I experienced every day simply for having the gall to go camping.


There are so many things in nature that we see every day but don’t notice or appreciate. Living in the woods made me feel warm and happy and part of something bigger. If you need a place to park for an extended period of time and want to save some money, I recommend trying it out. By focusing on the positives, learning from the experience as much as possible, and connecting with others, it can be an unforgettable experience.


How to become a campground host


  • Camphost.org - one of the largest camp host employers in the US

  • WorkampingJobs.com - shows help wanted ads from RV parks and campgrounds

  • CoolWorks.com - shows all kinds of interesting seasonal positions.

  • Government websites - state parks near you will list available jobs on the Department of Natural Resources website.

  • Facebook - most camps have one or two social media accounts, with Facebook being the most common. I applied for my camp host position on Facebook.

  • Job boards such as LinkedIn and Indeed also show volunteer positions, including campground hosting.

  • Craigslist - I love Craigslist. It's where I bought (or got for free) most of my used camping gear for Burning Man and most furniture I have owned over the years. I've also picked up side jobs on it. For safety reasons, don't give out any personal information until you speak to someone in person in a public place. Have job interviews over Google Meet or Google Voice to avoid giving out your personal number. Look businesses up on the BBB and walk away from a conversation of your gut tells you to.

  • And more! Don't underestimate word of mouth. I got my camp host position without a waiting period because a friend recommended me to the hiring manager. If you go camping somewhere and enjoy the location, make sure to ask the camp host or a ranger whether they are in need of help.










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Hi, I'm Koi!

I'm an environmental project manager who decided to make a change from office life to to outdoor projects and small business ownership.

My goal is to help promote forward movement in outdoor spaces and live events towards full accessibility and diversity by giving everyone the inspiration and tools to create their own adventure.

I love self expression, hiking, music festivals, and Burning Man, and want to show that celebrating diversity in the outdoors makes it better for everyone.

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A mobile loctician goes to folks' homes or meets them in a neutral location in order to do their hair. I travel far and wide to spread hair love to other dread heads! I do the crochet method, and can work with any hair texture, including straight and curly hair. Check out Dread King to learn more. 

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