Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Vocations on Vacation: Working on the Road

Twenty years ago, we tried to live in two places each year - one in the south, one in the north - and it didn’t go so well. Every summer we’d pile a huge computer, equally huge dog and howling cat into our tiny Nissan sedan and head from steamy Florida to cool New Hampshire. The economy had kept us from selling our northern house when we moved south, so it was rented to college students who left every summer.

It seemed ideal. We had no kids and our consulting and publishing jobs could be done from most anywhere, or so we thought. But this was pre-Internet days, and communication was by landline, fax and snail mail. We also worked about 50-60 hours a week, even up north. The energy and expense involved in pulling off the temporary relocation cancelled out the respite from the heat. In the end, logistics did us in.

Fast forward 20 years and it’s a whole new ball game. Smart phones, laptops, tablets. Email, social media, texting. On-line research, commerce, banking. And apps, apps, apps. Working on the road or from two places has become not only possible, but productive. And just in time. The trend of working in retirement doesn’t mean you can’t travel or migrate with the mallards.

Tasksumers, discussed in the last post, sometimes vacation in a certain part of the country because they’ve found tiny jobs there on an app like Gigwalk. Other semi-retired folks are self-employed and today’s technology lets them work from wherever they choose. Still others have seasonal jobs, like my neighbor who worked part-time as a National Park Service ranger, half the year in Florida and half the year in New York. Another friend works six months in Florida and six months in Maine as a PRN (as-needed) nurse. My favorite is Small Jobs Only, which my friend Tony will jump into when he retires from the post office later this year. His carpentry skills will be put to work in his new career in Florida and in the old church he is rehabbing in upstate New York as seasonal co-housing with a group of friends.

Looking for Work in All the Right Places
Then there is workamping, which means different things to different people. Workampers are “people who drive RVs around the country, from temporary job to temporary job, docking in trailer camps,” according to Mother Jones magazine. The classic image is an older couple living rent-free in a campground in exchange for serving as campground hosts. At the other end are temporary staffers working tough jobs for low wages as their sole income, such as warehouse “pickers” who fulfill Internet orders and live in their RVs in company lots.
Nissan’s Mobile Office Concept van never made it to production 
but we sure could have used it 20 years ago • www.nissanpedia.org

In between are part-time jobs that pay $8-12 an hour for tasks as varied as a gas company technician who checks for leaks to couples who travel around to demo food products at Costco. Many workamp jobs are found - surprise - at campgrounds. Some experienced workers advise looking for situations that pay by the hour rather than trading work for a campsite. If you trade, it might be hard to put a cap on your hours. But check out this workamper site and decide for yourself.

Whether you want to work on the road all year in retirement or prefer to settle in one or two places, tiny jobs exist everywhere. Or, you can create your own opportunities thanks to the Internet.

The key is to find something you enjoy. After almost 40 years, I still remember a quote from an interview I did with the sports information director at the University of Delaware, who would become my boss. He loved sports, and was thrilled that he got paid to write about them. He’s retired now, and at 70 gives tours of his beloved Fenway Park in Boston. What he said in 1976 still rings true for him, and for me, “I’m lucky, because my vocation is also my avocation.”


Fishfreek said...

At 47 yrs old and single I have begun to search out some of these jobs. I would like to be Working on the Road by the time I am 50. Just not sure where to start. This article gives hope that it is possible.


Dawn Langton said...

Glad to hear it! While camping this weekend at the Tear Jerkers gathering, I met a 73-year-old gentleman from Massachusetts who was a workamper at our campground. He works part-time in exchange for his very nice RV site, and is quite happy with the arrangement.