New American Nomads (Revisited)

Over five years ago, I wrote this article about retirees in RV's who have become the new American nomads.  Many of these folks work for my company each season, getting wages and a camping site in exchange for taking care of campgrounds. This is often called work camping.

A reader sent me this video from the NY Times discussing the same phenomenon  (here is the print article).  The only difference is these folks work for the government, which means that unlike at private companies, they don't get paid.  I find it kind of fascinating that the NY Times thinks it's a wonderful innovation that "cash-strapped state governments" help balance the budget on the backs of free labor from older people.  Can you imagine what the headlines would be if all the facts were changed, but the entity was a manufacturing company rather than a state park?  It would have been torches and pitchforks  (it is illegal except in narrow cases for private companies to accept free labor -- the government of course exempts itself from this requirement, as it does from much of labor law).

I actually think my article was better.  The way work campers tend to disperse over the summer and then congregate over the winter in a couple of gathering spots (Colorado River in AZ, South Texas, Florida) reminds me a lot of the plains Indian tribes.  And the challenges of a nomadic lifestyle when the world wants you to have a permanent address are interesting, and there are whole business models being crafted to solve these problems.

Anyway, our company hires nearly 500 of these folks every year, and are huge supporters of this lifestyle (and we pay!)   If you are interested, check out our websites above and sign up for our job newsletter.


  1. model_1066:

    I was working for a year down in New Mexico, near Carlsbad. Instead of opting for a hotel in town, a few of us on our crew rented cabins at the local KOA. We met quite a few of the work campers who were mostly retirees, all of whom seemed to really enjoy their active retirement. I hope to do the same when I retire.

  2. DOuglas2:

    I'm not sure that this really adds to the discussion, but I saw the links to the NYT article and video on the Althouse blog, immediately searched and reread your article, and it *was* better.

  3. Jay:

    Heh. Just popped over here to see if you'd already seen this and was going to send it if not.

  4. View from the horizon:

    Dear Coyote,
    As a young woman, I worked for Yellowstone Park Company for several summers in Yellowstone National Park.
    Orginally, my intent was for one adventurous summer. The experience was so positive in so many ways, I returned two more times. As I have gone about with life, it is always in the back of my mind to return to the summer park experience again when my present work is done. Although I have loved to travel, there is nothing like setting up the seasonal roots to deepen the experience.
    Even though I worked for a private company, there were many paid seasonal positions available for park naturalists, park maintenance and rangers. The government is taking advantage of these good people. By not covering the expenses for the park's needs, those volunteers are paying in lost income as well as dipping into their savings for living expenses. In essence, it is a hidden type of tax similar to so many we encounter, the result of the government not having to keep an accounting system like any real business would. Those thirty or so years ago at Yellowstone, I helped a ranger at the campground. One of his duties was to write down the car count on the roadway for the day. The number was high; but he lamented that it didn't matter. The money all went to Washington to a general pool to be disbursed at the politician's whims. Those politicians never run out of whims.
    The opportunity to broaden my horizons and learn about the world would not have been possible to me those years ago if I could not have earned money while doing so. There was enough in my family of ten but not for extras like travel. Thank you so much for paying folks to give opportunity for them to make their dreams possible. Thank you so much for working so hard to keep your private business viable. You,and every individual like you, keep the American dream alive.

  5. Not Sure:

    "And the challenges of a nomadic lifestyle when the world wants you to have a permanent address are interesting..."

    I just moved to a place where there is no street delivery of mail- everybody has a PO box. And you can't get the PO box until you're actually physically present to apply for it, making the transition... interesting.

    The frustrations of dealing with a 1000 mile move are already substantial- having had to explain over and over again to businesses and utilities that my new living address was *not* my new mailing address, and that I wouldn't even have a maiing address until I got to where I was going got tiring, that's for sure.

  6. Craig:

    Not sure,

    Yeah, I just moved, and I didn't know where I was going to live once I got there. I put my mail on hold with the USPS at my old address, and when I got my new address, I filed an address change, and they forwarded my held mail (at least, I assume I got all of it).