One of the things that drew us to this lifestyle was the possibility of having no conventional form of living costs such as rent/mortgage and utilities. It sounds too good to be true but I assure you that it’s not. Let me explain.
At state parks they employ rangers and maintenance workers to be on site from 9-5, but when you have campers at the park you need someone there to keep an eye on things from 5-9 and so the campers have someone to turn to if they need help from a site representative. Enter the campground host.
A host is a volunteer who lives at the campsite in their own rig. Each state varies depending on their rules and regulations for hosts but in Georgia you can stay at any one park as a host for a minimum of 2 months and a maximum of 6 months. During your placement as a host you receive a free site, but it generally has a few extra perks. Most sites at state parks don’t have full hook up (electric, water, and sewer), they only have electric and water. This means that you have the tedious task of moving your rig every few days to dump the black and grey water tanks at the designated dump site. As a host you enjoy full hook up benefits so once you pull in you shouldn’t need to move your camper again until you leave. You also tend to get cable TV free (even if you generally have to pay extra for it at a park), a small permanent shelter over your picnic table, and, our favorite, your own golf cart to use 24/7 during your time at the park.
In exchange for these benefits you do have some responsibilities. Hosts must perform a minimum of 24 hours per week of volunteer work. You’re expected to keep the bathrooms clean which means giving them a good wipe down and mop once a day and checking them several times a day. You also need to ensure each site is clean after campers check out by picking up trash, cleaning out the fire ring if necessary, and sometimes blowing tree debris off the site. Other duties vary from park to park and sometimes you may be asked to help with special projects like building/repairing picnic tables, benches, etc or you may be asked to help clear the walking trails. Other than that, you’re just required to be the face of the park, be friendly, and help campers by providing information.
All in all it’s pretty easy work and the schedule is very flexible with the vast majority of tasks not requiring any set time to be done. This is pretty perfect for me as I am a stay at home Mom and so my life generally revolves around my son’s ever-changing schedule. Most of these tasks can also be taken care of with a 1 year old in tow.
When I pitched the idea to Chris I told him how this would satisfy my desire to contribute financially to the household. I think most stay at home Moms would tell you that, while we know we are providing an invaluable service by raising our children, we feel like a bit of a drain on finances sometimes. But by hosting I am able to alleviate the strain on Chris by eliminating our rent, water, and power bills while still being there to raise our son. So, to put it another way, this “volunteer” work would actually save us about $18,000 a year. That’s a pretty darn big savings.
Aside from the financial benefits we figured it would afford us more opportunity to meet people such as other hosts, park rangers, and other guests. Being a stay at home Mom can also get kind of lonely – especially when your husband is working long hours and your only interaction is with a teething 1 year old. So the idea that other hosts would be around that I could interact with on a regular basis was appealing.
So how do you become a host? It’s actually a really easy process. Each state has its own individual set of procedures. Here in Georgia there’s an online application which took about 30 minutes to fill out. You also have to pay an annual fee of $15 per applicant (if you host as a couple then you are each an applicant) and that covers your background check. My understanding is that a criminal record will not necessarily preclude you from hosting, but rather that each person is assessed on a case-by-case basis. Once your background check has cleared then you’re free to start applying to different parks. Online is a “hosting timeline” where each park posts their schedules for incoming and outgoing hosts showing the gaps in their calendar where they need hosts to fill in. From here you simply apply to fill those vacancies and chase them up with a phone call to the parks.
Overall it’s an incredibly easy process to get started with. Once you begin hosting you get credited points for the number of volunteer hours you rack up. As you bank more hours/points you receive more free stuff, benefits, or pins. For example, after 500 hours logged you get a free park pass which gets you free entry and parking at all state parks for a year including discounts at gift shops etc. You can also get a few free nights of camping, free nights at the cottages or yurts, free rentals, the list goes on.
It took a few weeks of playing phone tag with different parks and was a little frustrating at times trying to line up our first hosting placement but finally about 2 weeks before we were due to go full time RV we got a call from Vogel state park offering us our first placement. The placement is from October 31st until the end of the year. We figured this is a good start and should help us find our feet with the hosting journey. 2 months allows us a low level of commitment to begin with which should help me figure out how best to balance my daily duties with raising junior. Meanwhile it gives us a good few weeks to get used to living in a camper before I have to start working again for the first time in 18 months.
So hosting is a great way to spend some more time outside, significantly reduce your cost of living, travel as widely as you please (or stick around locally), and break free from the pressures and stresses of conventional living. Is it for everyone? Probably not. But I think the promise of freedom and less stress makes it worth trying. Like Hellen Keller said: “Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”