You’ve decided to volunteer and are ready to jump in with both feet and all paws in the air. Now what? How do you actually go from there to full-fledged bona fide working RV on-the-road volunteers? I will not proclaim to be an expert, but I’ve applied for a fair number of jobs in my time and these are the tips I’d give to anyone considering the leap:
1/ Find The Right Job For You
Finding the right job is always the first step. I covered tons of places to look in my last post, but with so many choices out there it helps to have some basic requirements to narrow down the list. Here are my top 5 “list shorterners”:
- Weather – For anyone living fulltime in what a basically a big tin can this is a major consideration and good weather is very high on our choice list. Make an effort to understand the weather in the area you’re going to volunteer at the time you’re targeting to go. What are average temps? Rainfall? Wind? Bugs? Volunteering in 100-degree weather with humidity and 40MPH winds is a whole other ballgame than volunteering in 70-degree dry sunny weather. Know up-front what to expect and use that to narrow down your job location choices.
- Boonies Versus Civilization? This may not be important for everyone, but it’s worth understanding. Are you willing to volunteer out in the “boonies” or are you the type that needs to be close to a city where can you shop for groceries, organic foods (if that’s important for you), have internet access and get mail? City versus boonies can narrow down alot of choices. We love both, but Paul’s investing means we need to have internet access, so getting a position reasonably close to civilization was important to us.
- Outgoing Versus Solitary? The type of person you are can really help to narrow down volunteer choices. Are you the type of person that loves to talk and deal with people, or are you happier doing something that’s solitary? If the former a camphost or interpretive position (like ours) is great, but if the latter trail maintenance or an archeological dig may be more up your alley. Make realistic choices up-front based on your personality.
- Commitment Length Requirements – time commitments are important to understand including work hours and minimum number of weeks/months that the position will accept. For example some of the jobs we scoped out in CA required a 6-month commitment ( way too long for us), whereas Oregon was able to offer monthly positions. Read the job requirements in detail and make sure they’re agreeable before applying.
- Paw Friendliness? If you have animals this can be a major consideration in choice of volunteer area. Is there somewhere to walk your pets? Or can you (perhaps) take them to work? Oregon’s pet-friendliness (and 100% paw-friendly coast) was a major reason we chose to volunteer here.
Lastly once you’ve gotten an idea of where you want to go and what kind of job you’d like to do start talking to other folks and asking around. In our case we spoke to alot of volunteers cross-country while we were travelling before deciding on our current spot. Not only does this get you networking (and give you connections for job openings and who the decision makers are), but it also gives you the “inside scoop” on what the position is actually like. The RV internet forums are another great resource for asking around and obtaining real-life feedback.
2/ Apply For The Job With Pizzaz
In my mind applying for a volunteer job is very much like applying for any other job out there. Usually there is some kind of formal application process (maybe a form or an online e-mail) which require both references and (sometimes) a background check, but you increase your chances if you do a little bit extra work to stand out. So things like including a little extra info about yourself, using network contacts (people who’ve volunteered there before may be able to give you an introduction to the “decision-makers”) and following-up with a phone-call can give you the edge to getting the job, especially if it’s a popular one. In our case I added info about my blog and called the volunteer service both before and after our application to develop a personal contact with the head coordinator. We were still very lucky to get the job (they had a last-minute cancellation), but I credit my little “extras” to getting us to the very top of the list of stand-by calls.
Also think about how many applications you want to send out. We were very specific about what we wanted (interpretive host) and where we wanted to go (Oregon Coast) so we only applied for one job in one state, but if you’re more open go ahead and send out several applications. Just make sure you don’t commit to more than one before you really know what you want!
3/ Understand The Responsibilities (Before You Commit)
Before you commit to any job, be that volunteering or otherwise it’s really important to understand what you’ll be required to do. Nothing is ever written in stone, but there are basic questions you should ask before committing such as:
- Work Hours? How many hours will you be expected to work. Is it common to do overtime? Are there “fixed” shifts or are hours more open? Many RVers prefer “fixed” shifts since they know exactly when and for how long they’ll be working, but some RVers like the flexibility of more “open” hours even if it means more overall time.
- Training? Will there be any training before the job starts and how long will it last? Can you “shadow” anyone on the job before you start? We were already staying at Bullards Beach when Grant & Kathy so generously offered to switch jobs so we were able to shadow the couple already working here for a few days before starting ourselves. It was very helpful!
- Physical Abilities? Does the job require any special physical abilities (e.g. ability to stand all day, or do manual labor)? Or is it an indoor job with sitting space? Be sure you’re physically able to handle the job
- Cleaning? Does the job require cleaning (toilets, facilities)? For many folks this can be the biggest deal-maker or breaker in a volunteer job and it’s important to fully understand what you’re required to do. Paul and I decided up-front we didn’t want a job that requires cleaning toilets, but for some folks it’s not a big deal, and there are vast differences between cleaning a single pit toilet once a day or cleaning several large stalls multiple times/day. Either way, be aware of what you’re getting into!
- Injuries? What happens if I’m injured on the job? Does the state/volunteer service cover me? This question can be especially important for jobs that require physical labor.
- Where Will I Live? Will the job provide a free RV parking space? Does that space have hookups/satellite access/internet access (whatever is important to you)? Is it close to my work or many miles away? Or will I be required to find/pay for my own place and drive everyday to work? In our case we’re not fussy about hookups, but we do care about where we’re staying (we love green & space and must have somewhere to walk the dog), plus we need internet access and do want to be close to work.
4/ Once You Commit….Commit!
Like any job or any promise in life, once you decide to take it on, follow through and make the commitment to do it! Your performance at this job is something that might reflect on you in your next job, and it’s simply good and proper manners to do the things in life you commit to do. Now that’s not to say you can never change your mind. There may be unexpected medical issues that crop up, or family emergencies, or the job may turn out to involve really onerous duties and hours that you were never told about up-front (of course this assumes you did your due diligence and asked all the questions in #3 before you committed!). If that’s the case you’re fully within your rights to drop the job. Simply give your reasons, give your notice and work as much as you deem sensible with the place to transfer your responsibilities.
So given all this, why did we chose Oregon and why chose to be lighthouse interpretive hosts? First of all we’re both very outgoing people and we both love the idea of teaching/passing on info to others -> I’m a natural socialite and talker, and Paul…well Paul is definitely a natural talker (and good at being informative). Second of all we wanted to be somewhere the weather was good in summer with a coastline that accepts dogs. Oregon is a natural choice in both cases with near-perfect temps all summer and a 100% public coastline that is entirely paw-friendly. Third we’d talked to several volunteers last year we travelled in Oregon and every single one (without exception) had enjoyed their volunteer experience and felt Oregon volunteer services are very well run. Our subsequent experience has confirmed that, and in fact I’d venture to say they have one of the better State volunteer services out there. Also when you volunteer for Oregon State Parks you get a free campsite at one of their lovely (and paw-friendly) parks. Yet another bonus to coming here. And lastly….we fell in love with the lighthouses on the coast last year and thought it would just be the coolest thing to host at them.
From dream to dream job in just three posts! Hope you enjoyed the series and that it inspires a few of you to give volunteering on the road a try. DO let me know if you do and how it turns out for you.
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