What Is a Fair Exchange?
One of the questions that seems to come up over and over on the various RV forums and in campfire discussions is the question of how many hours of work are fair in return for an RV site. In my opinion, this is a two sided issue. The answer to this question depends upon many things but it is also very different for paid employee or barter positions as compared to those considered to be volunteer.
If you are working for a commercial venture that is making a profit, the approach should be the same whether working for an RV park or some other type of business. Simply divide the number of hours required by the cost for a similar RV site in that particular area. If you are to stay at the position for an entire season, the rate used to value the RV site should be the monthly rate charged to paying customers. In other words, if your RV site is valued at $400/month, there are 4 1/3 weeks per month and if you work 20 hours a week for the site, then you are receiving the equivalent of $4.65/hour worked. Of course, if you receive additional benefits such as discounts and other services, to be fair you should add the value to you of them into this mix. But do not add in for amenities that paying guests receive for the monthly rate. Of course, if you receive utilities in addition, that too should be considered.
There is no way that anyone can say exactly what another person should be willing to do in return for the RV site. Things like location and the popularity of the area or RV park must play into this mix. Determine just what you consider to be the value of your time as compared to what you receive in return. In very popular areas you will have to work more than would be expected in a location where employees are difficult to find. And you also need to consider just how badly you wish to go to the area or park involved. It seems currently to be pretty typical for those who are working for site only to be asked for 20 to 25 hours of work. Paid employees seem to give anywhere from 15 to 25 hours and some parks pay for all hours and consider the RV site to be a benefit. Since we do not accept the typical paid position, I do not have strong feelings on this, but I would need to be pretty well paid to clean public toilets and showers for my site.
When it comes to volunteer positions, the question of a proper number of work hours in return for the RV site becomes much more complicated. In my opinion, if you feel that you must have fair compensation for your work in the value of the site and amenities that you receive, you probably should not consider any volunteer position for an RV site. There are very few such positions that ask for as few as 20 to 25 hours of work in return for an RV site. The vast majority of positions ask that many hours from each person, and many ask for five to ten more hours from a single than what they ask from each of a couple. There are many reasons for this, but quite simply, the definition of a volunteer is one who works without compensation.
Most of the value received by volunteers comes from the personal satisfaction that we take from the work that we do, and from the knowledge that we are performing a service which would not be done if there were no volunteers to do it. In addition, most of us look for positions that are with organizations that we believe in and for whom we would happily work without the advantage of the RV site, if circumstances allowed. The supplied RV site and amenities very often are what enables people to volunteer, when we might need to work for pay in order to maintain our lifestyles if we had to pay rent at some RV park.
Another factor that should be considered in choosing a volunteer location which is much different from paid positions is the type of work that we are asked to do. We have had many experiences while volunteering that included unique experiences which most people never have the opportunity to have, as a part of the work that we did. Banding of birds is often part of the experience when volunteering for our national wildlife refuges. Some of the jobs that we do are great fun and tremendous learning experiences. When your work if really fun, value can be as great to the worker as it is to the agency that you work for. One of my hobbies is doing wood work and I have frequently done wood projects that I thoroughly enjoy while recording time worked for which I received a campsite, utilities and often other things as well. The best part of this type of work is the fact that I don't even have to buy the materials for my hobby and when I finish, someone truly appreciates the results of my efforts.
There is no doubt that some locations do ask for an excessive number of hours worked in return for the site that is supplied. But the number of hours it is worth is totally in the eyes of the beholder. Some positions that ask too much for some volunteers are highly sought by others. Each person must make that choice for each position that they consider. We generally do not accept any position that is asking any more than 24 hours per week from each or us, or a total of 48. Yet we have on two occasions made an exception to that practice. One of those was due to the manner that hours are recorded. Very often, there is not strict documentation of actual hours but one is considered to have put in 8 hours minimum if you work any part of a day in some of the places that ask for a high number. One reason for this is that volunteer coordinators know that when they require only a few hours they will get applications from people who wish to do only the very least effort possible, and they really don't want that. True volunteers usually will work more than the minimum hours required, when that number is low. We nearly always work at least 40 hours total between the two of us as an average over the term of a position. In general, one who comes to a place requiring only 20 to 25 hours per week for a site and who does no more than that, will usually not be invited to return. They know that many of us prefer the short minimum because it leaves the remainder of the week for us to use as we wish and if not busy we will be out there helping.
The other case where we have accepted very long hours was when we got to have an experience that we could not have in any other place. We worked 32 hours each, every week for one of the poorer host sites we have stayed in at Everglades NP because the experience was one that we wanted badly. While we will not consider a return to that park, we do not regret having done what we needed in order to have the experience of working as interpretive park rangers in the Everglades.
There is one final major difference for us when it comes to the amount of time and effort that we gladly give in return for an RV site and sometimes little more. That is the size and quality of the RV site where we live. As much as we love our life in an RV, we tire very quickly of living in the packed in RV parks that most commercial parks are. Few could afford to stay at any commercial venture that spaced their RV sites in the way that all volunteer locations do. Frequently we are alone in a vast area and never have we been in a volunteer village of more than nine RV sites and the spacing between sites is always generous. The vast majority of volunteer positions supply a great RV site with extras like laundry equipment for our use and often admission to other attractions in the area. It is quite common for uniforms to be supplied and often things like work gloves and any needed safety equipment. I even have a pair of steel toe hiking boots that were purchased for me by one of our volunteer positions and my own hard-hat from yet another. It is also quite common for staff to take volunteers to dinner or to have an awards dinner before we leave and parting gifts to remember the location by are not unusual. Pam & I have quite a collection of tee shirts and various other items that carry the logo of places that we have volunteered. In short, we volunteer because there is nothing that we can think of which would supply such great places to live and the unique experiences that we have had. There was never a job that came even close to what we do.
To put it simply, the number of hours is never too great if you find yourself dreading the time to leave and travel on to your next destination.