Many people have goals of living more simply, closer to nature, or on their own land and homestead. Though a laudable goal, a complete life change is often unrealistic. A better goal is to find other ways to live and work somewhere spectacular, even just temporarily.
In the past four years I have had lots of experience seeking out job opportunities in amazing places and I want you to know it’s not hard! There are amazing opportunities everywhere; you only need to know where to look. Below are three stellar options for living and working off the beaten path that have been tested and approved by me. I may be 22, but these opportunities have absolutely no age limit. So read on, get inspired, and go do something amazing!
Work in a National Park
So many people live for the week or two in the summer when they can get away from their jobs and take a vacation in one of America’s majestic national parks. Why not flip that equation by living and working in one instead?
In 2012, I joined the Grand Teton Lodge Company and spent the summer working in a small campground in Grand Teton National Park. Days off were spent hiking and backpacking through the mountains and occasional trips to Yellowstone. To say it was an incredible experience is an understatement. I made lifelong friends and got to know a mountain range intimately. Overall, working in the Tetons was one of the most rewarding summers I have ever had.
What to Expect:
National Park hospitality is typically run by concessionaires that hire a wide range of people for both seasonal and full time positions. Vail works with the Grand Teton Lodge Company, and companies like Xanterra work in Yellowstone and Death Valley. You will want to look for jobs through them, not the National Park Service.
Park concessionaires hire people from around the world, making park living a truly international experience. I shared my dorm room with roommates from Jamaica and Moldova.
Most jobs deal directly with hospitality. Expect to do housekeeping, fill reservations, bus at a restaurant, or work in a campground. I worked in a campground and had friends that did everything from run a grocery store to be nighttime security guards.
Food and lodging is usually provided through dorms and an employee dining room, although some parks have an employee campground with hookups for RVs.
Unless you have previous experience in related fields, expect to make minimum wage or just above with a small portion of your salary deducted for food and lodging.
Most national parks are busiest in the summer months, meaning that a lot of hospitality positions are seasonal. However, many employees migrate from park to park, spending the winter months working at ski resorts or hot climate parks like Death Valley. Oftentimes concessionaires like Vail are located in several parks and are happy to move their employees around seasonally.
WWOOF on an Organic Farm
WWOOFing, the acronym for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is an international work exchange opportunity that connects willing volunteers with host farms. Usually no money is exchanged, but hosts are required to make arrangements for food and lodging for their volunteers. Because you are typically living and working alongside a family, wwoofing is an inexpensive and intimate way to travel. When I graduated from college four months earlier than I was expecting, I took a chance and flew to the Big Island of Hawaii to work at a 10 acre botanical sanctuary and vegetable garden. I can’t imagine experiencing Hawaii any other way.
What to Expect:
Over 100 countries are involved with wwoofing and each country has their own wwoof website. (Hawaii has one separate from the rest of the US) Most of these websites will only give you a preview of available farms unless you pay for an annual membership, typically around $25. It’s well worth the money to gain the access to information about so many host farms.
After registering, you will be able to see the full profile for every host farm in that country. Pay close attention to this information because every farm has different requirements. Minimum length of stay, amount of hours of work required and the type of food and lodging provided are all variant, although most farms require between 15-30 hours of work per week.
If you won’t have a car with you, pay special attention to how accessible towns and/or tourist destinations are to the farm. It would be a bummer of a vacation if the farm you worked at was far away from everything else you wanted to see and do. Try to find out if the hosts provide any transportation for their wwoofers.
Once you have decided on some potential farms, send them a “cover letter” email with your interest and availability. Remember that most farms receive dozens of these emails a week, so make yours stand out! Personalize each one to the farm you are applying for and be sure to list any relevant work experience.
Popular locations fill up fast, so if you are looking to wwoof in a place like Hawaii be sure to send out emails several months before you go.
Most host farms are really great, but while in Hawaii I heard some horror stories from fellow wwoofers. Avoid these places by doing your research ahead of time! Read reviews, have a phone call with potential hosts before committing, and always have a Plan B in mind in case things aren’t going to work out.
And finally, go in with the right mindset! Wwoofing is a working vacation, so plan on being busy and getting sweaty. Keep your expectations realistic, be gracious to your host, and enjoy your chance to live a little closer to nature.
Give Service with AmeriCorps
Ian and I owe our current job and homes to working with AmeriCorps. Often considered to be a domestic version of the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps ‘engages more than 75,000 Americans in intensive service each year at nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith based groups throughout the country.’ Because Americorps provides government money to help staff nonprofit organizations, it provided the opportunity for my husband and me to move to our historic Appalachian homestead. AmeriCorps has provided us with jobs in a region where it would have been difficult for us to find ones otherwise, so we are forever grateful for this wonderful program. If you have an idea about the sort of work you want to do but aren’t sure who would hire you to do it, check out AmeriCorps!
What to Expect:
There is a wide variety of AmeriCorps positions available. Anything from working in an urban school to doing trail maintenance in a National Forest is possible. Ian and I are living in the mountains; working for a rural community organization and helping in the local schools, but we have friends also serving with Americorps that are aiding at the Cincinnati Zoo, helping to repair storm-damaged homes out West, and starting farmer’s markets in low income communities. The sky’s the limit!
The time commitment also varies. Some positions are year long and average 40 hours a week, while others may be part time and for only a few months. Typically there is a required number of hours needed to officially complete a position and volunteer are responsible for keeping careful track of their hours.
The benefit of AmeriCorps includes a biweekly salary, student loan forbearance and the cancellation of any interest accrued on your student loans during your time of service. If you complete the required number of hours for your position you are awarded an education grant that can be put towards outstanding student loans or towards farther education.
Some, but not all, AmeriCorps opportunities provide housing. Ian and I are able to live in the Knob house because maintaining it is considered part of our AmeriCorps duties.
Applications are accepted year round but popular positions fill up fast, so browse the AmeriCorps job opportunities page regularly for new open positions.
I hope this post encourages you to think creatively about ways you can change your own life to live in a place you've dreamed of visiting. Taking any of these jobs or volunteer opportunities will be an experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Lydia Noyes is serving as an Americorps volunteer with her husband in West Virginia at the Big Laurel Learning Center. There, they live with two nuns and help to run a sustainable homestead mountain-ridge retreat and ecology center that resides on a 500-acre land trust. You can find her at her personal blog Living Echo and Instagram. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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