How I Work and Live in Amazing Places

Do you want to know how I travel the U.S. and make money? It’s probably not what you think- I don’t go on business trips, I’m not part of a pyramid scheme, nor am I a traveling salesman. I work seasonal jobs in great places.

What is a seasonal job? Is it a temp job at a state fair? Is it a crappy gig working at a water park? Is it perhaps working at Baskin Robbins late May through early September?

Well, those might be considered seasonal jobs, but the ones I am talking about are much, much cooler. Hear me out- there are jobs out there, real, not under-the-table jobs that pay well and even come with food and housing!

These jobs can be found all over the United States in places like Yellowstone, Denali National Park, the coastline of Maine, the beaches of Florida, the Grand Canyon, the Sequoias, and many other places. You work there and live there, and, a lot of times, for CHEAP.

Sounds kind of like a dream, right? I mean, there is a reason why I live this lifestyle. I have worked in a five star Colorado dude ranch, a family-owned little cabin site east of Yellowstone, and a renowned lodge right at the foothills of the beautiful Tetons! How’s that for a glittering resume?

Where to Look?

So how do I snag one of these jobs, you may ask? Come. Come closer, child. There’s a website out there… called Coolworks.com and it’s absolutely wonderful. I stumbled upon it one night when I was in college, hoping to get away for the summer. This website is a bounty of resources for people just like you who want to see a change of view.

There are categories such as National Parks, seasons, states, and types of jobs (most of which are in tourism and hospitality). If you want to venture out but stay close to home, fear not, for you can narrow your search to be state-specific. If you want to only work three months in the summer, there’s a way to search for that, too.

Another notable website that just sprang up not too long ago is called Vagajobs.com. It’s motto is “Seasonal work/Full Time Travel”. This website is also committed to helping you find a job or company that will match your qualifications and expectations perfectly. I am not too familiar with it, but I know it has a lot of company profiles and you can categorize your search by things like “minimum wage”, “job type”, “housing option”, “season for hire”, “location”, and “experience level”.

When you click on company profiles, they will tell you exactly what they offer in terms of housing, food, and other perks. Some companies offer only the bare bones such as housing, leaving food and transportation up to you. A lot, and I mean, like, 95% of companies will have housing that is close enough to work that you can literally walk there in the span of three minutes. And also, a LOT of those companies will have an EDR (Employee Dining Room) that caters to staff every day.

Other prominent mentions for finding work both in the U.S. and abroad are WWOOF and WorkAway. Both have paid and unpaid positions in the U.S. and abroad and have individuals and families as well as full-fledged companies hosting. These kinds of jobs are more focused on farm work and animal care and can run anywhere from a week to a year or longer.

Because I don’t have experience working for WWOOF or WorkAway as I am writing this, I will keep this post to U.S. jobs found on Coolworks and Vagajobs for now.

Dappled light over Yellowstone lake
An absolutely gorgeous sunset on Yellowstone Lake

What kind of jobs are there?

As I’ve mentioned just a little while ago, the jobs that are on Coolworks and Vagajobs are primarily resorts, hotels, restaurants, and ranches. This means that the types of jobs are heavily focused on customer service and retail. You’ll find jobs ranging from line cook to housekeeper, with everything in between like front desk, gift shop clerk, waiter, and host.

Some resorts and lodges will have more specialized jobs like wrangler, float tour guide, and marina worker. If you want something higher paying, you’ll be glad to know that there are managerial positions in departments like restaurant, front desk, and small outlets.

It depends on the company you choose, of course. There are some companies that are strictly diners and only have positions available for those respective jobs. There are also companies that are fully functioning cities like Big Sky Resort that have restaurants, clothing shops, lodges and hotels, and bars and bakeries. There are even those companies out there that only focus on kayak tours or skydiving lessons!

Shores of Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park
The shores of Jackson Lake in May

What kind of housing is there?

The type of housing offered at these jobs is almost exclusively dorm style, which means you should expect to be sharing a room with someone or even multiple people. If you have a partner or spouse, know that many, and I do mean many, companies have accommodations for that.

Signal Mountain Lodge in the Tetons set my boyfriend and I up with our own room, complete with a mini fridge, desk, couch, and private bathroom. This is one of the more prestigious places to work at, so the bar is a little high. Some dorms will not have mini-fridges. But oftentimes, the dorm rec room or Employee Dining Room will have a fridge for everyone to put their stuff into. You won’t need it a whole bunch anyway, considering you will most likely be fed three times a day anyway.

DISCLAIMER: not every company has their own housing. Some will require you to find your own, and some have discounts with a nearby apartment complex. Do your research to determine what housing type is right for you.

The Teton Range
The Teton Range

How much will I make?

So how much do they pay, and how much does dorm life cost? Well, the jobs I’ve worked at paid anywhere from nine dollars to thirteen fifty, and that’s doing entry-level jobs like housekeeping, food prep and cooking, and waitressing. In most cases, restaurant jobs will pay a little premium because of the high turnover and high levels of stress that come with the job. Housekeeping oftentimes work for tips, as well. Positions such as front desk receptionist and managerial positions will expect about two to three dollars an hour more. Expect to be generously compensated if you have experience under your belt, as well.

Many companies that hire seasonally will give full time or near full time hours. I worked just about forty hours being a food prep cook in Yellowstone. As a housekeeper in Signal mountain Lodge, I work about thirty to thirty five hours a week. So the pay is decent, and oftentimes there are bonus incentives to get people to stay the entire season.

If you are interested in learning more in depth about pay at these types of seasonal jobs, read my article on the matter here.

How much is rent?

Now, let’s talk rent. In the places I’ve stayed at, I’ve payed an average of four hundred dollars a month for a dorm room, its utilities, and food. Considering I spend over two hundred bucks a month at home on food regularly, I think that’s a good value. This amount is usually stated on the company’s profile or discussed during the application process.

While working in the Tetons, we got to live there absolutely free because of COVID (at least part of the summer, after the mask mandate went up again). This won’t be the case for every company, and sometimes the cost can be as high as nine hundred buckaroos for room and board per month, but those cases are rare and usually also mean you are well compensated for your work.

Yellowstone green basin with trees in the background
A basin in Yellowstone (I don’t remember which one)

What about food?

What kind of food is served in the EDR? Well, it depends on the company. I’ve seen it all- my first job, we ate like the guests did- literally! We got to finish the food that was served to the people paying twenty five hundred dollars to stay at the dude ranch I mentioned earlier. That was top-of-the-line salads, soups, pastas, and a myriad of other yummy concoctions.

The second place I worked at fed us pretty trashy stuff sometimes. Anything from unseasoned noodles and broccoli to a baked potato with a side of shredded cheddar and chives- that was not the best place in terms of staff meals.

My third job working in Signal Mountain Lodge- oh, boy! Poutine, tacos, ramen, Reubens, mashed potatoes and meatloaf, you name it! They got it! The only thing lacking is the breakfast bar, which serves eggs, sausage, and a hearty mix of honeydew, melon, and strawberry fruit mix on repeat.

But I’m a vegetarian…

What if you’re a vegetarian? Don’t worry. Every company I’ve worked with so far has had vegetarian, and sometimes, even vegan options for those hipsters. They might not always be great, however, so if you are not a meat eater, make sure to ask abundant questions to the company about what they offer.

If the EDR isn’t satisfying your needs, you can very likely talk to management and start buying your own food and the EDR portion of your bill won’t be deducted from your pay. However, I will say it is hard to feed yourself in a seasonal job because you don’t have access to a kitchen, and in a lot of cases, your work is like an hour away from the nearest town.

Can I bring my pet?

What about pets? And can you live in an RV if you have one? Again, that depends on the company. You gotta dig into those company profiles and know ahead of time if there are RV sites and what the pet policies are.

In most cases, pets are unfortunately not allowed in dorms, but sometimes they are allowed if you are bringing your RV. I have seen a chef who’s been with a company in Yellowstone for seven years and he got a dorm room to himself with his two dogs in there the entire time, no fuss.

Me enjoying Yellowstone Lake

Things to do

So what do you do for fun? Oh, boy… There’s so much! Let’s take the Tetons, for example… There’s over seven lakes within twenty minutes of driving, a plethora of hiking and horseback trails, rivers, ranches, and places to climb and camp.

This season alone I have gone kayaking, hiking, swimming, and horseback riding. Things like fly-fishing, climbing, and even skydiving is rare cases are offered near where you work, and often, at a generous discount.

For example, since I work in the Tetons, I get a year pass to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park for free! I also get discounts in the restaurants connected to the resort, discounts on float trips and horseback rides, and free kayak rentals. Now that’s a fun summer!

Other places will have other activities. For example, if you work in Loveland Ski Area, you will get a free Loveland employee season pass, plus “free or discounted skiing and riding at over 30 other locations”. If you work in West Creek Ranch, you get free guided hikes, horse rides, and whitewater rafting tours. Pretty neat!

A few more things to keep in mind

So I’ve gone over the basics and you’re left wondering, “Is this for me?” I personally think everyone should experience seasonal work at least once in their lives. It’s rewarding, fun, and a great way to meet amazing people. The more popular companies like Pursuit and Forever Resorts have good reputations as far as treating their employees go.

Family owned companies are usually good but can be hit or miss. Beware of companies like Aramark and Xanterra- those have mixed reviews based on the location you choose, so do your research! A good place to start is a Facebook page called Parkies that has many people that are living the seasonal work lifestyle giving advice and their experiences freely.

If you want to try this lifestyle out but are afraid, consider applying to a place close to home, seeing as there are job listings in virtually every state. My first seasonal job was just under four hours away from my home by car, and made things easy for when I had to have my parents pick me up. It made me feel safe knowing they were just a call away and that I could see them in less than a day’s time if need be.

Last but not least, if you are a student or have commitments such as children, there are jobs that run only in the summer and will work around your schedule. So if you want to go and live in a dude ranch with your kid in your RV for a summer, you can do that.

In Conclusion

Whether you want to mix things up and have a social experience with new people, or get away into the mountains and explore the more adventurous side of yourself, seasonal work is a great way to do it, and can lead to a rich, rewarding lifestyle to those who can make time and accommodations for it.

Do your research, ask around, and don’t be afraid to try something new this year. Remember, travel doesn’t have to be expensive, and in this case, you will literally be making money for it! Thank you for reading and until next time, hobble on!

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