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This Gypsy Life

As many of you know, for the past few months I've been bouncing between some pretty sweet jobs. I made a decision a few months ago to do the seasonal thing full time. There are lots of outdoorsy people out there who do it and I had an opportunity to do the same. Basically the goal is to find the most awesome, well paying job in the coolest place while its the best time to be there and then when it isn't so awesome to be there, go some other awesome place.

This lifestyle has some pretty sweet benefits. Because I do different jobs during different parts of the year, I don't get bored. I largely avoid the winter doldrums. I live (for the most part) rent free, as most places provide seasonal housing. I get to be active and outdoors and get paid (relatively well considering) for it. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, I get to travel to amazing places for free.
Here's a list of some of the benefits to this kind of work:
* free or cheap housing
Many places I've worked provide room and board. This is a tremendous help when you need to start saving or need to pay off debt. When looking for new work, especially in a new place, this can make or break my decision to work there.
* time outdoors
my job is outside, usually in a beautiful place. There is something special about living in rhythm with the natural world. You feel this deeper connection to not only the world around you but to the past and future as well.
* active bodies and minds
Generally, I feel better when my body and my mind get lots of exercise
* free travel
So far, the only places I've been to for free are the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Hopefully that list will grow in the not so distant future.
* seeing and experiencing awesome places
When I go places, I get to experience them, meaning they become part of my identity, part of my experience. These places impact me. So often as a tourist, a place is a beautiful sunset, some souvenirs from a store, a few photos taken, smiling at some important location. But those places don't become part of your identity, part of who and what and why you are. This is why I use the word "experience" instead of "see."
* meeting new and awesome people
People I've worked with and for have positively impacted my life in so many ways. In this field, I've met all kinds of people with extremely varied life experiences.
* networking withing my field
Most of my jobs have come from previous jobs. I got my job at Sea Base through my job at Great Outdoor. I got my job at Absolute Adventure in the UAE from my job at Pamlico Sea Base. I tell people who want to get into the field that it only takes one good summer job at a well established company to kick start your career.

* a deep and peaceful sense of self
There is something about the combination of communing with nature, leading others and pushing your own physical and mental limits that gives you this unwavering, peaceful and comfortable sense of self. When I'm out there, I know exactly who, how and why I am. I have yet to be able to convene with this self when I am in the front country. I'm working on that one.

*I never have to wear heels or suits
The closest thing to a dress shirt I have to wear is a button up fishing style shirt to protect my skin from the sun. It's pretty nice to get to wear jeans and t-shirts to work. Sometimes I get to wear a bikini to work! And, I get to save the heels and mini-skirts for fun things like dates!

I was a little hesitant to include this one. When I am out in the back country, the varying factors are weather and the people I am leading. Because I am the guide, I make the final decisions- although my participants safety and mental well being are my top priorities. There is no one above me telling me what to do, or when and how to do it.

I've had countless conversations with people who had no idea that this kind of life was possible, and were shocked that could be sustainable. Often, people are either envious or inspired. Some people just think I'm crazy. I've talked to adults, well established in their careers, who look back enviously and imagine what would be different if they had chosen differently. Other adults are thankful for their cushy desk job and big nice house and wouldn't want what I do. Others are just excited for me. I was amazed to find how few people my own age and younger have no idea such a life exists. Its not even on their radar. I've watched as this new concept of a career ignites the surge of ideas and expands their horizon. I guess with all the focus on college and degrees and "real jobs."

This life seems glamorous and captivating, which, I have to admit a large part of it is. I mean, I do spend most of my summers sitting on a beach. I've swum in three oceans. The awesomeness of this lifestyle does come with its share of troubles. They are definitely something to consider before you decide to take the plunge. I discovered these pitfalls through experience and a few of them have definitely caused chaos and heartache.
Here's a list:

*its really hard to deal with health problems
I don't mean like dealing with a sprained ankle on a trip. I'm referring to needing to get prescriptions filled or having dental work done etc. I have to work really hard to schedule things to prevent unexpected problems during the times I won't be able to get away to handle them. Sometimes I need prescriptions filled before my insurance company will let me because I'll be gone when that day comes up. Our days off are typically weekends, days when doctor's offices are closed. And when we're working, we're committed to a full 5 days in the back-country with a group. If you need a day, it impacts the whole week. Also, if your jobs move you around quite a bit, it can be hard to see a new doctor all the time. You may grow tired of explaining things over and over again to different doctors or transferring paperwork all the time.

*the "real world" for everyone else isn't yours
you'll often find the difference in experiences can push you apart from friends and family. Your experiences can be so radically different from theirs that sometimes it's hard for you to identify with each other or understand each other. I've found you need to work really hard to either really listen and empathize with each other -or- leave your back country experiences in the back-country (take the life lessons with you though!) and live 100% in the moment when you are with those people.

work can be exhausting
Most jobs like this require a significant amount of physical exertion. If you work as a guide, you may be "at work" 24 hours a day for 6 or six or more days. Your work days may include early mornings and long physically tough working hours. If you have problems in the back country, you may have to function on very few hours of sleep. Because the season is often pretty short, you might only get one day off a week, or one day off every two weeks.

high risk and stress levels
Many outdoor sports are pretty dangerous. Risk is an inherent part of these sports, as well as an important part. (I'll go into why risk can be a good thing in a later post.) Outdoor activities include inherent risk (risk that is an integral part of the activity as well as other risk factors like weather) Dangerous situations cause stress. Being in charge of the health and well being of others while in those dangerous situations greatly increases this stress level.

not enough "me" time
If you are a guide, much of your time is spent out in the field. This has a massive impact on the amount of time you have to yourself to do things you want to. When I worked at High Rocks and was a counselor, I was in camp the vast majority of my time at work. This meant that at night, I slept in my home at camp where I had access to my personal belongings, a phone and internet. When I am out in the field at Sea Base, I usually have enough room in my boat to bring a journal and a book to read. Things like checking email and doing some of my other hobbies like designing new products for my etsy shop are limited to my day off.

paying bills, receiving mail etc
When you move around a lot, you have to really stay on top of changing your address with every company you owe money to. I have set mine up so that my parents receive all of my important mail like my bank statement, college loan payments and others. They live over 2 hours from where I work. If I needed any of that paperwork I would have to drive there to deal with it. The other option is trusting my mail to the camp I work at. I also recently discovered that many banks won't approve you for a credit card if you hold seasonal work. Even if you work full time the whole year and that time is made of seasonal jobs, they won't approve you.

These are some of the problems I am willing to deal with and work around in order to benefit from the positives of this lifestyle. Maybe one day I'll get burned out and decide to get a "real" job. I'm hoping I'll see more of the world before that day comes.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 11th, 2010 09:54 pm (UTC)
You don't necessarily need a degree to get into this field. The problem occurs when you have only worked as a guide/instructor/counselor and you're burned out of being in the back country and you don't have a degree. That is when you want management jobs like coordinator and director positions which are hard to come by without a relevant degree.
I definitely think most of my jobs have come from my skills, most of which I learned on my own and from friends. Even without my degree there are tons of cool jobs I could get with my experience, and that's what most of those outdoors guiding jobs are about anyway. I'm currently writing a blog:
which has this same post in it. In a few days I'm going to write a how to article on just what you asked about- how to get into the field.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )