During my senior year of college 9-5 wasn’t calling me and I wasn’t sure why I wanted to go back to school. I knew there was a different answer for me, if you want to know how to turn your life into a vacation, keep reading!
My first stint with Seasonal Employment was working in Denali National Park for a rafting company. That summer ignited my quest to live out an adventurous life, or what my parents referred to as reverse retirement.
Here is the breakdown of how I did it. If working in a national park sounds like something you would like, here’s how I did it!
Summer in Denali:
I start out thinking of what I would want my life to look like and then I work backwards trying to find ways to make it a reality. I thought it would be fun to be in a rafting environment but had no experience. What I did have was front desk and tourism experience. Although answering phones and making reservations isn’t glamourous, I was qualified and it landed me a job. Front Desk options are great ways to get your foot in the door and be in the environment you are looking for. I was surrounded by rafting and an outdoorsy lifestyle and if I had been more persistent I could have become a guide myself ( one of my very few regrets). All businesses need people to answer phones and do office work and though not super adventurous work, is a great gateway to and adventurous lifestyle.
I got to spend an Alaskan Summer in the woods where the sun never goes down. I have heard Denali referred to as “Summer Camp for Adults” as well as “Denial”. Both are true. I drank beer under the midnight sun and went to bluegrass concerts with bare feet. I spent my free time hiking, rafting, canoeing and moose spotting, I made new friends who really helped me change my perspective and had one the biggest national parks in the country as my backyard. I loved my time in Denali and it will always be special to me.
Day In The Life:
I was really lucky to work 4 -10 hour shifts per week. This gave me 3 full days each week to adventure, camp, explore or relax. The work itself was pretty tedious and you deal with the standard hiccups of customer service. People are rude, people are clueless and you wind up answering the same 5 questions all day, every day and do so with a smile on your face. You don’t get paid very well and you can be expected to solve some pretty complex problems on your feet. My duties involved everything from filing reports, to booking trips, to checking people in, to actually helping people into their wetsuits. Although the work was tedious the people I worked with were all pretty relaxed and supportive.
All the staff lived together on a campground, we shared a community hang out space and kitchen. Everyone had their own trailer or cabin but there was only one fridge and stove for everybody. A lot of times it felt like summer camp which was great for me because I was 22, but I imagine a for mature adult this could be a source of frustration.
Almost all local tour companies would give free trips to local staff if there was a spot available. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS! If you make a phone call in the morning you can get on any trip from ATV tours, horse rides, guided hikes, rafting, and if you are really lucky a helicopter tour!! Do it (and always remember to tip your guide the standard 20%).
We also had a fire pit where we would sometimes gather at night, people would bring instruments and jam under the starless sky. The campground was on a lake and we had unlimited access to canoes so we could paddle around whenever we wanted. Sometimes we would drink beers on the dock, or go to one of the local bars to hang out for the evening. There was a free shuttle service that took you to and from the campground (Again, TIP).
So while the working hours could be trying the off time was pretty awesome.
The benefits to working at the rafting company were various. We had free housing included in our contract, I could jump on a raft trip any time there was a spot open and you live in one of the most beautiful places in the world and enjoy a laid back style. People dream their whole lives of a Denali vacation and I was living it every day.
You won’t get rich, you might not even break even. The work can get tedious and people can be very rude to customer service agents (often without realizing it) you will constantly get blamed for things that are not your fault and the low hourly pay may not always seem worth it. Drinking is a pretty big part of the culture and some people spend their whole pay checks and local watering holes. Keep your head on straight.
The Summer camp thing can get kind of old, some companies take advantage of their employees knowing they rely on them for housing as well, some provide expensive meal plans with gross food knowing their employees don’t have access to super markets. It’s a small community and everyone can get up in everyone else’s business and it can feel a little high school, again, this may have been my experience because I was 22 at the time.
And, as with all seasonal employment you work as much as you can for a short period of time, no holidays or weekends and not much flexibility in your schedule. You have to save up for the off-season but the benefit to that is if you do, you can travel when you are done.
Ready to take the leap and turn your life into a vacation?
1.Figure out a region you want to aim for and research like crazy!
I started with a narrow search and looked specifically for Rafting Companies in Denali.
2. Highlight your skill set, do you want to work inside or outside? Do you have serving or barista experience? Do you have a commercial driver’s license? Go from there.
I sent out a few e-mails detailing my experience in tourism. If rafting isn’t your jam, there are tons of other types of jobs including bus drivers, park ranger, bartender, waitress, barista and hiking guide.
3. Be Tenacious
Send out more applications than you think you need, be a little bit picky and ask LOTS of questions, do you need a car? Is housing included? If so, how much does it cost?
4. Buckle Up!
You are about to have an amazing, life changing experience, get ready to have fun!!!
If you are ready to start looking into a national park job, here are a few good places to start:
With all Seasonal Employment, I recommend having at least enough money to go home just in case things don’t work out!