Summer Vacations: Think Immersion!
What I love about the beginning of the New Year is reflecting on the past and acting upon the future. Now is the perfect time to plan your summer vacation and my message is: There’s more than one way to take a trip. To consider volunteering in a new place or being paid for your time as a seasonal worker, check out the possibilities and apply for what most appeals to you now, in the winter.
Immersion Travel, short and longer term, is a new way of thinking about and experiencing travel. I always loved to travel but hated being a rather ordinary kind of tourist, staying in hotels for a few nights and buzzing through major sights at the speed of Superwoman. I like experiencing the phenomenal difference between visiting a location for a time-limited vacation and integrating myself into the community as someone who belongs there. Some of the best ways to accomplish that include working, volunteering, advocating, playing and learning. I need to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste where I venture, really getting to know the people and place. At the time, I didn’t know that what I wanted to experience was Immersion Travel.
As the daughter of a traveling salesman, our family joke was that I inherited Daddy’s driving genes. I love to drive, stopping and starting and experiencing things firsthand. My goal was to find a job as far across the country from Weston, Connecticut as I could manage; in a place I’d never been; doing something I’d never done before; paying enough to cover my expenses; providing room and board, and giving me at least two days off each week.
I studied the “Older and Bolder” job listings, Older and bolder refers to the retired or those in semi-retirement, or telecommuting or possibly like me. I don’t plan to ever retire; however, I work as an adjunct professor and writer, basically with the summer months to call my own. My friend Muriel works as an office manager for her real job but takes all of her paid vacation time together to work with animals in different locations all over the country. She says that her “best job was working with monkeys in New Mexico.”
For my very first Immersion Travel adventure after some careful research, I decided to apply for positions as a baker or breakfast/lunch cook because I wanted to work as independently as possible in the kitchen. Dinner shifts were off limits for me since they usually required ordering food, planning menus, butchering sides of beef, or assisting ‘the’ cook and following orders, none of which I knew how to do. I am a pretty good cook with experience working in a variety of positions as the breakfast, vegetarian, and head cook on Kibbutz Neve Ur, Israel (albeit about thirty years earlier).
My only problem was that I really did not know how to bake from scratch beyond my mother Ruthie’s cheesecake and her chocolate chip cake with chocolate icing. I called a restaurant pastry chef friend and asked, “Can you teach me everything I need to know in two days so that I can apply for a job as a baker?” and “If I learn well will you recommend me?”
“Sure,” she responded. True to her word, she taught me how to bake everything the job descriptions asked for: tea breads, whole grain breads, biscuits, muffins, cupcakes, scones, pies, and cookies. We staged photographs of me proudly grinning over my pecan sticky buns, three-inch high lemon meringue pie, a two foot long challah, banana nut bread and assorted cookies. I applied for five jobs and received three offers. Two were in Colorado and one was in Stehekin, Washington, a designated wilderness area located at the northernmost point of Lake Chelan, accessible only by foot on the Pacific Crest Trail, the once daily Lady of the Lake Ferry out of Chelan, or Pontoon plane. Easy decision, I packed up for Stehekin.
Many seasonal positions pay $12 – $15 an hour for unskilled labor, possibly more for positions requiring specific certifications, sufficient to cover living and travel expenses while on vacation. Employers offer a variety of living accommodations. Some have RV spaces, which is a great way to go, others have private rooms, while some only have community living, which can mean being surrounded by college students, fun or not so great depending upon your attitude and the mix of people. Ask all of your questions up front and make sure you know exactly what the expectations will be of your work and down time. I drive everywhere I go so that my time off is spent touring.
Be super honest with yourself. I am not up to community living in dormitories or bunkhouses and only consider positions with a private room, sometimes with a shared bathroom. Working for hotels or lodges usually means more private quarters. If you plan to bring along a friend, spouse or partner, each person must complete an application.
Here are a few of the open positions currently being advertised on coolworks.com: Train tour agents, cruise ship dock representatives, ticket sales agents and gift shop staff in Skagway, Alaska; tour drivers, café manager and line cooks in Zion National Park Lodge, Utah; Tour Driver, Concierge, and assistant hotel manager in Glacier National Park, Montana; bicycle trip leaders in North America and Europe; manage a food court kitchen in the Grand Canyon; become a ski rental manager and lift operator in Vail, or work in retail sales in a variety of locations.
Next month I’ll be sharing one of my dream trips with you: Living and working in Denali National Park, Alaska. What’s your dream trip? Where do you most want to go? Please let me know by leaving comments below or contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Then stay tuned for your dream location in an upcoming column with added Immersion and Volunteer Travel suggestions!