Photo: Mount Rainier National Park
Have you ever considered spending a few months in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, kayaking around icebergs and sea otters? Ever had the urge to hike your way through Yellowstone, or hit the slopes of Breckenridge? As a seasonal employee, you not only have the opportunity to explore breathtaking places, but you’ll also leave with some cash in your bank account — provided you don’t spend it all on booze.
Seasonal jobs are available anywhere there’s a major tourist influx during certain months of the year, such as national parks, lodges, and ski resorts. Some companies need to hire hundreds of employees every season, so landing a job can be relatively easy. But a nomadic, ever-changing lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Here are seven aspects to consider (with some tips sprinkled in) before you make the jump.
1. Living situations can be underwhelming.
Many seasonal businesses offer inexpensive employee housing, which can range in quality, but don’t expect more than a dormitory. You’ll likely live in close quarters with at least one other person and share common areas with even more employees. Some housing includes a kitchen, and you’re completely in charge of your own food, while other accommodations offer only a dining hall, where meals are served at certain times and options are limited. The more remote you are, the fewer options you’ll have. Bathrooms are often in separate buildings, so if you really have to pee in the middle of a frigid night — have fun! Though living like a pack of sardines can test your patience, it can also be a benefit. You’re instantly a part of a community, and you’ll learn to make the best out of what you have.
2. You’re going to make some of the best friends of your life.
Seasonal employees come together from all over the country and even the world. You work together, live together, and play together, so friendships form fast. A sense of camaraderie forms as you share every day in all its ups and down. Even when you miss home or have a bad day at work, there’s always someone to talk to, or a shoulder to cry on if that’s what you need. Just like any other time in life, you won’t get along with everyone, but if you make the effort to be open with people, you’ll find friends you can truly be yourself around. Ask someone to go on a hike with you, and you might end up with a lifelong friend.
3. The season moves quickly.
At the end of every season, there are always people regretting that they didn’t do more. You’ll have to make an effort to stay active, because the work grind exists even when you’re living in Yosemite. Use your days off to go on as many adventures as you can, and explore what’s unique about the place you’re in. If you make the most out of your time, those four to five months can feel like pressing the fast-forward button on life, and you won’t be able to believe how much you experienced.
4. You’ll get amazing perks.
Seasonal employees often get hooked up with bonuses such as free passes or discounts on local tours. Working in Alaska, for example, I was able to hop on flight tours of Denali National Park that normally cost hundreds of dollars, and was just asked to tip the pilot. Working seasonally gives you the chance to explore a destination for a fraction of the cost that tourists pay.
5. Seasonal locations are vastly different.
Your experience can vary depending on where you choose, as no two places — or companies — are the same. If you don’t feel comfortable jumping right in, do as much research as you can. Try to connect with previous employees of a company you’re interested in, as they can provide valuable insight and advice. When communicating with a prospective employer, make sure to ask them about their views on work/life balance. Unfortunately, some companies take advantage of their employees and expect them to continuously work long hours, or more than five days a week, leaving them little time to go on the adventures they dreamed of. Hopefully you find a great fit right away, but if you end up not being happy in a location, and are still drawn to the seasonal life, don’t give up — there are hundreds of places to choose from, all around the country.
6. The drinking culture can be overwhelming.
Working seasonally is like going to an adult summer camp where alcohol is rampant. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard co-workers groan, “I should stop drinking so much.” When I was working at a brewery in Alaska, I was guilty of that same sentiment. I didn’t feel healthy, and I was spending too much money on craft beer and shots of Jameson. I’ve seen people blow entire paychecks on booze. It can be fun, sure, but the drinking culture doesn’t work for everyone.
7. You’ll get the travel itch stronger than ever.
Seasonal work is an opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and explore new places. I’ve worked with people who had never really left their hometown before they decided to move to Alaska for the summer. Other people are veterans of seasonal work, who move every few months and travel abroad (or visit home) between seasons. One of my friends recently left a summer season in Alaska, ventured to Iceland for some epic hiking and scuba diving, flew to Aruba to bask on its beaches, and is now gearing up for a busy winter season in Aspen. After a taste of the seasonal lifestyle, you might be living without a permanent address for a lot longer than you’d imagined. (One of the “Three Lies of Denali” is: “This is my last season!”) Or, if you return to “normal” life after only one season, you might find yourself daydreaming harder than ever of far-off destinations. Consider yourself warned.
Still interested? Check out coolworks.com for a long list of opportunities. December and January are the best months to apply for summer jobs, and August and September are ideal for winter jobs.