When Ryan and I began making solid plans to full time, I explored multiple avenues to make money on the road. If you haven’t already established an at-home job, it can be an overwhelming task! Thank goodness for the internet! The topic of workamping had come up a few times and we considered it but what it came down to is that we do not want workamping to be something that played any factor in where we go. That is, essentially, the whole reason we are fulltiming! Don’t get me wrong, I know workamping works out great for a lot of fulltimers and we will always keep it as an option down the road but we agreed to not rely on it as a sole form of income for us.
While researching ways to make money on the road, Amazon Camperforce kept coming up. I decided to explore it as an option because crunch time was near and I was definitely feeling the pressure! I read many blogs and watched numerous YouTube videos recapping everyone’s experiences. It was pretty humorous to me how varied the perspectives were! After a few pow-wow’s with Ryan, I decided to put my application in and come what may! If I miraculously found something else more permanent then I could always say no, right?
By the time we hit the road, I was trying to establish myself in the freelancing world and decided that it would be best for me to jump on the Camperforce bandwagon while I continued to pursue freelancing. Amazon Camperforce, as far as workamping goes, is a pretty sweet deal; a decent wage ($10.75-$11.75), lots of opportunity for overtime, free full-hookup site and an end-of-season bonus ($1 earned for every hour worked)! I decided to go into the adventure with pretty low expectations. I knew it was 100% physical, 40-60 hour weeks (Camperforce was ONLY required to work 50 hour weeks at most) and locations were not ideal but that’s how it goes! I was there to work!
Originally, I signed up to work at the Murfreesboro, TN location. The entire application process had put a terrible taste in my mouth. Long story short, it seemed extremely disorganized, with minimal communication, and it became clear that the Murfreesboro location had quite a few kinks to work out in the HR department. Regardless, I made our campground reservations in Tennessee and received a start date of September 11th. Upon arrival at our campground near Murfreesboro, we encountered the most terrifying 15 minutes of driving we have ever experienced in the RV. Just picture driving a 41 ft motorhome, during a torrential downpour, while battling a steep uphill, rutted, dirt “driveway” with hairpin turns. Our arrival at the campground was two days prior to my start date since that is the amount of time Amazon will pay for your site before you start working. To make a long story short, we decided that Murfreeseboro was not going to work feasibly for us for the next three months. All the Murfreesboro campgrounds were a considerable distance from the distribution center and the campground we were at was very remote to nearly everything. I do want to mention that our decision was based on logistics of the area and we have nothing negative to say about the campground (besides the entrance drive), the area or the people! I have talked to several people that have had wonderful experiences there! Thankfully, a quick message to HR and a call with Kelly in the HR department of the Campbellsville location, I had a start date of September 21st in Campbellsville, KY!
Where We Stayed
We chose to stay at the Heartland RV Park in Campbellsville. It is, essentially, a giant gravel lot with around 150 sites and the basic park amenities; bathrooms, showers, rec center with a TV. You can literally see the Amazon Fulfillment Center from the campground, which is likely why most campers choose Heartland. We are certain this campground does the vast majority of its annual business during Amazon peak season. When you think about it, that is pretty smart! At any rate, the owners are extremely nice and accommodating. The only issue we had was the poor WiFi, which we have come to find out pertains to campgrounds in general. It is cozy, but they have level, 50 amp, full-hookup sites, so we had little to complain about. If you would have told me that a gravel lot in Campbellsville, KY would be one of the first places we would stay long-term, after beginning our full-timing journey, I would have laughed, but there we were! I am completely aware that there were other participating, Campbellsville campgrounds with more scenic environments, but we chose Heartland mainly because we only had a scooter, a couple of bikes, and a 41ft motorhome for transportation when we arrived (we did purchase a Chevy Spark toad while we were there). Campbellsville ended up being not too shabby of a place to spend three months! We took the opportunity to explore the local culture as often as we could. I will take this chance to plug our favorite local treasure by the name of Brothers! It is a fantastic barbecue joint nestled in the downtown area and they have some seriously amazing and finger lickin barbecue! Trust us…just go.
A few more notes for those considering Campbellsville as a temporary home: first off, it’s dry. Well, technically, it’s in a “moist” county. This means that it’s basically dry, but they have an exception where beer and wine can be served at a restaurant while a customer is eating a meal. Other than that, there is no alcohol sold and you must make the 10’ish mile journey to Sim’s liquor store on the county line or to Lebanon for an actual bar. Since it’s dry, it lacks most large chain restaurants. It has all the fast-food you’d like, but no Outback, Chili’s, Applebee’s, etc. There is a Lowe’s, Walmart, Tractor Supply and Kroger all in town. One pleasant surprise was the Green River Lake State Park just outside of town. If you’re not as concerned with staying near Amazon, there are several participating campgrounds in and around the park.
My Amazon Job
My Amazon experience, as a whole, was just what I had expected. I was, what those in the Amazon world, call a “picker” and I worked the C shift (Sunday-Wednesday, overtime day was Thursday, 5:30pm-4:00am). That’s right, friends, I worked the night shift! Let me be clear when I say that I am a morning person. Case in point, it is 7:15am as I sit here typing and I am happy as a lark. I VOLUNTARILY chose nights because I wanted to maximize my income as best I could and night shift earned a dollar more an hour. I did not take any VTO (voluntary time off) when it was offered and I worked every over time day that I could. This meant multiple weeks of working six 10 hour shifts or five 12 hour shifts (5;30pm-6:00am). It was not pretty – at all – but I saw it coming! I also chose to be a picker because if I was going to be working nights, I wanted to be moving to keep me from turning into a zombie…which, as I came to find out, happens whether you are moving constantly or not. After a month or so of working,
it became considerably difficult for me to physically get up. Literally. My legs hurt and I often hobbled around for the first hour or two of my day. In all honesty, I expected to feel much worse considering I was walking anywhere between 12 and 17 miles a day. My coworkers thought I was “two french fries short of a happy meal” for consistently working 60 hour weeks, but I kept telling them that this is why I was here!
Typically, I would get home around 4:15am (after a 10 hour shift) or 6:15am (after a 12 hour shift), go directly to bed, and get up around 11AM or noon, respectively. After speaking with a lot of my coworkers, I found that this was a rarity. Most night-shifters would stay up for awhile after their shift and sleep most of the day. To me, that was a terrible option. If I did that, I would have zero time with Ryan or Jet and that would have made me absolutely miserable. I have to give Ryan boatloads of credit here. He adjusted to my schedule like a champ, as well as keeping up with his daytime routine, and really went above and beyond. I know it was not an easy thing to do. Days were long and it was harder to swallow when I would walk past the day-shifters going home to enjoy happy hour and a campfire!
Let me walk you through a typical day as a night-shift picker in Campbellsville:
5:10pm– I would walk to my friend, Judy’s, site and we would start our ~0.5 mile walk to the Amazon facility. Once we got to the facility we would go to our lockers, put our lunches away, grab a water and a scanner and head to the start-up meeting.
5:25pm– This is the earliest you are allowed to clock in for your shift. I tried to clock in at this time every day but regardless, the time clocks would round up to 5:30pm.
5:30pm– Every day you would start your shift with a 10-15 minute start-up meeting. This was the managers opportunity to make any announcements and do our daily stretches.
5:45pm– Start picking! After signing on to the scanner, it would direct you to a mod (large section of the four story warehouse) where you would walk to and grab a cart along with some totes. Your scanner would let you know when a tote is “full” and then you placed that tote on the nearest conveyor belt and started all over again. Let me stop and explain a few details here: I want to mention that this building is so large it can be intimidating! The mods are all labeled with a letter (A, B, C, D, E, J, K, L, M, N and Q…I may have forgotten a few) and have 4 levels that you would access through multiple staircases. They were also in the process of converting it to be all apparel and new mods were opening up quite frequently. How far you walked during one shift depended mostly on how many units needed to be picked that night. If there weren’t many units to be picked, you would be picking one or two items in one mod and then your scanner would send you to a different one where you would pick one or two more items – lots of walking. This was the case during my time at Amazon, more often than not. I don’t know if it had to do with the facility changing over to apparel but I was told that it had not been like this in previous years. During busier times, I would stay in one mod longer and therefore wouldn’t be walking as far.
8:00pm– This was our first 15 minute break of the night!
8:15pm– Grab your scanner and go back to work for a couple of more hours.
10:15pm– Lunch time! You are required to clock out for a 30 minute lunch. Before heading to the break room,we would place our gloves and scanners outside security. The break room is pretty decent. There are several tv’s, multiple vending machines, microwaves and coffee/hot chocolate machines for all our sugar and caffeine addictions. Time would inevitably go by way too fast and before you knew it, it would be time to clock back in!
10:45pm– After grabbing your gloves and scanner, you would head to another start-up meeting. It would last around 10 minutes and it is basically the same as the start of shift meeting (announcements, stretches, etc).
11:00pm– Start picking again! This was always the hardest part of the night for me. It was the longest period of time without a break and it also just so happened to be the time of night when I would get the most tired. I would feel as though time literally stopped.
2:00am– The last 15 minute break (unless you worked a 12 hour shift, then you would get a 10 minute break at 4:00am). I always felt that when I made it to this moment, it was all downhill afterwards. There was a sweet satisfaction in knowing that I had almost completed another shift and would soon be nestled snugly in my bed.
4:00am– I would sign out of my scanner, return it, clock out, head to the break room to gather my belongings from my locker, meet up with Judy and start the walk home.
As Christmas approached, I found myself counting the days until I was done and I could put this experience behind me. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Amazon. In fact, I think Camperforce is a brilliant idea and it worked well for my needs! Not to sound like a wimp, but…picking is exhausting. If you truly maximize your time there and work the 60 hour weeks, your body will trick you into thinking you are dying a slow and painful death, but your wallet will get fatter. Okay, I am exaggerating…a little bit. In all seriousness, and without sounding too cheesy and sentimental, what I chose to take away from working peak season at Amazon were the unexpected friendships I gained. I was able to meet some truly wonderful people that I would have never had the opportunity of meeting before this. The memories I took away are the ones involving our nightly lunch time laugh sessions, cracking jokes and making fun of each other during start-ups, sharing stories about horrendous RV problems and daily issues, vent sessions on our walks to and from work and, last but not least, some of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen!! Also, one other thing that became very clear from the beginning is that RV’ers are some of the most welcoming, helpful and most kind group of people we have ever encountered. It continuously blows my mind how different everyone’s journey is and I was so thankful to share mine with some pretty special folks!
The Big Question
With all of that being said, time for the most-asked question to be answered: Would I do it again?? In short; YES! Granted, it might be a year or two until I am ready to go back, but overall it was exactly what I expected it to be. I was never told it would be easy and if you are considering Amazon Camperforce, I urge you to keep that in mind! Ladies and gents, you will work for that bonus! You will be sore and tired no matter what you end up doing so don’t spend too much time analyzing what job to pick in the beginning (unless you have a medical condition, of course). Embrace the journey and when you are questioning your judgment, just remind yourself that it is only temporary!
I really appreciate everyone taking the time to read my ramblings! I get asked A LOT about my experience at Amazon and I wanted to put my opinion and perspective down in writing to share. If you find it entertaining, wonderful! If it helps you in deciding whether or not to join Camperforce, even better! Let me know if I can answer any questions!
We hope to see you on the road!
Ryan, Kim and Jet