“Why did you turn off the RV?” Alyssa Padgett recalls asking her husband, Heath, as their 29-foot RV careened off an exit toward the small town of Williams, Arizona.
“I didn’t,” he replied.
Just 10 days into their cross-country honeymoon, the fuel pump in their camper, lovingly known as “Franklin,” malfunctioned. Then came the propane leak, the broken refrigerator, the leaking roof and the fender bender in an Oregon parking lot, to name just a few of the couple’s bumps in the road.
It’s all part of the “grand adventure” the 23-year-old newlyweds from Texas were looking for when they set out on June 1 for a seven-month, 50-state road trip — and an extended honeymoon.
As their May 24 wedding date approached earlier this year, the pair decided it was an opportune time to do a little soul-searching together.
“We’ve lived in Texas our whole lives, 22 summers,” Alyssa says. “We wanted to go on this grand adventure and figure out where we wanted to live. We figured why don’t we just do all of it at once?”
The couple says the plan quickly escalated from “let’s just move to California” to “let’s make a documentary about finding meaning in your work,” an issue with which they both were struggling.
Both of them had always wanted to pursue a career in writing outside the day jobs they had settled into, but had never quite figured out how to translate their hobby into a dream career.
So the couple quit their jobs — Alyssa at a nonprofit and Heath in software sales — and came up with the Griswolds-inspired scheme.
“When I told my parents, Heath wasn’t there … for his safety,” Alyssa jokes.
As a young couple just getting on their feet, the next hardest part was figuring out how to make ends meet on the road.
Heath, with a little entrepreneurial know-how, contacted Snagajob.com, an hourly employment marketplace, to help find hourly workers (which made up 58.8% of the American workforce in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) to spotlight during their travels.
With a Wi-Fi router and a new video camera in tow, “Hourly America,” was born, where he spends one day shadowing an hourly worker in each state, whether working at a yoga studio in Connecticut, a farm in Wisconsin or a bakery in Wyoming.
Before they left, the Padgetts mapped out their route meticulously, and it now hangs above their bed so they can track their progress. They are saving Alaska and Hawaii for last and will visit them by plane (driving a rickety RV to Alaska in wintertime is not recommended, apparently).
In lieu of wedding gifts, the couple asked family and friends to donate to their GoFundMe crowdfunding site. But because of a slew of mechanical problems with the RV, the money was gone within the first month.
“We knew we’ve got to get smart really fast,” Alyssa says. The couple doesn’t get paid for their hourly jobs that are part of the documentary. Instead, they supplement their income with freelance writing on various RV renovation and life-on-the-road websites.
“The RV industry is kind of fascinated by us,” Alyssa says, as millennials are an unconventional demographic for the RV crowd.
Speaking of unconventional, so was choosing to spend their honeymoon in an RV instead of an exotic beach somewhere.
“It’s sometimes difficult to balance the chaos of life on the road with spending quality time together, but we chose this honeymoon knowing it wasn’t going to be traditional,” Heath says. “We work a lot, but we work side by side. It’s not exactly sipping mimosas on the beach, but we love every minute.”
The couple planned a “honeymoon within the honeymoon” — a weeklong drive along the Pacific Coast Highway — to share a little of that newlywed bliss.
They’ll roll back into Texas on Christmas, as their families requested, with a video and web journal of their journey plus a full “blessings book,” as they call it.
“We started it as a way to keep optimistic,” Heath says.
Like that night in Arizona when they broke down. They went into a nearby restaurant for a drink and a bowl of queso — as one needs in those desperate times — and met a couple, Jimmy and Karen, who teach martial arts in the small town. Their new friends bought them a beer and let them take a free class to work out some of that road stress.
Alyssa and Heath say it’s little things like that — and parking in someone’s driveway for free or watching a Dallas Cowboys game with new pals in a neighboring RV — that keeps them going.