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“50 Hourly Jobs in 50 States”: Alyssa and Heath Padgett’s Quest

This is a quest case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

I met Alyssa and Heath Padgett when they joined our media team for WDS 2014. They arrived with an interesting story—as part of an unconventional honeymoon, they were visiting all 50 states in a used RV, working an hourly job in each one.

Tell us about yourselves.

Heath and I are from Austin, Texas. After graduating college and taking traditional office jobs like we thought adults were supposed to do, we realized we weren’t actually happy. So after joking that we wouldn’t get married until we’d visited all 50 states together (we had visited 14 in less than a year), we decided to take a 50 state honeymoon after our wedding.

But we wanted a mission for our 7 month trip. Heath came up with the idea to work an hourly job in all 50 states to shine a spotlight on people who followed a passion or skill, whether it be cupcake decorators or tae kwon do teachers.

We secured a sponsor for the trip who sent us film equipment to turn our journey into a documentary. I knew I’d be running the camera, with exactly zero hours of film experience, but we created this trip to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Caught up in the thrill, we instantly agreed.

Why did you decide to undertake your quest?

Somewhere along the line, it was decided that after your wedding, you take a honeymoon – probably to a beach. As wonderful as that sounded, a week vacation as newlyweds seemed anti-climactic. During our wedding, we pledged to give our lives to each other. Had we stayed in Austin, “our lives” would be everything outside of our 9 to 5. We wouldn’t be able to give each other the best versions of ourselves.

So, we ignored common sense, quit our jobs, bought a 20-year-old RV, and decided to travel to all 50 states. We wanted to challenge our marriage by forcing ourselves into a small space, with the stress of travel, while pursuing work that doesn’t exactly pay the bills. I suppose it isn’t very romantic living in a motorhome. But it allows us to endure every part of every day together, as a team.

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How has this quest challenged your marriage? 

We are always together. Always. This causes fights, but moreover, it’s the most significant factor in solving problems. We have nowhere to run and we are forced to duke it out.

Also, and I think most married couples who travel would agree, 80% of the fights during our traveling are directly caused by GPS. Those things exist to create conflict. So often, we get frustrated with the RV or driving, or something else that is not about the other person. It is really easy to get upset with each other during those times, but we’ve learned how to recognize when we are actually mad at each other, and we’re just mad at our RV.

How do you two take care of yourselves individually, and as a team? 

Heath makes me coffee every morning without complaint. I’m naturally a type A person, so I take care of all the small but forgotten necessities like charging batteries and returning emails or knowing which state we’re in (it is SO hard to keep track of that).

Heath is a big-picture thinker, so he finds us additional income and thinks of ways to grow our documentary. We balance each other really well in that way. We both journal daily to help us as grow as individuals. It keeps us always improving.

We also started what we call “family time” to create quality time for us both. Even though we’re always together we spend much of it working separately. Heath created family time as a chance for us to talk to each other about what we are grateful for from each day, what we are looking forward to, and how we are growing as people. We ditch our laptops and distractions and just talk to each other. It’s always refreshing and brings us closer.

What are the costs associated with driving the country and working (and how do you cover them)?

While researching possible jobs we could do on the road, Heath found an online job board called Snagajob. He wrote to them, hoping they’d help us find gigs along the way. They wound up becoming our sponsor, not only to help us find jobs, but also wanted to help pay our way and make a documentary.

In addition to our sponsor, we write guest articles for RV related companies from the quarter-lifer perspective. Plus, instead of gifts, we asked our wedding guests to donate to our honeymoon fund.

Last month we spent roughly $2,000, which includes 30 days of travel, 11 states (Texas to Vermont, plus quick detour to Nashville to catch Chris’s book tour), a trip to the mechanic after our battery died, and a brake pad when, as the mechanic so gently said, it shattered.

Side note: someone should invent travel hacking for RVs!

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Can you tell us a story from the road? 

Exactly ten days into our journey, we were taking a day off to enjoy the Grand Canyon when our engine sputtered and and the RV died. We turned it back on with just enough juice to roll into a mechanic’s parking lot next door. The young mechanic quickly diagnosed a dead fuel pump and took Franklin, our RV, into the garage for the evening.

There we were, two weeks into marriage, in the desert, with no vehicle and no home for the night.

We had no contingency plan for this. So we did what people do: walked to a nearby Mexican restaurant and ordered queso and drinks to help solve our problem (or at least to ease the pain). There, we met Jim and Karen, a local couple who bought us a beer. They owned a martial arts dojo and kindly invited us to the morning class figuring it would relieve our stress.

The next day we walked to the class, late since our hotel was a mile away, and there we broke our first boards—it was great!  As an added bonus, the mechanic shop we picked the RV up from was used as a model for the Disney movie “Cars.” Sometimes the obstacles thrown at us can make for the best memories that last over time.

What have you learned since departing?

I’ve watched the tweets of writers, photographers, and travelers scroll down my feed as I wished I had what it takes to be them. Heath and I have learned not to fear failure, and instead jump into new projects headfirst.

When we left Austin, we’d never been paid to write nor had we ever touched a camera aside from our iPhones. This afternoon, Heath was on a call with CNN sharing our story and explaining how this voyage began. I’m not trying to brag, I’m just in shock because I don’t think we are that cool.

Once we took the initial risk and jumped into our quest, opportunities rolled in. When you stand up and take action, people notice and want to work with you. It sounds corny, but sometimes you really do have to take a leap of faith that things might work out. No matter what your quest may be, someone out there will understand. Someone out there will see what you’re doing and want to be a part of it.

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What advice would you give to someone else considering a quest?

1. Plan awesome celebrations for the start and end of your quest.

Start of our quest: Wedding! End of our quest: Our first Christmas! One reason we recommend this is that there are always going to be “haters” when it comes to your quest – and it’s a lot easier to shush their voices from your mind when you have presents. Plus since we have a great end date, now when the going gets rough (and it does!), instead of looking forward to ending our journey, we look forward to Christmas. It keeps us positive.

2. Lock yourself into the process.

It’s too easy to quit something, and if you can, you probably will. We found a sponsor and signed a contract, so we had the pressure to start. We told everyone we knew that we were doing this and bought a motorhome. We put skin in the game. We took enough action to ensure that we couldn’t back out when things got hard.

What’s next?

We finally made it back to the south! We will be driving from the Carolinas to Disney World for Thanksgiving, and then west to Texas for Christmas. Then we’ll fly to Hawaii and Alaska sometime this winter (the RV hasn’t been modified to float the Pacific … yet). 

Keep up to date on Alyssa and Heath’s quest at their individual sites or find them on twitter @alyssapadge and @heathpadgett.

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