It all started with a bucket list and a desire to escape the scorching Texas summertime heat. Little did Heath and Alyssa Padgett of Austin know that their cross-country RV adventure – in their 1994 vehicle named “Franklin” – would lead to crossing so many things off of their wish lists.
The two met at Concordia University Texas in Austin and decided to get married after graduation in 2014. But instead of the usual honeymoon beach destination, they surprised their families by quitting their corporate jobs and taking to the road with the idea of visiting various states on a honeymoon road trip.
Then they decided to take the plan a step further when Alyssa reminded Heath of his college bucket list and his goal to visit all 50 states.
“My grandparent’s RV’d, his grandparents RV’d, pretty much only grandparents RV and here we were these 23-year-old kids doing it,” said Alyssa. “We fell into it because we thought it would be the cheapest and most efficient way for us to travel. And we bought Franklin off of Craig’s List four weeks before the wedding, renovated it, and we left four days after our wedding day.”
Heath wasn’t content with simply visiting different states, so he decided he wanted to structure the trip to maximize the learning experience and grow as a person, too.
He came up with the idea to work a different job in every state, something Alyssa wasn’t on board with at first – seeing as it their honeymoon after all.
“To me, the idea of working a job in every state, I thought of the great stories we’d be able to get working with all these different people and working different jobs,” Heath tells PEOPLE.
With the help of SnagAJob.com , a site for hourly paid jobs, Heath was able to set up jobs across the country as well as find a sponsor to offset some of the costs of the trip.
In exchange, Heath and Alyssa would blog and film their adventures along the way, realizing yet another one of Heath’s bucket list items, which was to make a documentary one day about something he was passionate about.
Heath’s jobs ranged from being a dojo at a martial arts studio in Albuquerque to a stand-up paddle boarding tour guide in the company of whales in Maui, to shadowing a park ranger at Denali National Park in Alaska and spending the night on a glacier. But unanimously, they agreed that their favorite job, which even Alyssa took part in, was playing zombies at Six Flags Fright Fest in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. “It was epic,” she says.
The adventurous couple certainly met their challenges along the way – from breaking down a few miles from the Grand Canyon when the fuel pump went out, to losing Alyssa’s car four hours into their first day, refrigerator explosions and propane leaks.
Not to mention, the challenges of newlyweds cohabitating in such a small space together. “Sometimes it’s really tough and we fight and we are in a small space so we have to work it out,” says Heath.
Adds Alyssa, “It’s hard to slam a door in an RV when you get mad because the door bounces back.”
But both say that ultimately the experience was rewarding in the places that they visited, the people they met and in how they learned to pare down and stick to their basic needs.
“It’s the biggest blessing; you can’t bring everything with you. You only get each other,” said Alyssa. “There is no luxury that we live without, except consistent hot water or Wi-Fi. We do get the luxury of saying we’ve lived beachfront, and oceanfront, and riverfront, and in the mountains and on a glacier, we have gotten to experience so much of life.
Alyssa adds, “Go get an RV, try it out, do something you’ve never done before. It’s fun.”
Their story has turned into an array of different opportunities for them. They have started a free course called, “How to See America on 2K/Month,” written a book called, The Ultimate Adventure, and paid off more than $15,000 in student loan debt from living in the RV.
Most important, they have connected with millions of Americans as they share their stories on their blogs each week. Next up is a campaign to raise money to edit and complete the documentary, Hourly America, and then more plans to get back on the road and do a speaking tour at universities across the country.
They still have a few things left on their bucket list though, like “shaking the hand of a president,” even though they did manage to cross off white water rafting and flying in a 10-seater plane during the last 18 months of their travels. Alyssa says she tried to get Heath to sky dive in Montana, but that he chickened out. Heath disagrees, “I did not chicken out, I just wasn’t given enough notice.”
And Heath has plenty of time to catch up on his to-do list, as they couple says they “plan to live on the road for 2-3 more years.”