Keith Reed and Jessica Phillips rolled into my driveway in their adorable white Volkswagon bus named Pearl earlier this spring. We had found each other through couchsurfing.com and I was happy to host them for an evening while they were on an epic roadtrip from their home in Millville, New Jersey.
They were only a few months into their trip when they stopped by but what I remember is how giddy and energetic they were about life and their new adventure. I decided to catch up with them recently and see where their journey had led them nine months after hitting the road.
Where were you working before your trip?
Keith: Worked as a massage therapist and as kitchen help at Wildflower Vegan Café. Previous to that, I worked as manager of Affordable Tire in Vineland, NJ for 15 years.
Jessica: For the past 6 years, I was working as a server at Winfields Restaurant in Millville, NJ. For the last 3 of those years, I was promoted to Headwaiter and Banquet Coordinator.
Tell me about how you got the idea to do this trip and what you did to plan for it?
Keith: I was working in the tire industry and feeling very at odds with my life, I had bought Pearl in 2006, and it was 4 years before I got her on the road. In that time, anytime I’d be having a bad day at work, I’d think to myself, ‘I just want to quit my job, sell everything I own, jump in my bus and head West!’ It remained a favorite daydream for years, when I picked Jessica up for our first date, in 2012, I told her about it. A year later, I proposed the idea to her. I was in school at the time for massage therapy, (having already quit my tire shop job) and started getting my house ready to be put on the market. Some of the proceeds from the sale of my house are what is financing this trip. The main impetus of this journey, for me, is to not only reinvent myself, but to downsize and add more meaning to my life. I wanted to get out of the rat race, and find work that I believe in to fill my days with.
As for the planning, the last winter we spent in Jersey was pretty nasty, so I hunkered down and made a set of custom Google maps with points of interest along our chosen route. I spent hundreds of hours, no exaggeration, researching everything from camp grounds and hostels to parks, trail heads, cultural points of interest, restaurants, scenic drives, waterfalls, best swimming holes and top-rated beaches. The map-making was a fun lead-in to the trip, it really built our excitement with all the cool things I was finding! I also did a lot of upgrades to the bus to get her ready for us to live in her full time.
What have been the highlights so far of your journey?
~ Jessica’s dad totally randomly behind us on the Highway out of town as we left NJ
~ “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison coming on as we were crossing the bridge out of Jersey
~ Ghost Tour of Harpers Ferry, WV
~ Riding the back roads of Northern Virginia Horse Country
~ Skyline Drive in the fog in Shenandoah National Park
~ The ferry from Cape Hatteras to Ocracoke Island. Camping among the dunes and stargazing in the darkest night sky in the Outer Banks, NC
~ Making friends in Charleston, NC
~ Experiencing the majesty of the Angel Oak Tree outside of Charleston
~ Picking up a hitchhiker named Billy Ray on our way to Georgia
~ Buying the freshest, best tasting shrimp we’ve EVER had at some hole-in-the-wall fish market in the marshes of Georgia
~ Exploring all of Jekyll Island, GA by bicycle
~ Driving the A1A down the East Coast of Florida
~ Picnicking in the shade of the ancient Fairchild Oak Tree
~ Scoring a last minute campsite at the beautiful Sebastian’s Inlet, FL
~ Haulover Beach in Miami (wink wink)
~ THE KEYS (where to begin…)
~ Celebrating Thanksgiving with new friends we met on the internet thanks to a broken down VW Bus
~ Seeing the sunning American alligators in the Everglades
~ Naples, FL spa day with Jersey friends (not too shabby for a pair of homeless people)
~ Boat ride around Lover’s Key with wildlife sightings courtesy of Keith’s high school buddy
~ Manatee sightings in Tampa
~ Celebrating Christmas just the two of us on a Florida Panhandle beach in Grayton Beach
~ Exploring the food, architecture, history and music of NOLA for NYE 2015
~ Visiting Janis Joplin exhibit in her home town of Port Author, TX
~ Breaking our vegetarian vows to eat Texas BBQ off a 100+ year old BBQ pit in Lockhart, TX
~ Encountering the WORST winter weather that Austin, TX has seen in years.
~ Driving from Austin to San Antonio through Hill Country
~ The missions of San Antonio and the River walk
~ Driving along the Guadalupe River in the back of a convertible
~ Going to see a friend play country music in a real Texas Roadhouse in Bandera, TX
~ Enjoying the western landscape through the vast West Texas plains
~ Hiking down through the natural entrance into Carlsbad Caverns (Highly recommended)
~ Hunting for rocks at Rock Hound State Park in New Mexico
~ Living in a VW Garage & Junkyard for 3 weeks while Pearl got a new engine
~ Hiking among the Saguaros in Tucson Mountain Park in Tucson, AZ
~ Southwest food. My god, we miss the food.
~ The month long madness that is The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show
~ Daytripping in Tubac, AZ
~ Camping, stargazing, hiking and enjoying the sunsets in Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, AZ
~ Starting our love affair with dates and all things date related at Martha’s Garden Yuma, AZ
~ ‘Estimated Prophet’ playing as we entered California
~ Having our first soak at a natural hot spring in Holtville, CA
~ Crossing the Great Dunes into California
~ Taking the scenic route along the Mexican border into San Diego
~ Seeing our first sunset over the Pacific in Pacific Beach, CA
~ Mealing on fish tacos in San Diego, CA ( We loved the smoked fish tacos at Oscars best of all)
~ Camping and taking the waters at Agua Caliente in Anza Borrego Desert State Park
~ Eating at THE cheapest and THE best sushi at Sushi Deli in San Diego, CA
~ Living like true surf bums in our Bus on the streets and beachside parking lots of Ocean Beach, CA
~ Starting the epic drive north up HWY 1 (or just “The One”)
~ Exploring Venice Beach, Los Angeles, CA
~ Eating Ethiopian food for the first time in LA
~ Spending the day wondering around the exhibits and grounds of The Getty in LA
~ Touring around Hollywood and Studio City
~ Hiking to the original set of M.A.S.H in Malibu, CA
~ Catching up with East Coasters in Los Angeles, CA (Barry, Aldo & David)
~ Camping at Joshua Tree National Park and making new friends there
~ Having The Fountain of Youth Hot Springs Resort in Niland, CA (practically) all to ourselves for 5 perfect days (Also highly recommended)
~ Camping at our first west coast music festival in Apple Valley, CA at Dead on the Ponderosa
~ Then heading back through the mountains to the coast and camping in the beautiful (and expensive) California State Parks that dot the Central Coastline
~ The Mission Trail of California
~ Hiking rugged terrain in flipflops with a beach towel UP UP UP to the hidden natural hot spring in Gaviota, CA
~ Daytripping in Solvang, CA
~ Hanging out at the Thursday night Farmers Market and daily free yoga in the park in San Luis Obispo, CA
~ Sunsets and tide pools of Montana D’Oro State Park in Los Osos, CA
~ Soaking in the private hot tubs in the trees of Sycamore Springs Resort and Spa in Avila Beach, CA
~ The tranquility of Morro Bay and the ancient solitude of the strong hold that is Morro Rock
~ Our first Helpx experience at The Lavra, a commune in Arroyo Grande, CA
~ Milking a goat at the commune
~ Awing at the marvel of the Pacific Coast Highway as we wound around & through the mountains on our way to Big Sur
~ Camping on the edge of the world with the Redwoods in Big Sur, CA
~ Finding our own hidden waterfall in Los Padres National Forest
~ First time backcountry camping on the banks of the Little Sur River for 2 days
~ Checking out the UC Santa Cruz Grateful Dead archive exhibit
~ Biking Santa Cruz, exploring the waterfront and the downtown, and camping at Bob’s Pine Grove (hidden little mom and pop joint for wholesome urban camping). We loved Santa Cruz and enjoyed a lot of time there.
~ San Francisco for Keith’s birthday
~ Hanging out in the Haight and chasing the ghosts of our favorite Beat poets in North Beach, San Francisco, CA
~ The pilgrimage to Terrapin Crossroads in San Raphael, CA to see John K and The Golden Gate Wingmen (No Phil sightings)
~ Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in a 1969 VW Bus (whoop! whoop!)
~ Picking up hitchhikers on the way to see the last Grateful Dead shows on Santa Clara
~ Having Pearl the Bus on lot at the Grateful Dead Santa Clara shows where she was in all her hippie mamma glory
~ Arriving in Northern California and starting our new work exchange lifestyle
What are some of the stranger things that have happened on the road?
Jessica: We had one freak incident back in the beginning, when we broke down in Bonita Springs, FL. We had to get Pearly towed by AAA, and the tow truck driver arrived 2 hours late and completely inebriated! Keith wound up loading Pearl onto the truck (thank god he had some experience from working in the tire industry for all those years) and even driving the tow truck all the way to Sarasota while the driver was passed out drunk next to me! Of course AAA was completely freaked out when I called them to report the incident. They took care of the driver and hooked up my membership!
What have you done to save costs?
Keith: We try to cook as many meals as possible. (We bought a 12-volt fridge to make living in our vehicle more practical.) While we both enjoy eating out, and trying new restaurants and cuisine, it will kill a budget. When we do eat out, we use apps like yelp! and Trip Advisor to help us not waste our money on a bad dining experience. We use Gas Buddy to find the best deal on gas. We try to stay with friends and family, when we can, especially in urban areas. Otherwise we stay at hostels or find last minute deals on the internet for a hotel room. In rural areas and National and State Parks, we camp, which is not really an option in most urban places, but is cheaper. Staying out of the cities is a great way to stretch the budget. But we can’t always resist the lure of the city!
Jessica: We slept in a lot of 24-hour Walmart parking lots too.
Tell me about work exchange. Who would you recommend this for?
Jessica: I would recommend work exchange to the whole wide world!! It’s an amazing way to travel and live for free! We are members of a website called www.helpx.net but there are other work exchange sites such as www.wwoofinternational.org It’s almost like an internship. We give our time, skills, and positive attitudes to our hosts in exchange for not only room and board, but a whole new set of skills. At our current “X-er” situation, we are helping a young couple who bought a large homestead property, turn their farm into a certified organic farm and collective. Some of our tasks include, watering and weeding, picking and processing organic fruits and vegetables, harvesting and drying healing herbs, using a broom and playing with the dogs. Hanging out in the hammock when it gets too hot during the day is also expected of us. The hosts were very thorough in choosing us. We sent resumes and references and spoke on the phone several times, and when it felt right we made our way north up HWY 1 to Mendocino. Follow Sun Roots Farm & Collective’s journey from amateur to authorized on Facebook at Sunroots Farm & Collective.
What’s next for you guys?
Jessica: As we continue to reinvent ourselves, and learn new skill sets we’ll see where this adventure leads. We’re hoping that through Helpx, we’ll be able to stay traveling for a long time. We feel the work-trade lifestyle has the potential to open many doors to adventurous souls like us.