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The Buzz: Millennials Adopt Full-Timer Lifestyle

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June 14, 2017 by   1 Comment

Heath and Alyssa Padgett

What began as pair of newlyweds traveling the nation in an RV for a feature-length documentary while also crossing an item off their bucket list, has become a way of life for Heath and Alyssa Padgett.

The Padgetts were just 23 years old when they decided they could do better than the confining cubicles of corporate America. So they bought a used RV off Craigslist and set off to see the nation. While making their way across the country, they were able to connect with other travelers and creative professionals who had found different ways to earn an income while traveling.

Now 26, the two are hooked on the full-time lifestyle and heavily involved in a number of RV and campground businesses, including “The RV Entrepreneur,” a weekly podcast sponsored by WinnebaGoLife. Related to that, the Padgetts hosted 120 people for their “RV Entrepreneur Summit” in February.

In addition to the podcast, the Padgetts have an enthusiastic online community that includes their blog, generating some 80,000 monthly page views, and a Facebook group with 5,700 members.

The Padgetts also created CampgroundBooking.com, a software startup that helps campgrounds establish an online reservation system and modern property management solution.

“We’re pretty tapped into the younger demographic of RVers,” Heath Padgett told RVBUSINESS.com. “We’ve met a lot of other people who have skipped out on the conventional 40-hour per week job and mortgage lifestyle for something more adventurous. These people aren’t being reckless and throwing caution to the wind, but are actually being diligent: paying off debt, building online businesses, practicing minimalism and intentionally creating a nomadic lifestyle.”

Recently, Heath Padgett was able to answer a few questions about his experiences and business endeavors as well as provide a bit of advice from a Millennial’s perspective as it relates to the RV and campground industries.

RVB: You have an interesting story about how you and your wife became full-time RVers. Can you briefly share it with us? 

Padgett: In 2014 Alyssa and I got married in May, and leading up to that we had both been in office jobs. I was in software and she was working for a non-profit in New Orleans. It’s blazing hot in Texas in the summertime and we just wanted to get out and go somewhere else. We weren’t really in love with our current jobs and it led to a bunch of conversations leading up to our wedding.

So we decided we were going to go on a cross-country trip to find a new place to live after our wedding. Looking at all the places we wanted to live, they were scattered all over around the country, plus we had it on our bucket list that we wanted to travel to all 50 states. So Alyssa threw that idea out there, like “Why don’t we do a 50-state road trip after our wedding?” And I said, “That sounds like a lot of fun.” So we went into planning mode on how we were going to make this happen.

RVB: So what led to the “Hourly America” project, in which you worked an hourly job in all 50 states and filmed it for a documentary?

Padgett: We had a little bit of savings, but not enough to bankroll a 50-state road trip. We also wanted to have some type of project that we could work on together while on the road, so I came up with the idea to do a different job in every state — in part because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do exactly. I figured that this was a way to basically go experiment and try out a bunch of different things, see what I like about work and, at the very least, be able to make some money while we travel and have some really cool experiences.

So we bought a 1994 Coachmen Leprechaun Class C motorhome on Craigslist for $11,500, and then renovated it in a week. We basically just ripped out everything, and put some laminate floors down. It’s pretty much the same thing that most people do when they buy an older RV.

The reason we bought an RV was because it just seemed like logistically the cheapest option versus staying in a hotel. We could have our house with us. Alyssa has a gluten allergy so to be able to cook all our meals and have our home with us at all times sounded really cool and so that was how we ended up going the RV route. 

RVB: And you had some key partners along the way, correct?

Padgett: We found an online job board called Snagajob. I just sent them a cold e-mail and they ended up sponsoring our trip. They gave us a monthly stipend. We wrote some blog posts for them. They helped us line up some of the jobs and they also sent us some video equipment to document our trip.

RVB: How soon before you realized you were hooked on the full-time RV lifestyle?

Padgett: We were probably a month in. We were doing the Pacific Coast Highway and having a great time and enjoying idealistic summer weather — versus 100-some degrees — and just looking around like, “Okay, this is pretty amazing. We’re spending our time writing, and capturing some cool stories and doing stuff that we really like.” It probably only took about five weeks for us to realize that this is something really cool and we should try to figure out ways to prolong it as long as we could.

RVB: Wait a second. You’re both only 26 years old. Didn’t anyone tell you that you’re not supposed to do the full-time RV thing until you retire?

Padgett: Ha! I didn’t know that there was a rulebook. It’s funny because got different reactions from people of different age ranges. For instance, our dads thought it was really cool; both of our moms were freaking out. A lot of our friends our age thought it was cool.

The month before our wedding we moved into a campground and it was a 55 and older community. Everyone there had been RVing for 20 years and so almost all of them said one of two things: Either “I wish I would have done this when I was younger,” or if they did do it they said, “I’m so glad I did travel when I was younger.” They were all super encouraging.

We did get some pushback, it seems, from people who were almost in our parents’ age range who had been working for maybe 20 years and they were like, “You need to go earn your keep before you go out and move about the country.” Not everyone said that, but that was one of the three reactions we got from people, if that makes sense.

RVB: So what do the two of you do now?

Padgett: We took a year to do Hourly America, which was the name of our trip and documentary, so we made it through all 50 states in a year. During that time we were building up those video skills so as soon as that trip ended, we jumped into more freelance videography so we were working with clients — actually, people we had met on the road. We had been volunteering at different conferences and workshops as we traveled and we networked with people online.

By the end of our trip we actually were able to start monetizing those video skills and parlay them into doing our own thing. We were stationary for about six months that second year at a campground in Austin, Texas. It was $350 a month, so we were able to kill off $14,000 of student debt and continue building up our income.

Through this whole time we had been blogging and building this online community in the RV space. It wasn’t really intentional from the beginning, but it was just sharing, “Hey, this is what we’re experiencing, learning as we’re traveling in an RV.” We started meeting a lot of other people through that and it started growing.

RVB: As a full-time RVer who happens to be a Millennial, what are some things these RV manufacturers need to be taking into account when designing RVs?

Padgett: We actually have been in a couple of these conversations with those folks on a limited basis. The first thing I would throw out there is that the people who came to our Summit, were between 20 to 60, years old, but most people were in their 30s and working full time from the road. While I realize we’re still a smaller sub-faction of the entire RV industry as a whole, it’s interesting because these people have a lot of voice since they’re publishing content on the industry, so they can have an impact. Also it’s the “next generation” thing.

But, going to your question, there are a few things that came up because we had Russ Garfin, the product manager of Class B’s and Class C’s at Winnebago, at our Summit and he walked around the whole time with a notepad.

Ross is really funny and a super personable guy. He become one of our really good friends and we sat down and talked about “What does the future of class B and class C RVs look like?” We then had an open discussion and Q&A with about 120 of us, and there were a few things that came up. One is that a lot of people wanted the RVs to be more modular, to be able to change things up and he mentioned Ikea furniture as an example.

Much of the community of people who came to the Summit, the first thing so many of them do when they get their RV is they rip out the half bathroom that you don’t need in the RV and turn it into a desk area for two. And they paint the cabinets white and they put some brown wood on the floor. It’s like flipping the colors, and making things brighter, and making RVs look more European. Less swirls, more cream paint jobs. Some of this is aesthetics, some of it’s more practical.

So I’d say they should be just thinking about making RVs more optimized, and thinking about that space earlier in the process, because even people who are retired or people who are part way retired and hitting the roads, they’re also working to some extent on their laptop or iPad. For many RV manufacturers I don’t think that the desk, at least from my perception and limited conversations, was early on in the thought process. But I do think it’s going to be rising in their priority level.

RVB: In your experience on the road, do you sense any other differences between Millennial and Gen X RVers versus Baby Boomers?

Padgett: Yeah — and people will probably laugh at it, but it’s 100% true. The RVing community from a Millennial standpoint spends multiple hours a day on Instagram. It influences in a heavy way how people make decisions about where they travel and even what kind of RVs they buy. How good does it look online? Is it aesthetically pleasing for a photo? Will my friends like it? Again, it’s not rational and not something that everybody does, but it is what it is. If somebody that we follow on Instagram posts a picture of an awesome campground that’s along our route, we’re way more likely to go to that park. We’ve seen that happen when we posted pictures and someone in the comments asks, “Hey I’m going to be in the area, is this a good park?”

RVB: One difference mentioned often is the Baby Boomer generation is willing to make their own RV repairs, but Millennials and Gen Xers don’t have that expectation. Does this ring true for you?

Padgett: I’m not sure. I always struggle with looking at entire generations and different gaps and saying “This is what everyone does,” because I know there are always outliers. I will say that the customer service expectations are going to be exponentially higher and I think that’s probably because of technology.

Here’s a real example from our own life a couple of months ago. We bought a 2016 Winnebago Brave, the retro version, in October 2015, so a year and a half ago. We had a really good relationship with our local dealer where we bought it from. Then after a certain period of time they just quit returning our phone calls. We had a list of 10 to 15 small things that we needed to get done on our rig, but they just would not return our phone calls. The previous time we had taken it in there, they didn’t fix everything that they were supposed to fix and they pushed us to the side for whatever reason. It actually ended up being way easier for us to drive the 16 hours from where we were to Forest City, Iowa, and get service done on our RV from the manufacturer.

That’s something that is really frustrating for somebody who bought a $120,000 RV. You buy this thing and then the dealerships around the country are so backed up. I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re blanketed as all having bad service, but I would say that the demand is so high that it’s hard for them to maybe care as much about the customers.

That has a negative effect, but I do think our generation has a higher level of expectation for service because we’re in the generation where if you screw up as a company, then everybody knows about it. It’s United Airlines or whatever; you can’t get away with being a jerk to people. I think that will become more relevant. I think that the next generation of RVers will 100% expect more from companies and service now, because if they don’t do a better job everyone will know about them.

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Comments

One Response to “The Buzz: Millennials Adopt Full-Timer Lifestyle”

  1. Jose Moniz on June 20th, 2017 10:24 am

    It’s great to get a perspective about RVing and RVs from RVers like Heath and Alyses Padgett.

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