Like many people, Jim and Mary Competti had a dream. In their case, it was to travel to all 50 states but their traditional career jobs were a roadblock. So they took the oft-quoted advice from Thoreau and decided to simplify. By 2016, the couple were owners of Old World Garden Farms: a small self-sufficient farm in the middle of Ohio. Then came their career changes with Mary retiring in 2017 and Jim following suit at the end of 2018.
By then, the couple had already started planning their 50-state trek in their TAB 400, aka the Dreamcatcher, and hit the road in September 2019 with plans to visit all 50 in 365 days. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into their schedule, with the trip temporarily suspended until the all-clear is sounded. (You can see their schedule here and follow their Living Simple Tour blog for more updates.)
But all is not lost since that gave us a chance to catch up with this traveling team and get the skinny on their life and plans for the future!
Let’s start with Old World Garden Farms. What led the two of you to leave the corporate world for life on a farm?
“When we first started dating, we discovered we had a mutual love for all things gardening and cooking, and we started the farm together in 2010 as a way to follow our passions. We then built our home here to live permanently on the farm in the spring of 2016.”
While visiting all 50 states had been a joint dream for a long time, what pushed you two to hit the road in 2019?
“It was actually a dream for both of us long before we met and so it was something we talked about early on. After we created the home, garden, and cooking websites and then published our first book, we started to realize we could work from anywhere. We have never been afraid to take on new challenges or adventures. Things may not always work out, and there may be a few stumbling blocks, but that is what makes an adventure an adventure!”
You turned this adventure into an interactive one, blogging about your stops and even having a contest to name your TAB. Why did you decide to make your journey such a public event?
“Ever since we started writing about growing your own food, cooking, and DIY projects, we realized how many other people shared the same dreams. And by writing about them, we realized we were helping others to realize it can be done, too. The funny thing is, we draw just as much inspiration from the interaction as well. We love people and love taking and sharing our story – and also hearing about theirs.”
Were either of you were experienced campers prior to starting your journey?
“That is what is so funny. We had never traveled by camper one single day until we took possession of our TAB 400! We did take a few trial runs in the summer before leaving in the fall and attended a week-long campout at nuCamp’s uCamp event. We learned so much from fellow owners, and we realized then and there that we could do this!”
How did you prepare for this trip, considering that once you left, you weren’t planning on coming back to your home base until you hit State #50?
“We spent a long time figuring out the best route to keep us in the best weather possible and out of the severe cold winter or summer storms where we were traveling. Mother Nature has her own agenda of course, but the schedule played out really well up until March and the travel bans. The hardest part wasn’t planning for the trip, but planning for our farm while we were gone. We had to come up with a lot of plans and back-up plans to have it all covered.”
Once you were out on the road, were there items you wish you had brought along or other things that you wish you had done differently?
“Almost the opposite happened. We realized as streamlined as we were with packing, we could have packed even less. After all, we are in a new location almost every two days or so, so what we are wearing is always new to people. We packed enough for seven to 10 days knowing we could wash clothes once a week, and we could have packed even less.”
Once you’re able to go back out to finish your travels, what changes, if any, will you make in your planning and preparation?
“This, of course, has affected so much of our country and world, and we are certainly not immune to that. We most likely will have to finish in a few stages as time and the situation allows. But make no mistake: we will finish! We were having the time of our life on this trip, and to put that 50th sticker on the camper…well, it just has to happen!”
I’m sure you had many high points and memorable experiences during those months on the road, but are there any in particular that stay in your mind that you’d like to share?
“There have just been so many for us, so absolutely many incredible moments. Whether it’s places we have seen, people we have met, or food we were able to experience. For me [Jim], it was driving through the Redwood Forests and being so close to the massive trees and taking it all in. We stopped so many times just to get out and marvel at the size and beauty and take in the incredible fresh smell of the forest.”
“For me [Mary], it was the Pacific Northwest and its majestic beauty. The rocky shores, the ocean, the scenery—it was all surreal on so many different fronts.”
How has the journey changed the two of you—either individually or as a couple?
“Honestly, I don’t think it has changed us as much as it has made us realize how many incredible cultures and people and places there are in every little corner of our amazing country. We love people, and this trip has only strengthened that, as well as made us want to travel more and learn more about people and the places they live. We both have realized more than ever that there are amazing people everywhere!”
What advice do you have for others who are thinking of taking such an extended road trip with their significant other?
“First and foremost, do it while you can. Don’t wait. You can make it happen if you really want, but not if you get to the point where you are unable to physically do it. We have had so many older couples along the way tell us that they dreamed of doing this and then it became too late. They loved that we just went for it and did it. If you really think about it, experiences are for a lifetime, and possessions are for a moment. No matter what happens for the rest of our lives, no one can ever take these memories we have made away from us.”